The Missoula City Council election results are so last week's news, but the one race that generated some excitement at the time is now generating some serious theorizing about future city elections.
The race in question involves Roy Houseman's beatdown of conservative Ward 2 incumbent John Hendrickson. Houseman, a Democrat, won by a decisive 262 votes, making it the widest margin Ward 2 has seen this decade. Houseman's win also marks the second trouncing in a row by a progressive candidate in the ward, a dramatic change in what has historically been a split district.
So, has the enigmatic Ward 2 veered left for good?
Prior to 2007, elections in the northwest corner of town were nail biters. Progressive John Couch lost by 34 votes in 2005. In 2003, conservative Don Nicholson beat Elizabeth Macasaet by just six votes.
"It's been weird," says Ward 2 Councilwoman Pam Walzer, a Democrat, of the shift. She beat her rival by nearly 100 votes in 2007.
Locals once considered Ward 2 a bipolar district too difficult to predict. On one end of the boundary sat the mostly upscale Grant Creek neighborhood, a supposed home for more conservative voters. The opposite side of the district featured the more working-class Westside, a presumed hotbed of liberalism. But as the ward welcomed semi-affordable housing developments like Pleasant View—with 581 new homes erected since 2000—and the duplex-filled Hellgate Meadows, political demographics may have shifted.
Perhaps, Walzer says. But she cautions against categorizing constituents too broadly. Liberals live in Grant Creek, just as Republicans have been known to hang in the Westside.
"I have found a lot of very entrenched conservatives in the Westside," she says.
And Forward Montana's Matt Singer says the trend isn't limited to Ward 2. He points to progressives throughout Missoula showing up to vote in increasing numbers ever since 2006, and says that momentum held through last week's election.
"This isn't just a Ward 2 phenomenon," he says. "It really is citywide."
Meanwhile, Houseman supporters are quick to point out that the affable union leader mobilized voters with tireless campaigning and an easy-to-support message. In other words, he was simply the better candidate.
We don't argue that point, but considering how thoroughly Houseman won, it's worth watching whether Ward 2's sudden shift left is a sign of things to come.