HELENA - After Tuesday's election, Democrats are poised to control all five seats on the state Land Board, apparently the first time either major Montana political party has done so in 60 years.
At present, Democrats have a 4-to-1 majority on the Land Board, with Secretary of State Brad Johnson the lone Republican.
However, unofficial returns show Johnson losing in his re-election bid to Linda McCulloch, a Democrat and the current superintendent of public instruction. McCulloch has about a 5,000-vote lead, but the Associated Press has not yet called the race because provisional ballots have yet to be counted.
Her victory would give Democrats all five seats on the Land Board.
The Land Board oversees the management decisions on 5.2 million acres of state lands, deciding on grazing leases, mineral leases and logging. Any profits go into a fund for Montana's public schools.
The Land Board also represents the five top state elected officials - governor, attorney general, state auditor, superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer is the lone holdover in his job on the Land Board. Here's a look at the other current and future members, by office:
• Attorney general: The current attorney general, Mike McGrath, was prevented by term limits from running again. He was elected Tuesday to be the next chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court, and Steve Bullock was elected as Montana's next attorney
• State auditor: Current Auditor John Morrison couldn't seek re-election because of term limits. His successor will be Monica Lindeen, who won Tuesday.
• Superintendent of public instruction: Current superintendent McCulloch was also term-limited. Her successor is Denise Juneau, who was elected Tuesday.
• Secretary of state: Johnson, who ran for another term as secretary of state, appears to have lost to McCulloch on Tuesday.
Although Democrats touted their winning all five Land Board seats, state Republican Chairman Erik Iverson played it down.
"They went into the Land Board having four of the five seats," he said of Democrats. "They only needed to pick up one."
Iverson said Democratic candidates for Land Board seats outspent their Republican rivals by about a 3-to-1 margin.
"Their victories had very little to do with the candidates or the Montana Democratic Party," Iverson said. "It had everything to do with the Obama campaign and early votes."
Kevin O'Brien, spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party, agreed that Barack Obama, the president-elect, helped Democratic Land Board candidates.
"To see how much of a difference Barack Obama made in this state, you have to go no farther than the first Land Board meeting of the next year," O'Brien said.
But O'Brien emphasized that the Democratic Party fielded a strong set of candidates for Land Board races who campaigned hard for months to win the seats.
Officials in the governor's office said the last time either Montana party won total control of the Land Board was in 1948, when Democrats won control of all the offices.