Just moments after KPAX anchor Jill Valley announced the results of Missoula's City Council elections, we spotted Ward 2 incumbent John Hendrickson looking subdued at The Depot bar. He held a Coors Light can in one hand and a shot in the other—and for good reason. In arguably the biggest race of the day, Hendrickson lost his seat to 28-year-old union leader Roy Houseman by a 262-vote margin.
Hendrickson's loss signals another blow to Missoula's shrinking conservative minority, and the mood inside The Depot reflected the severity of the defeat. Ward 5 incumbent Dick Haines, another curmudgeonly conservative up for reelection, sat with his arms crossed and head down as the numbers came in—and he managed to win his race against Mike O'Herron.
"Remember, the battle is going to be ours for the next four years," said Ward 3 Councilman Jon Wilkins as he left the depressing scene. Wilkins, a registered Democrat, often votes with the conservative minority, which is now down to just four seats on the 12-person council.
Things couldn't have been more different at the Union Club, where local progressives celebrated another strong election. Popular incumbents Bob Jaffe, Dave Strohmaier and Marilyn Marler held onto their seats by convincing margins, and Mayor John Engen, who ran unopposed, spoke of his second term plans.
But the man of the evening was undoubtedly Houseman. The crowd greeted him with cheers of "Roy!" as he entered the bar, causing the precocious politician to blush through his signature Abraham Lincoln beard.
"He's got an unusual quality for a politician in that he's humble," said Ward 1 Councilman Jason Wiener. "It's not an accident that he won."
Houseman, who has served as president of the Local 885 steelworkers union for nearly two years and is currently one of the laid-off workers at Smurfit-Stone, took the victory in stride.
"Honestly I wasn't stressed one way or the other," he said.
In fact, Houseman spent the day doing what he'd done since filing for the race—walking from door to door in his ward.
"People were like, 'Hey Roy, it's like the third time I've seen you,'" he joked. "But you're never sure until the very end."
After Tuesday's results, two things do seem sure in local politics: Missoula residents should get used to seeing more of Houseman, and the conservative minority is in for a long two years.