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How Primary Results Could Shape 2025 Montana Legislature

A couple of big name Republicans tumbled in legislative races last week, and some GOP families rose and fell together.

Those were just a couple of the observations political analysts and politicians made Wednesday after Montana’s primary election.

Last Wednesday, the Montana Secretary of State’s Office was still reporting the outcomes of legislative races. However, an early look at the legislature forming for 2025 shows Republicans may lose their supermajority, and Medicaid expansion will be a tough fight, as it was in 2019.

A smaller Republican majority was an expected outcome after redistricting, and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick said Democrats will make gains based on the new lines, not on their policies, although the GOP will stand much of its ground.

“It’ll be a good night for Republicans in November,” Fitzpatrick said.

Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers said he believes Democrats will make inroads, but he also said turnout in the fall will affect the shape of the legislature. Republicans held an historic 102 seats in 2023.

Primaries draw fewer voters, and with former President Donald Trump on the ballot again in November and gobs of money flowing into the U.S. Senate race in Montana, turnout is expected to be high in the general election.

Flowers said it’s risky to read too much into primary results, but he is optimistic Democrats will pick up seats: “I think we will overcome the supermajority.”


Twenty-five Senate seats and all 100 House seats are up for election in November following two years of the Republican supermajority.

Six Montana lawmakers look like they will be unseated by newcomers, but 20 incumbents are also poised to survive primary challenges either in their current chamber or in the opposite one.

The races yielded a handful of surprising initial outcomes, but at least a couple of political analysts said results showed clearly that local elections still matter. “These are local elections playing out at the local level, and honestly, that’s kind of what it’s supposed to be,” said Lee Banville, a political analyst with the University of Montana.

Jessi Bennion, political analyst at Montana State University, said she looks for themes as a political scientist, but the primary showed more localized results. Nonetheless, she saw that families had won or lost together, and a couple of known Republicans had unexpected losses.

Bennion agreed old fashioned door knocking still makes a difference, and Fitzpatrick attributed hard work to at least one surprise outcome.

Incumbent Rep. Tony Brockman, endorsed by Gov. Greg Gianforte and a pragmatist, according to Bennion, lost to newcomer Lukas Schubert, a young right-wing newcomer who is the secretary of the Flathead County Republican Central Committee and earned 60 percent of the vote.

Fitzpatrick said the Flathead Republican Central Committee is conservative, as are Republican voters in that area. Additionally, he said Schubert knocked on doors and put in more effort than many candidates.

He will face Democrat Beth Sibert in November.

“I think he just sheer willed his way there,” Fitzpatrick said. “You’ve got to give credit to that. There’s so few people that do that.”


In another upset, Republican Rhonda Knudsen, speaker pro tempore in the House, lost her Senate primary to newcomer Gregg Hunter, who won with 62 percent of the vote. Her husband, Miles Knudsen, lost his House primary to Valerie Moore, who won 69 percent of the vote.

Bennion and others pointed to Rhonda Knudsen’s and Brockman’s losses as surprises, but Bennion also said Brockman’s loss demonstrated Gianforte’s endorsements didn’t tilt his way in every case.

Gianforte had endorsed Brockman, who lost, but he snubbed Rhonda Knudsen, who also lost. At the same time, he didn’t endorse Republican Speaker of the House Matt Regier, who won in a landslide 67 percent against Marquis Laude in a Senate primary.

Assuming Gianforte wins another term, Bennion said he did fairly well with his endorsements, but she wonders how the snubs might affect the ability of his office to work with the legislature: “That could end up affecting those relationships.”

Sen. Becky Beard, who carried a budget bill for the governor in 2023 but didn’t receive his endorsement, won her Senate primary over Rep. Gregory Frazer, a more moderate Republican, and Jeremy Mygland. However, if she returns to Helena, she said she won’t have a problem being the first to raise her hand to volunteer to work with Gianforte if his idea aligns with her interests.

She’ll take on Democrat Jeffrey Benson.

Beard, of Elliston, attributed her win of 48 percent to knocking on doors, returning phone calls, putting out signs, sending out mailers, purchasing newspaper ads and “traversing three counties plus three precincts in other counties.”

“I’m not a typical politician. I’m a political misfit,” Beard said.


Rep. Josh Kassmier, a Great Falls Republican, also was endorsed by Gianforte. He won in a Senate primary with 64% over another known candidate, longtime legislator Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, and he said he won with the endorsement, hard work and messaging.

