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Democrat Yellowtail, GOP's Hill To Contend For Montana House Seat

By Juliana Gruenwald
CQ Staff Writer

June 10, 1996

Bill Yellowtail, the former regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency, overcame troubling revelations about his past to win the Democratic nomin ation June 4 for Montana's House seat.

Yellowtail's overwhelming victory in the face of controversy was the biggest s urprise to emerge from the state's June 4 primary. He received 56 percent of the vote in a field of four Democrats.

Yellowtail, a member of the Crow Indian tribe and a former state senator, now faces Republican businessman Rick Hill in November for the seat nine-term Democra t Pat Williams is vacating.

In the GOP primary, Hill took 44 percent of the vote over Dwight MacKay, the f ormer state director for GOP Sen. Conrad Burns, and rancher and environmental con sultant Alan Mikkelsen to win the GOP nod.

After easily dispatching two opponents in the GOP Senate primary, Lt. Gov. Den nis Rehberg will take on Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who was unopposed for the De mocratic nomination.

Rehberg captured 74 percent of the vote over businessman Ed Borcherdt and form er state Sen. John K. "Jack" McDonald. Neither was seen as much of a threat to Re hberg, who had the backing of many top GOP leaders in the state.

The state's Reform Party held its first primary, nominating student loan inves tigator Becky Shaw for the Senate over retired railroad worker Webb Sullivan. Sha w ran for the Democratic Senate nomination in 1994.

Republican Gov. Marc Racicot easily won renomination over University of Montan a law professor Rob Natelson, who claimed the incumbent was a liberal. Racicot is highly favored in his race against former state Sen. Chet Blaylock, who easily d efeated his challenger in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Yellowtail's campaign was rocked by revelations that he slapped his wife of th e time 20 years ago, had his state Senate wages garnisheed after failing to pay c hild support and burglarized a camera store in 1967 while studying at Dartmouth C ollege. Yellowtail was expelled for the latter incident but returned to Dartmouth two years later to complete his degree.

A Lee Newspapers poll taken in mid-May before the slapping and burglary revela tions found Yellowtail leading with 52 percent over his Democratic competitors: s tate Sen. Mignon Waterman, Yellowstone County auditor Leo Hudetz and lawyer Larry Jent.

Yellowtail's lead held up, with Waterman coming in second with 22 percent. Hud etz may have hurt himself by attacking Yellowtail over his past. Williams scolded Hudetz for going negative and said he would not support him if he won the primar y.

Yellowtail said his troubled past "has now proven to be a non-issue."

But while Hill said he did not think his campaign would raise those issues, he added that "they are part of his record."

The Republican race also turned negative at the end when Hill and MacKay each claimed the other had supported higher taxes. Hill, a former state GOP chairman, claimed MacKay had raised his own salary, as well as taxes, when he was a Yellows tone County commissioner.

MacKay hit back with a TV ad that claimed Hill, as Racicot's lobbyist in 1993, urged the state legislature to raise taxes. The governor stepped in at one point and urged MacKay to pull the ads. MacKay declined.

Copyright © 1996, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved .

Montana's Williams Rebukes A Would-Be Successor

May 23, 1996

Angered by the tone of the Democratic primary to succeed him, retiring nine-term Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., is publicly reprimanding one of the contenders.

In a letter Tuesday, Williams said he would not support Yellowstone County Auditor Leo Hudetz if he wins the nomination for the state's lone House seat.

Hudetz had assailed former Environmental Protection Agency Regional Director Bill Yellowtail, a primary rival, over two reports -- that Yellowtail slapped his wife 20 years ago and had his wages as a state senator garnished after he fell behind in his child support payments. Hudetz described Yellowtail in local news reports as an "embarrassment who would be unelectable.

"I have long maintained those candidates who start negative campaigning should be punished at the polls," Williams wrote in a letter to Hudetz. The incumbent said he would vote for someone else in the June 4 primary.

Yellowtail, who held a strong lead over his three primary opponents in the most recent poll, was first slowed by news stories about the child support problem. He was the first to reveal the slapping incident. Yellowtail and his former wife, who supports his House bid, said it was an isolated event.

Elusive Candidate Adds 'X' Factor to Montana Race

Juliana Gruenwald, CQ staff writer

March 25, 1996

Seen as a spoiler by some when she dropped into the Montana Democratic Senate primary two years ago, Becky Shaw is back this spring as a challenger to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus.

This time around, Shaw has signed up with the Reform Party -- the offspring of Texas billionaire Ross Perot, the once and perhaps future candidate for president.

In 1994, Shaw was accused of entering the Democratic primary race in an effort to boost former Sen. John Melcher's comeback bid. The thinking was that she would draw the votes of abortion rights supporters and so damage the chances of Melcher's other challenger, former University of Montana law school dean Jack Mudd.

The plot thickened when it was learned that Shaw was dating a political consultant who was working for Melcher when she entered the race.

Not to be dismissed, however, Shaw overcame her late start and low budget to capture 21 percent of the vote in the 1994 primary. Mudd won the nomination and lost in November to Republican Sen. Conrad Burns.

Shaw said in an interview that she was emboldened by her strong showing in 1994. She said she had toyed with making another run in the Democratic primary or as an independent but opted instead for the Reform Party. "I believe in the principles they stand for," she said, citing a balanced budget and campaign finance reform as examples.

While it is unclear what effect, if any, she may have on the Senate race, few political insiders in Montana are dismissing her this time around. "No matter what she does from her first surprising entry to Tuesday, she gets a lot of ink," said state Democratic chairman Kelly Addy.

Shaw's first task will be to get past a rival, Webb Sullivan, in the Reform Party primary June 4.

Copyright 1996, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.

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