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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

In legislative races, conservatives best moderates, transgender candidates could make history

A photo from above shows lawmakers seated in the Montana Legislature House chamber.
Nick Mott
/
Montana Public Radio
Montana Legislature House chamber.

Unofficial election results show hardline conservatives doing well in GOP primaries for the state Legislature. Two Democrats are hoping to make history by being the first openly transgender Montana lawmakers.

In a matchup epitomizing the divide between moderate and hardline Republicans, results show Barry Usher leading his more moderate opponent Geraldine Custer by 1,200 votes for state Senate District 20 in eastern Montana.

There is no Democratic challenger in the race, meaning the winner will not have to compete in the general election for the large district stretching from Roundup almost to Miles City. Both Usher and Custer have previously served in the state House of Representatives.

Conservative Republican incumbents Rep. John Fuller, Sen. Mark Noland and Rep. Braxton Mitchell appear to have fended off respective challengers Lee Huestis, Rob Tracy and Lorena Wood.

Two transgender candidates in Missoula, SJ Howell and Zooey Zephyr, are likely to advance to the general election based on unofficial results. Howell ran unopposed, and Zephyr faced Dave Severson.

If Howell and Zephyr win in the general election, they will be the first openly transgender lawmakers to serve in the state Legislature. Both will face Republican and Libertarian candidates. Their districts have been won by Democrats handily in the past.

Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing shaylee.ragar@mso.umt.edu. 
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