Voters want to hear what candidates have done that helps them, he said, and this year, they’re worried about property taxes and inflation: “People are just struggling to keep up with inflation.”

Kassmier took out a wellknown Republican, but he said the Montana Legislature always has new people coming into office, especially with term limits, and especially in the House: “We always have high turnover in Montana.”

Nonetheless, 20 current lawmakers won their primaries either in their current chamber or the one they are moving to should they win in November – most of them by significant margins.

For example, in the three Democratic primaries that involved sitting lawmakers, the lawmakers emerged victorious. Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, of Box Elder, beat Bridget Smith 68 percent to 32 percent in a Senate primary.

Additionally, Rep. Bob Phalen, of Lindsay, beat Mike Newton 60 percent to 40 percent in a Republican Senate primary. Phalen will not face an opponent in November and is the presumptive next senator for the district.

Like Phalen, Kassmier won’t face a Democrat in November after knocking out Sheldon-Galloway. Her husband, Rep. Steven Galloway, also lost his primary in another case of families being in alignment.

Steven Galloway appeared headed to fold to a candidate who is part of a family team, Melissa Nikolakakos of Great Falls; she won 51 percent of the vote in the primary, although just 36 votes separated the candidates on Wednesday.

Nikolakakos is married to incumbent Rep. George Nikolakakos, who won his House primary with 72 percent of the vote and will take on Democrat Ronald Paulick in the general election.

In November, Melissa Nikolakakos will take on Democrat Rina Fontana Moore, and Fitzpatrick said he believes Melissa Nikolakakos will have broader appeal than Galloway in the general election.

Fitzpatrick himself is part of a winning family. He ran in an unopposed primary in Great Falls, but his father, John Fitzpatrick of Anaconda, appeared to have edged out a win in his Republican primary by 52 percent against Dave Kesler III.

The Hinkle brothers, both Belgrade Republicans, also can claim primary victories with Wednesday’s results.

Rep. Jed Hinkle was unopposed in his House district, but in his House district, Rep. Caleb Hinkle, of Belgrade, knocked out two big names, Rep. Jennifer Carlson and Scott Sales, the former Senate president; Hinkle earned 48 percent, Carlson 35 percent and Sales 17 percent.

The finalization of new legislative districts through the redistricting commission last year meant that several lawmakers such as Hinkle and Carlson ended up in the same district, and one would lose their seat.

In the general election, Jed Hinkle will take on Democrat Carl Anderson, and Caleb Hinkle will face Alexander Colafranceso, also a Democrat.

*** Although the Republican supermajority is expected to crack, it wasn’t homogenous anyway. Fitzpatrick said in some ways, a larger party is more difficult because it’s more fractured, although he still expects 60 Republicans in the House and 28 or 29 in the Senate.

Banville, at UM, said assumptions that Republicans always have to vote in lockstep or be labeled a RINO — Republicans In Name Only — and be run out of the party aren’t true. If that was the case, he said, all the ideas to amend the Montana Constitution in 2023 would have made the ballot, and that didn’t happen.

“They are conservative, but there are a variety of types of conservatives, and they aren’t all the same,” Banville said.

He said he believes the Freedom Caucus will have some sway because it will have enough members that if it decides to bolt, it can complicate the agenda for leadership or for Gov. Gianforte. At least one vocal member of that caucus, Sen. Theresa Manzella, won a re-election bid in the primary over more moderate Rep. Wayne Rusk and Brad Davis in the Bitterroot, but the Freedom Caucus also lost some members.

Generally, Banville said redistricting will change the face of the legislature, and different messages will resonate with different redrawn areas, but he said it’s too early to predict how or to what degree.

Flowers, in the minority, said property taxes, the cost of housing, and healthcare are important issues Montanans need to address in the 2025 legislature. He said Medicaid expansion was a difficult issue in 2019, and he anticipates it will be again.

Generally, though, he said he hopes Democrats can work with some Republicans to form a majority that ensures critical needs are met for people of the state: “I think that’s what Montanans expect of their legislators, and with our slate of candidates and the holdovers in the Senate, we hope to be able to deliver that as Democrats.”

Fitzpatrick said he anticipates moderates will gain some leverage, but he doesn’t see any problem advancing a Republican agenda in 2025: “There was never enough of a split in the party that hindered the passage of a lot of those bills.”

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