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The Montana Free Press 2024 election guide for statewide and federal offices

| May 19, 2024 12:00 AM

Answers here were solicited from candidates via a written questionnaire conducted by Montana Free Press in April 2024. Responses were limited to 1,000 characters and edited lightly for punctuation and spelling. Candidates were asked to focus on the positives their service would bring the state instead of making rhetorical attacks on their opponents. Responses have not been exhaustively fact-checked.

The 2024 primary election, where voters will pick each political party's nominee to advance to the General Election, will be held Tuesday, June 4. The 2024 general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Editor's note: The Daily Inter Lake is republishing answers in full from candidates in contested primary elections for statewide or federal office. For the full voter guide, click here.

U.S. Senate

Democrats

Michael Hummert

Hummert, 65, is a U.S. Navy veteran and Helena resident who cites Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union Speech as the best summary of his political perspective. He also cites a hardscrabble childhood and diverse work experience including stints as a salvage diver, school bus driver, Montana Highway patrolman and running a home remodeling business.

He describes himself as a pragmatic Democrat who wouldn’t be afraid to buck his party and isn’t “afraid to ask the hard questions.”

Hummert said he grew up in southern Illinois and moved to Helena in 1996 after retiring from the Navy.

“Our county’s leadership is consumed by their self-interest, party loyalty, and we have no one to represent the people,” he told MTFP, “that is my mission.”

This biography is based on materials provided to MTFP by Hummert’s campaign via interviews and a written questionnaire.

What do you see as the biggest issue Montana is facing that the Senate is in a position to address? How would you address it if elected or re-elected?

HUMMERT: It is the same problem that plagues the entire country. Crony capitalism, corruption in government to include Congress and people in power throughout our government that never seem to be held accountable. Much of this can be corrected with a balance budget amendment similar to the one that Jon Tester voted against in 2011. Our country holds the position of being in control of the reserve currency of the world. Our leadership has debased our currency by borrowing $35 trillion. This must stop. It is at the core of the corruption. It is also at the core of inflation, the most insidious tax on poor people. We must insist on a balanced budget amendment, restrict any person over the age of 74 from serving in the Federal government, and term limits of 12 years in Congress. We need voting laws that are beyond reproach. We need a federal clearing house for candidates so the voter can be well informed, and the candidates held responsible for what they say.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, how would you want to work with his administration as a senator?

HUMMERT: I believed Joe Biden when he said in 2020, He would only run for one term of office. I believed Joe Biden when he said Kamala Harris was qualified to be president if anything was to happen to him. The problem with old people is they forget what they tell people, and they are the last to know when it's time to quit. Just like George W. Bush said no more nation building when he was running for office, that didn't work out for the people. Our Senate is evenly split, giving each senator a unique position of power. The Senate confirms the presidents appointments to cabinet positions. I will not confirm any cabinet officer that will not answer direct questions with direct answers. The same for federal judges. I am not partisan, my only loyalty is to the people, and the country. I am of the opinion that Joe Biden is past his prime and that he should step aside and let Kamala Harris become president. He said she was qualified. This is the time to find out, we the people need to know.

Similarly, if former President Donald Trump is elected, how would you want to work with him?

HUMMERT: In many ways Donald Trump provides evidence of his narcissism just like Joe Biden does. His ability to make cabinet appointments is also suspect. Ryan Zinke was no better prepared for interior secretary than the tiny little electrical company in his hometown that he was trying to hire to rebuild Puerto Rico's electrical grid. The president must work with Congress. Congress does not seek his approval, but he must seek our approval. The more independent a senator is from his party, the greater the influence he will have on the process. Jon Tester operates in lockstep with the Democrat leadership and that is why he has been ineffectual after 18 years. He refused to work with Donald Trump, nothing’s changed. There are things I can work on with Trump. Such as the southern border and immigration control. Maybe we can get our balanced budget amendment. We must move our country forward.

Do you regard reining in the federal deficit as a priority? If so, in what budget areas would you support spending cuts or tax increases?

HUMMERT: Please do not mischaracterize these statements. They are a starting point for negotiation on very important issues. Social Security and Medicare are currently not part of the deficit. They do need reform, they will be insolvent in less than nine years. We currently borrow approximately half of what we spend each year. Everything must be visited. We must stop lying to our people so they can rise to the occasion and understand the problems our current leadership has put us in. I support both, spending cuts and tax increases. It will take bold honest discussions and debates open to the public to resolve this issue. Either way there are dark days ahead of us. This will be our moment as a nation to come together and like our founding fathers we must make changes now to guide our country into the future and protect the Republic. A key component of this will be returning sovereignty and responsibility to the states. Sacrifices will be required, it is unthinkable not to succeed.

Would you support federal legislation that either restricts abortions or guarantees access on a national basis? With what conditions?

HUMMERT: There have been many opportunities since 1973 for both parties to fix this problem. Neither one of them wanted to lose abortion as a wedge issue to drive us apart. While the Supreme Court provided pro choice with the opportunity to compromise with pro life and craft a piece of legislation both could live with, it was wasted. Now pro life is in the driver seat and it is unlikely they will craft a bill to compromise with pro choice. My starting point on the issue would be no state should restrict a woman's right to have an abortion in the first trimester. Rape and incest carve out. If two doctors are willing to sign off on an unviable pregnancy up to the sixth month, it should be granted. This should be a baseline and beyond this each state should have complete control of the abortion issue. It is unlikely the federal government will ever get involved with abortion based on past performance. It is now a states’ rights issue. It will remain so until the Supreme Court takes it up again.

