With Ryan Zinke expected to sail through Senate confirmation hearings to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, Montana politicians are rapidly angling to replace him in the U.S. House.
The very good Mike Dennison has a piece profiling six sitting legislators and how their Congressional aspirations might affect the 2017 session.
For Republicans, Sen. Ed Buttrey, a Great Falls businessman, was the first to announce his candidacy. Buttrey hails from the moderate wing of the GOP, is good friends with Zinke, and would likely approximate most of Zinke’s policy positions. His leading role in expanding Montana Medicaid did not endear him to more conservative Republicans, however — and it’s precisely these right-wing Central Committee members who will choose a nominee for the special election. If Buttrey can survive the hothouse of the state Central Committee (a big “if”), he would stand an excellent chance to win.
Other names include 29 year-old Rep. Daniel Zolnikov – Billings, as well as Senate President Scott Sales – Bozeman. Old charges of dark money (“Drain the Swamp?”) would indisputably follow Sales, who — perhaps to Dennison’s point — does not appear as though he will play nice this session, nor does he seem interested in legislating from anywhere other than the extreme right:
— Travis Kavulla (@TKavulla) January 3, 2017
This is hardly surprising. Sales often stakes out far-right positions on bills, yet seldom enforces the “whip” on his members, instead letting his caucus make up its own mind. Of the two leaders from within the legislative chambers, Rep. and House Speaker Austin Knudsen is the more thoughtful and more likely to make a lasting impact as a conservative leader. People might see him as a better choice than Sales if it’s a leader from the Legislature they are looking for.
On the Democratic side, Reps. Amanda Curtis – Butte, Casey Schreiner – Great Falls, and Kelly McCarthy – Billings have all entered the fray. One has to assume, though, that in a red state, and competing in an election so closely removed from a strong Republican November, any Democrat not named Brian Schweitzer will almost certainly face an uphill battle.
Coming later in the week: a look at other announced and rumored candidates from outside the Legislature.