Today in New West news: Montana politics, Tesla petitions Utah Supreme Court to allow it to sell cars in state, and federal judge reinvigorates push to remove dams from the Snake River.
Although the big political news, overnight, was the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, New West states had their own contentious races. There’s no better indicator of this than in Montana, where, according to the Billings Gazette, incumbent governor Steve Bullock (D) has won-reelection, beating out his challenger, businessman Greg Gianforte (R):
As of 8:30 a.m., Bullock had 226,398 votes to Gianforte’s 214,897.
Libertarian Ted Dunlap had 15,278, for 3 percent of the vote.
As returns started to come in, Bullock took an early lead as results from a few larger counties in the state started to roll in when polls closed at 8 p.m., but Gianforte clawed his way back, first to within a few thousand votes, then dozens and then took a slight lead of a few hundred votes after 1 a.m. He held it for about 20 minutes until more results came in, pushing Bullock back ahead.
Two key counties remained unreported until after 4 a.m., Park County, which includes Livingston, and Glacier County, which includes Browning and much of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Bullock lost Park County by just one vote in the also-close election against Republican Rick Hill that made Bullock governor back in 2012.
He won Glacier County with more than 70 percent of the vote that year.
By 6 a.m. Wednesday, the counties had reported. Bullock won Park County 50 percent to Gianforte’s 45 percent, picking up 418 votes in the process. He won the smaller Glacier County with 67 percent of the vote, adding 1,479 to his total.
Bullock is no stranger to tight races. In 2012 he won the governorship by beating Hill with 48.9 percent of the vote to Hill’s 47.3 percent, a difference of just 7,571 votes.
Jeremy Johnson, an associate professor of political science at Carroll College in Helena, said Bullock “is popular, but it looks like the vote totals were very high in Montana and Trump did very well, which helps Republicans across the board.”
Johnson said that though the last incumbent Democrat governor, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, won in a landslide in 2008 with about 65 percent of the vote, it’d be hard for Bullock to duplicate.
This election also shows the reluctance of Montanans to split tickets, Johnson said. “That’s hurting Bullock. It would be very hard for any Democrat to win in a landslide in Montana today.”
Meanwhile, looking at Montana’s race for the U.S. House of Representatives, incumbent Ryan Zinke (R) beat challenger Denise Juneau (D) who, if elected, would have been the first female Native American legislator to serve in Congress. Zinke, who spoke at the Republican National Contention in July, styling himself on a platform emphasizing his military experience and national security, won approximately 57 percent of the vote. Part of his success, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, no doubt stems from his association with Trump, who was popular across the Treasure State:
Zinke had previously expressed interest in serving in the cabinet of a Donald Trump administration.
He did not explicitly reject that possibility Tuesday night in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, saying only that for now he was “happy to be a congressman.”
“I’m grateful that the great people of Montana gave me their blessing for one more term,” Zinke told the AP just after the race was called in his favor. “This election has been very divisive and the challenge is going to be to work together as Americans.”
As a former military officer, he added that he would evaluate the issues facing the country on their merits and not their political origin.
Juneau has served for almost eight years as the state’s public schools chief and was attempting to become the first Native American woman elected to Congress, a possibility that drew national interest to the race.
Yet voters were not convinced by her criticism of Zinke for his strong ties to Donald Trump and her charges that he wanted to sell off public lands. Montana voters ended up overwhelmingly supporting Trump.
Tuesday’s result capped the most expensive House campaign in the state’s recent history. More than $8.5 million poured into the race, much of it from out-of-state political committees and donors. Zinke outspent Juneau more than two-to-one.
The 55-year-old Zinke was a SEAL for 23 years and a state senator before winning his seat in 2014.
Over in Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, Tesla Motors is asking the state’s Supreme Court to allow the company to sell its cars, saying they are complying with the law dictating that manufacturers sell their cars through third-party dealerships. The deal comes after over a year of negotiations, with the state saying Tesla has not entered into any appropriate franchise agreement with third-party dealers across the state. From the Tribune:
Utah and many other states have long required car manufacturers to sell their cars through dealerships, believing that the dealers can provide a layer of protection and negotiating leverage to consumers. At the same time, the state has franchise protections in place to keep dealers from being bullied by the carmakers.
The result of the two laws in tandem, Justice Christine Durham pointed out Monday, is a total ban on manufacturers selling directly to Utah consumers.
Tesla had built a gleaming new showroom in South Salt Lake and hoped to begin selling vehicles directly to consumers in March 2015, but the state Motor Vehicles Enforcement Division denied the company a license and it has served only as a charging station and showroom. Utah customers who want a Tesla still have to order their car online.
In both the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions, attempts were made to tweak the law to accommodate Tesla, but the car dealers beat back the effort with the help of other car manufacturers who said changing the law to help Tesla would put them at a distinct disadvantage.
Since negotiations blew up last March, there has been no progress on legislation, said Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, as Tesla’s lawsuit challenging the state’s interpretation of the dealership requirement made its way through court.
On Monday, the justices provided no clear indication how they would rule, but the case seems to come down to how much deference the court would give to the Legislature to regulate the auto sales and whether — as Tesla argued — they complied with the law by setting up a separate entity, Tesla Utah, to serve as its dealership.
Opinion is split; Justice Deno Himonas says the franchise deal doesn’t hold water, as Tesla owns 100 percent stock of their company—telling the Tribune that “[Tesla is] not McDonald’s selling franchises”— while Utah Deputy Solicitor General Stanford Purser says if they make an exception for Tesla, they would undermine the broader franchise law.
Finally, up in Idaho, according to the Idaho Business Review, a federal judge has ruled that the government failed to consider whether breaching dams along the Snake River would save and preserve wild salmon populations across the Columbia River system. Conservationists cheered the proposal, reinvigorating their hopes to remove four dams from the Snake River. From the IBR:
Agencies must take a new look at all approaches to managing the southeast Washington dams, including breaching, said U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon in Portland, Ore.
“This is an action that (government agencies) have done their utmost to avoid considering for decades,” he wrote.
His order triggered 15 public meetings in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon, where the dam removal issue has percolated for two decades.
The first meeting was held last month, and the final one is scheduled for Dec. 8. After that, a plan to save the salmon must be created.
The Snake River, at just over 1,000 miles, is the 13th longest in the United States, flowing from the western border of Wyoming to its confluence with the mighty Columbia River in Washington. For much of its history, the river and its tributaries produced salmon runs in the millions that sustained Native American tribes who lived near its banks. The best salmon spawning grounds were in Idaho, and were hampered by the construction of the four dams.
Environmental groups say restoring the salmon runs is impossible with the four dams in place.
The dams provide about 5 percent of the region’s electricity, roughly enough power for a city the size of Seattle. A recent report by the federal Bonneville Power Administration said if the Snake River dams are removed, a new natural gas plant would be required to replace the lost electricity.
Thirteen runs of Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead remain endangered or threatened despite billions of dollars spent over decades to save them.
Sam Mace, a spokeswoman for Save Our Wild Salmon, said the dams’ benefits are not worth the loss of the iconic fish.
“There is more than one way to get wheat to market,” Mace said. “But salmon only have one way to travel, and that’s in the river.”
Other entities espouse removing the dams for various reasons. The Northwest SPortfishing Industry Association, for instance, says a healthy salmon run would boost the recreation and tourist economy. Meanwhile, Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe says a healthy salmon population is an essential part of their cultural heritage—one imperiled by the presence of dams.