MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA A tough election year for Republicans got a little brighter for the GOP on Tuesday. Republicans took control of the state House by a slim margin after a re-count in a Laurel House race flipped the seat to the Republicans. What appeared to be a 50-49 Democratic advantage became a Republican advantage by the same margin. One seat is held by the Conservative Constitution Party. “I think this is huge news,” said Montana Republican Party Executive Director Chuck Denowh. “If you look at all the other states out there, there weren’t a lot of Republican gains out there.” And there had not been a lot of gains for Republicans in Montana. After election day, they thought they had fought to a 25-25 tie in the state Senate. Then one of their members defected to the Democratic Party. And, of course, there was the highprofile loss of three-term Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns to Democrat Jon Tester. Now, state Republicans have a platform to advance their agenda in the state House and challenge Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s agenda. Republicans will get the Constitution Party vote on many issues, giving them a key 51-vote majority. That breaks what had been a 50-50 dead heat in the chamber heading into the election. “It means that we have a strong position in determining the outcome of policy,” said Rep. Mike Lange, the Republican house floor leader from Billings. And the conservative wing of the Republican party has placed its man in the top post. On Monday, outspoken conservative Rep. Scott Sales of Bozeman was picked to be the Republican leader in the chamber. Tuesday’s re-count hands him the House speaker’s chair a powerful and influential pulpit. The re-count in Yellowstone county’s House District 58 showed Republican Krayton Kerns of Laurel beat Democrat incumbent Emelie Eaton by just three votes 1,971 votes to 1,968. Before the re-count, the two were tied. “Never in my wildest imaginings did I think it would end that way,” said Kerns, who told The Billings Gazette he was glad it was a three-vote margin. “It’s huge because it’s a more comfortable margin.” Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Farrell, who witnessed the Tuesday recount in Billings, said he was satisfied all the votes were counted accurately. He did not expect Democrats to challenge the results in court. “I think it was a careful, thorough recount,” he said. Eaton acknowledged “a certain amount of disappointment,” but said she believes the recount was done accurately. But Democrats haven’t given up hope on the chamber yet. They’re waiting for the results of a re-count in another House race scheduled this week. But in that race the Republican holds a 24-vote lead, a sizable margin to make up in a re-count. Lange said Republicans will use the advantage to rewrite rules in their favor. He said Republicans will hold a majority of seats on every committee, an important prize in advancing legislation. But Schweitzer said he thinks the Legislature will be characterized by the moderates on both sides of the aisle working together.