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Judge, Stephens Win Gubernatorial Primaries

June 8, 1988

HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Montana’s Republicans on Tuesday chose Conrad Burns, a county commissioner from Billings, to challenge Democratic Sen. John Melcher, who smothered an obscure challenge in his party’s primary.

Former Gov. Thomas Judge won the Democratic primary to vie for the succession of retiring two-term Democratic Gov. Ted Schwinden, and former state Sen. Stan Stephens won the GOP’s gubernatorial primary to oppose him.

In the presidential primaries, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis easily outdistanced Jesse Jackson in the Democratic contest for Montana’s 19 delegates, while Vice President George Bush walked away in GOP voting.

Melcher, 64, seeking a third Senate term, put down an underfinanced and barely visible challenge from Robert Kelleher, a Billings lawyer.

Burns beat Thomas Faranda, a Minnesotan who filed for the GOP nomination but gave up his absentee bid weeks ago, though his name remained on the ballot.

Melcher said the difference between him and Burns was experience. ″I think it’s pretty obvious I’ve been here awhile,″ he said. ″He’s going to try and say that’s a disadvantage, but I don’t really think it is.

″The longer you’re here, the more chances you have to get bills passed ... that will benefit Montana,″ he said in a telephone interview from his suburban outside Washington, D.C.

With 641 of 982 precincts, or 65 percent, reporting, Melcher had 55,011 votes or 74.7 percent compared to 18,609 or 25.3 percent for Kelleher; Burns had 38,026 votes or 84.0 percent to 7,270 votes or 16.0 percent for Faranda.

In the Democrats’ six-candidate governor’s primary, with 626 precincts reporting, or 64 percent, Judge won with 27,251 votes, or 39.5 percent; former Supreme Court Justice Frank Morrison had 18,806 votes or 27.2 percent and Attorney General Mike Greeley had 15,607 votes or 22.6 percent.

The other three candidates combined for nearly 11 percent of the vote.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, former state Sen. Stan Stephens won with 25,674 votes, or 48.9 percent to state Rep. Cal Winslow’s 23,168 votes, or 44.2 percent.

Also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination were State Sen. Ted Neuman, Emmett ″Curly″ Thornton, an ex-drug addict turned evangelist, and Martin ″Red″ Beckman, a tax protester.

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With Montana’s economy in the doldrums, the campaign for governor revolved around varying plans for reviving it. Central issues were whether to enact a retail sales tax - Montana has none - and whether to tap a multimillion-dollar trust fund built from coal severance taxes during the boom years of energy exploration.

Judge, who was governor during some of those boom years before Schwinden beat him in the 1980 primary, harkened back to those days in urging voters to return him to the statehouse. But his rivals said the prosperity of those years had nothing to do with Judge.

The keystone of Morrison’s campaign was his pledge to veto any sales tax, whatever its purpose or design.

Winslow proposed a 3 percent sales tax as a replacement for property taxes he said were too high.

Republicans have not won the governorship in 20 years.

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