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Jill Cohenour will return for a fourth and final term in the House of Representatives.

The East Helena Democrat held off a challenge from Republican Steve Gibson by 458 votes to claim victory in House District 78, a district that once again delivered one of the closer legislative races in the Helena area.

In a race featuring heavy turnout, Cohenour out-polled Gibson 2,350 votes to 1,892. Previous House races in the district have brought several hundred fewer voters to the polls.

Late Tuesday night, Cohenour said she was excited at the prospect of winning a fourth term and said she worked extremely hard at campaigning over the final weekend in an aggressive effort to spur supporters to the polls.

She was vice-chair of the House Tax Committee in the 2007 Session and hopes for a similar leadership post when the Legislature convenes in January.

Cohenour, 42, is a chemist in the state environmental lab in the Department of Public Health and Human Services. Her margin of victory was her largest since 2002, prior to re-districting.

Gibson, 56, has worked in the public sector for more than three decades. Since 2001 he’s been the director of youth services for the Department of Corrections.

He ran on a platform of increased development of the state’s natural resources, lower property taxes and increased funding for schools, and said he enjoyed knocking on more than 1,500 doors and gained an appreciation for the effort needed to run for office.

The candidates spent some $20,000 between them.

Each candidate cried foul at the other’s campaign tactics.

In October, Cohenour filed a string of complaints with the Commissioner of Political Practices against Gibson, the Montana Republican Party and the political action committee Montanans for Better Government, claiming her voting record was being distorted in advertising pieces mailed to voters.

Gibson never formally complained, but Wednesday alleged that his stance on the issues was tainted as well, through negative mailings, door drops, phone calls and e-mails.

“After this experience I have a better understanding of why people are reluctant to run for public office,” he said.

Gibson said he’s unsure what actions he will take to address the “false claims and rumors” that were spread about him during the campaign.

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