HELENA — As he launches a rare independent campaign to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale for the privilege of representing Eastern Montana in the U.S. House, the businessman from Billings, Gary Buchanan, is running without the backing of a major political party — but with the backing of some of the state’s most prominent senior statesmen.
Buchanan, who held appointed positions in state government as early as the 1980s, was formally endorsed at a Friday rally at the state Capitol by Democrat Dorothy Bradley and Republican Marc Racicot, who ran against each other in the 1992 gubernatorial election. reports Montana Free Press.
All three argued that Buchanans’ campaign represents a chance for voters in Montana’s Eastern District, which includes Billings, Great Falls and Helena, to choose something other than the divisive partisanship that has dominated Montana politics in recent years. .
“Gary’s entire life has been involved in building strong and safe communities in Montana with the goal of preserving our democracy, and the independence, freedom and way of life we all cherish,” said Racicot, who has served two terms as governor of Montana. after winning the 1992 election, chaired the Republican National Committee in the early 2000s, and served as chairman of President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.
In his remarks, Buchanan lamented excessive partisanship in Montana politics, saying he believes there is a strong middle ground among the state’s electorate, what he called “an eight-lane highway in the middle of the political spectrum.
“In Montana, so many of us get along. Why do we let our politicians tear us apart? He asked.
Rosendale’s campaign reacted Friday by calling Buchanan “a Democrat to fool Montanans.”
“Matt has worked to combat Biden’s out-of-control spending and government overreach that has caused record inflation and is costing Montanans thousands of dollars,” Rosendale spokeswoman Shelby DeMars said in an email. mail. “Buchanan wants to do the opposite – he’s used to working to advance Democratic policies.”
DeMars also called out Racicot, who has publicly stated that he voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 due to concerns about former President Donald Trump’s persona being a “loyal to Biden.”
Buchanan, who runs Buchanan Capital in Billings, has been an integral part of public life in Montana for decades, serving in state government positions under both Republican and Democratic governors.
He helped create the Montana Department of Commerce, serving as its first director under Democratic Gov. Ted Schwinden, according to a 2006 profile in the Billings Gazette. He also led a major reorganization of state government under Racicot.
According to a resume provided by his campaign, he has also served on the Montana Banking Board, Montana Board of Investments, Board of Crime Control, Montana Chamber of Commerce Board and Montana PBS Board.
Asked in an interview on Friday why he’s not running for Congress as a Democrat, Buchanan said he “never liked party politics.”
“I have been independent throughout my career. And I think an independent has a good chance. I would have been an independent regardless, but I think an independent has a better chance of winning this race,” he said.
He also cited political dysfunction within the Democratic Party, saying debates on topics such as Biden’s proposal for a better reconstruction have turned into a “circular firing squad.”
“The Democrats have made themselves so weak nationally that I have to be independent when it comes to this kind of activity,” he said.
Buchanan also said he was discouraged by some of the legislation that came out of the Republican-dominated Montana Legislature last year. He said he thought the party was too “obsessed” with voter fraud in crafting election administration laws and criticized House Bill 702 – which bars private companies like Buchanan Capital to take into account the COVID-19 vaccination status of employees or customers – like a heavy government intervention at hand.
“I don’t think this legislature has been disciplined when it comes to going too far. I don’t think they even discussed overbreadth,” he said.
In his Friday remarks, Buchanan also took aim at Rosendale’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, criticizing the congressman as “being part of the pro-Putin side of the Republican Party.”
“I wouldn’t embarrass you on issues like national defense, Ukraine and NATO,” Buchanan said.
Rosendale was among the most resistant members of Congress to endorsing American support for Ukrainian defense efforts. Before the Russian invasion, he co-sponsored a bill to ban military assistance to the Eastern European country until the United States finished building a wall on the border with the Mexico. He was also one of only three US representatives to vote against a largely symbolic resolution calling for support for Ukraine last month.
In order to qualify for the November ballot as an independent candidate, Buchanan’s campaign must collect the signatures of 8,722 voters by May 31. He said on Friday he would not use paid signature collectors as his campaign strives to meet that threshold.
In addition to Bradley and Racicot, several notable figures in Buchanan’s campaign hailed from Montana’s old guard political establishment. His campaign treasurer is Dave Lewis, a Republican from Helena who served as state budget director under Democratic and Republican governors and later served in the Montana Senate. Others in attendance to support Buchanan at Friday’s rally included former state auditor Monica Lindeen, a Democrat, and Bob Brown, a former secretary of state who was the GOP nominee for governor in 2004. (Brown left the Republican Party in 2020, citing what he called the president Trump’s “ignorant and irresponsible leadership”).
If Buchanan finds ground with current Montana voters, he could complicate what looked like a smooth path to re-election for Rosendale, who is seeking his second term in the U.S. House.
Rosendale, who currently represents Montana’s assigned statewide congressional district ahead of the 2020 redistricting round, announced her re-election bid in January. While serving in Congress, he earned a reputation as a hard-line Republican, earning the ire of Democrats and some moderate Montanese.
Rosendale, for example, was one of 21 House Republicans who voted against awarding Congressional Gold Medals to police officers who protected the U.S. Capitol during the January 6, 2021 riot, where supporters of Trump interrupted the electoral vote count that officially declared Biden president-elect with violence that left several dead. The measure, which described the rioters as “a mob of insurgents”, was passed unanimously by the US Senate.
Rosendale was also one of 14 Republicans who last year voted against making June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday recognizing the end of slavery. In a statement, he argued that the push for the holiday was “an effort by the left to create a day out of thin air to celebrate identity politics as part of its broader efforts to make critical race theory the dominant ideology of our country”.
Like most other Republicans, Rosendale also voted against the Democratic-backed American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which directs billions of dollars in spending to Montana, but has been blamed by opponents. increase the national debt unnecessarily and fuel inflation. .
As he ran for re-election, Rosendale’s campaign touted his opposition to the Biden administration’s vaccination mandates and “massive spending bills.”
“Now more than ever, it is apparent that Democratic leaders in Washington do not care about the impact of their actions on everyday Montanans,” Rosendale said in a statement at the time. “I hope that the people of our state will allow me to continue to defend their individual freedoms and fight against the government’s out-of-control spending and excesses in DC”
Montana’s eastern congressional district leans heavily Republican, in part because Democrats on the commission that drew new congressional boundaries last year pushed to include leftist Bozeman in the western district so that candidates of the party in western Montana have less of a tough fight.
A Democrat running in the Eastern District, State Senator Mark Sweeny, is a western Montana resident who lives in Philipsburg (he grew up in Miles City, according to his campaign). Also in the Eastern District Democratic primary field are former Billings City Council member Penny Ronning and Billings resident Skylar Williams.
While three other Republican candidates filed to challenge Rosendale in the June primary, he was officially endorsed by the state’s Republican Party and had more than $900,000 in campaign funds in the bank by the end of the day. of 2021, according to federal campaign finance documents.
Other candidates for the Republican nomination in the Eastern Congressional District are Billings pharmacist Kyle Austin, Bozeman resident James Boyette and Helena’s Charles Walking Child. Libertarians Sam Rankin of Billings, Roger Roots of Livingston and Samuel Thomas of Missoula have also applied.