The head of the Hill County Democrats handed the leadership of the party to a new chair Monday night, saying he will remain active in politics but it was time to let someone new take over.
Democrats elected Brenda Skornogoski as chair, with John Musgrove retiring from the position after some four years at the helm.
“I was ambivalent about it because I think politics is extremely important in this day and age. We have to make our voices heard,” Musgrove said this morning. “But, on the other hand, I’m now part of the older generation, and it’s time to give it off to people who are younger.”
Skornogoski, who is out of the area and was elected in absentia, could not be reached for comment.
Havre City Council Alderman Allen “Woody” Woodwick was selected as vice-chair, Karen Datko is the county party secretary and Pam Hillery is treasurer.
The party has seen tumultuous times while Musgrove headed the party, with some successes for Democrats, including elder statesman Greg Jergeson winning back his seat in the Senate last fall.
Jergeson term-limited out of his position at the start of the last decade after 22 years as a senator, then won election to two terms as a Montana public service commissioner, including serving six years as chair. He could not run for that position again, also because of term limits, and entered the senate race last year after satisfying the required number of years out of office.
But the 2010 elections were disastrous for Democrats in the traditionally blue region of Hill and Blaine counties. For probably the first time in the state’s history, Republicans won all contested legislative races in the counties, and an independent defeated the Democratic candidate for Hill County commissioner and a Republican won the commissioner race in Blaine County.
Musgrove has been a power in local politics, recruited by legendary state Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, to take his seat when Peck termed out. Musgrove won the seat in four elections, then took over as chair of the Hill County Democrats not long after he left office due to term limits.
Musgrove said the Hill County Democrats are working on plans, including looking at possible candidates for this year’s city election and the next two legislative races.
“There is nothing that has been firmed up in that regard yet, but we’re getting closer,” Musgrove added.
He said the dynamics of local politics has changed, both in election results and with the new districts set by apportionment.
For example, Musgrove said, when he was first elected to his House seat, Havre was split north and south. In the middle of his terms, reapportionment split it in a different direction, east and west.
With the latest reapportionment, Havre will be a single district by itself. Musgrove said that changes the dynamics for the House seat, not necessarily good or bad, just different.
“I don’t believe that it’s a shoo-in, unless we have a really good, solid candidate, and so we’re going to be working very hard to help our new leadership choose that candidate,” he said.