Republicans in the Montana state Senate on Tuesday evening passed a bill to change the rules for the 2024 U.S. Senate election―and only the 2024 U.S. Senate election―in a move Democrats blasted as a "partisan power grab" aimed at weakening Democratic incumbent Jon Tester in a tough state. The proposed legislation would do away with partisan primaries and instead require all the candidates to compete on one ballot. The top-two vote-getters would be advancing to next year’s general election, and there’s little question that neither of them would be an independent or belong to a third party.
State Sen. Greg Hertz, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, insisted he was trying to put this top-two primary system, which is already in use in California and Washington state, in place because “[w]e want to make sure that the winning U.S. senator has more than 50% of the supporting people in Montana.” He also defended the decision to put this in place for just one race in just one year, saying that he was picking the U.S. Senate race for a top-two “test run” because of the power of the office and its six-year term.
Critics argued this was no more than a scheme to weaken Tester, and Tester only, in a state where Republicans frequently complain that Libertarian Party candidates cost them vital support. The senator himself won his 2006 contest by unseating Republican incumbent Conrad Burns with a 49-48 plurality, and he defended his seat six years later by pulling off a 49-45 victory in another race where a Libertarian claimed the balance. Tester won reelection in 2018 with a 50-47 majority against Republican Matt Rosendale, who may challenge him again this cycle, with the rest once again going to the Libertarians.
The top-two bill passed the state Senate Tuesday in a 27-23 vote, with all 16 Democrats and seven Republicans in the negative. (The chamber the same night also voted to ban instant-runoff voting, which is not in use in Montana.) The legislation must still be approved by the state House, where the GOP enjoys a 68-32 edge, before it could go to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. It’s possible that there would be a legal challenge should this become law, and election law professor Quinn Yeargain thinks there may be an argument that the proposal is unconstitutional.
Progressives scored a monumental victory in Wisconsin Tuesday night when Janet Protasiewicz flipped a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court, and we've got plenty to say about it on this week's episode of The Downballot. Not only are the electoral implications deeply worrisome for Republicans, the court's new liberal majority has the chance to revive democracy in the Badger State by restoring abortion rights and striking down gerrymandered GOP maps. It truly is a new day—and one we've long awaited—in Wisconsin.
We're also delving into the fascinating politics of Alaska with our guest this week, former state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. Jonathan recounts his unlikely journey to the state House after winning a huge upset while still in college before explaining how Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans forged a remarkable cross-partisan governing coalition. We also get an on-the-ground view of what Mary Peltola's stunning special election victory last year looked like to Alaska Democrats.