In distinct but allied camps, Missoula progressives gathered in Main Street’s Union Club on the night of Nov. 4 to wait for the news. The mood was tense but optimistic as the precinct totals rolled in.
“The atmosphere was bittersweet,” says Ward 3 victor Stacy Rye. “Everyone was really happy that Heidi [Kendall] and I won, and happy for Ed Childers, but we were really sad that Scott [Morgan] lost by such a large margin. And at that time we still didn’t know for sure what would happen with Elizabeth’s [Macasaet] race.”
Ward 2, which had Macasaet squaring off against Don Nicholson, proved to be the city’s tightest race. By the end of the night, the tally was Macasaet 687, Nicholson 690—close enough to qualify for a recount, which Macasaet formally requested the next day.
“We all knew that this race would be really close,” says Macasaet. “There was just this immediate rallying cry of recount.”
And so it wasn’t until Friday that the race was finally decided. At 9 a.m. on November 7, Macasaet and Nicholson waited as a tabulator so ancient it looked like a prop from Star Trek—with blinking yellow, green and red push buttons—went to work on the recount. Six hours later, Missoula County commissioners Bill Carey and Barbara Evans and Missoula County Clerk and Recorder/Treasurer Vicki Zeier tallied the ballots one last time by hand—making sure the machine’s count was accurate. Macasaet nervously stood by the election officials, while Nicholson sat with paper and pencil recording the precinct recount numbers as they were called out.
The final numbers stood as first reported—Nicholson the winner by three votes. Both candidates thanked the election officials, and then Nicholson thanked Macasaet for a clean race and told her to keep in touch.
“Oh, I will,” she replied. “I’m one of your constituents now.”
Nicholson says he wasn’t surprised the ward came down to recount.
“Elizabeth had huge margins in the Westside and Northside and I had big margins in Emma Dickinson and Grant Creek,” he says.
“Grant Creek, that was 4 to 1 for me, and Northside/Westside, that was something like 3 to 1 for Elizabeth.”
Nicholson says knowing that his opponent was just four votes shy of a win won’t change his agenda for City Council. He knows his ward is the city’s most diverse and dynamic, and that sections within the ward have completely separate issues facing them, he says.
In addition to Macasaet’s loss, the progressives mourned incumbent Scott Morgan in Ward 5. Not only did Morgan lose, but his opponent, former mayor Bob Lovegrove, rode the city’s biggest landslide, picking up 61 percent of the vote.
“I worked real hard to let the voters know who I was and who Scott was,” says Lovegrove. “But more than that, Scott’s not having gotten involved in residents of the ward in eight years hurt him. So many people didn’t know who he was in spite of his eight years on the Council. I even had people ask me if I was the incumbent.”
Morgan says the voters knew who he was and what he stood for—they just disagreed with his politics. Morgan says he was honest with voters about where the city was headed in terms of growth, telling them taxes will have to go up to maintain city services, and that sprawl and traffic are inevitable unless Missoulians find a way to live in closer quarters.
“I sent a targeted mailing to 1,500 households that said as much,” he says. “And as I look back over my mailing, I think that it made people say, ‘Well, if he believes these things, we’d rather have the other guy.’”
Lovegrove says that his popularity echoes the changing face of the Missoula City Council.
“Based on how I read the vote citywide, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the way this growth management policy, which is kind of the mayor’s and Scott’s baby, has been implemented,” he says. “The reelection of Jerry [Ballas] and the election of Don Nicholson, and the combined votes of Cass Chinske and Pete Pettersen in Ward 1 show a pretty strong indication that the voters want this growth brought under control, and the residents want a say in what happens in their neighborhoods.”
But by outgoing Councilman Jim McGrath’s estimation, the big issue of infill and growing pains didn’t decide a single race, including Lovegrove’s. McGrath thinks that Ballas won because he was an incumbent in a three-way race, and Lovegrove won because the city annexed 2,500 people in Linda Vista before the election.
“No Council member has survived an annexation in the next election,” he says. “Plus, we’ve never done an annexation that big and stuck it all in one ward. Scott Morgan’s fate was determined when he voted to annex.”
But even if the races weren’t decided by growth, Lovegrove, Ballas and possibly Nicholson are likely to push for the repeal or reconsideration of the city’s growth tools, bolstering the anti-growth tool camp in the process.
“The New Party people, I don’t know if they are going to realize it or not, but the public is starting to get on them,” says Lovegrove. “We saw several letters to the editor in the Missoulian to that effect, and people are starting to realize what the New Party means to Missoula and they don’t like it. So we’re seeing more and more people like me and Don and Jerry selected to replace people like Scott and John Torma and Lois [Herbig] and [Jim] McGrath.”
Rye, who replaced Torma by defeating Tracy O’Reilly 1,087–1,016, thinks that she was elected because people don’t want to see the tools trashed entirely. Both Rye and Heidi Kendall—who replaced Herbig—say they will work toward compromises that include tweaking the tools and creating design standards that everyone can live with. Not an easy campaign promise to follow through on, given the Council they will inherit. But Rye is optimistic.
“We’re all grown-up, adult people,” say Rye. “I see us being able to cooperate.”