What if anything should Congress do to ensure Montanans have access to affordable housing?

HUMMERT: The federal government should not get involved in affordable housing. Affordable housing is a regional problem. Best solved by the states. The federal government is in debt over $34 trillion. The federal government does not have money to spend on another issue. I was listening to the California Senate debate. Rep. Barbara Lee stated that if she won the Senate seat she would get $100 billion of funding for much-needed housing in California. Now you know why we are $34 trillion in debt. What Congress can do to affect the housing crisis is simply to balance the budget. This would drive inflation down and stabilize the cost of interest to purchase a home. Everything is interlinked. We have a housing shortage, yet we leave our southern border open and invite 9 million people into our country. We could drive the cost of building a house down if we harvested more timber instead of letting it burn.

To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any action should Congress take to address it?

HUMMERT: Climate change is real, but it will most likely not be the cause of our extinction. Congress has not gotten anything right in the last 80 years, so why would you think they know what they're talking about this time. Keeling is responsible for the first carbon dioxide measurements of the atmosphere in 1958. It measured 313 ppm and is currently at 414 ppm. That's only 25% increase of our current carbon dioxide level in 66 years. I suspect the reason they are using this as the bogeyman to try and scare us is simply because Congress doesn't blame any one particular industry beyond transportation for the problem. Transportation uses only 15% of the total petroleum products. Pollution is the bigger problem that Congress does not want to address. Instead Congress has assisted our corporations in shipping the pollution overseas. There are over 1 million abandoned oil wells spewing methane that is 28 times more toxic to the environment than carbon dioxide. This is a threat to our environment.

What if any action should Congress take to change how the nation controls movement across the U.S.-Mexico border?

HUMMERT: This has been a problem for my entire life. We must seal the southern border completely. We need to re-examine all of our refugee and immigration programs. Immigration is a three to one loss for the federal government and state agencies. We simply do not have the money to support an immigrant population. It's not about compassion it's about common sense. We the people of this country have a culture. It has eroded due to bad policies of our federal government. Our government needs to stop sanctioning countries in an effort to destroy their economies. This does not make our people safer it just makes our politicians more powerful and dangerous. This is behavior that must be corrected in our state department. Middle East condition since 9/11 2001 are a prime example. Only a fool or politician would say it's a safer place. We have destroyed entire nations with our intervention. We must bring all of our military home to protect our boarders and the American people.

The cost of health care is a concern for many Montanans. What if any federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

HUMMERT: In 2000 a family of four's health care was about $6500 per year, 2010 affordable health care act was passed. At that time insurance was approximately $12,500. In 2020 it had increased by over $10,000 a year. That certainly does not seem very affordable to me. We still have tens of millions uninsured. A document, 1,000s of pages controlling our health care, Congress and Jon Tester did not read it. When Trump was president Tester could've revisited the problem, but he just voted no on repealing it. The medical industry reports record profits at the expense of the people. I cannot think of one thing that Congress has managed well. For this reason single-payer scares the hell out of me. If we are to balance our budget and move our country forward then everything must be examined. I do not have the answer for this one, yet. One thing is for sure, we must get it right this time. Other countries have models that we can explore, we do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Under what if any circumstances do you believe the U.S. should be providing military support to parties involved in foreign conflicts?

HUMMERT: We should allow our military industrial complex to sell arms to countries in order to protect their borders. It should be controlled by Congress. The keyword is sell, not provide them with the money to purchase. If we are to save our country from economic chaos and therefore the world from economic chaos. We must stop the policy of interfering in other countries issues. There have been more people killed in the past 60 years because of our intervention. It is a contributor to our $34 trillion debt. We should revisit every treaty we are involved in. Some will stand and some will need to be renegotiated. We need a strong navy, a well-trained expeditionary force, and a domestic force designed for the defense of our nation. We must harden our space and cyber defense. Once our debt has been paid off in full we can revisit helping other countries. We have a responsibility to our country to provide peace and tranquility within our borders.

Jon Tester (Incumbent)

Tester, 68 as of Election Day, is seeking a fourth term in 2024.

A self-described “three-fingered dirt farmer” who still works the family land outside of Big Sandy, Tester positions himself as a champion of rural America and multigenerational “Montana values.”

But he’s also a shrewd politician and capable fundraiser who has repeatedly defied the odds in otherwise Republican-leaning Montana. Now, he’s the influential chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Montana needs somebody back in Washington, D.C., who understands rural America. Someone who fights for our freedoms and goes to bat for our veterans, our family farms and ranches, our working families, our health care workers and our teachers,” Tester said.

Tester positions himself as a moderate willing to work with or oppose either Trump or Biden depending on the issue, though Republican critics note he still votes with the Democratic president the overwhelming majority of the time (though less often than most other Democrats).

He says he supports reducing federal spending and protecting access to abortion. He voted for the 2024 bipartisan immigration and foreign aid bill that the majority of the Senate Republican caucus blocked.

He has also expressed concern about Montana’s rising cost of living.

“Simply put, the Montana we know and love is changing,” Tester said. “Everything from housing to groceries is more expensive as out-of-state multimillionaires move here and buy up our land, using Montana as their personal playground. With so much changing, we’ve got to have somebody in the Senate who’s willing to fight for our Montana way of life.”

This biography is based on material Tester provided to MTFP as well as prior MTFP coverage of his campaign.

What do you see as the biggest issue Montana is facing that the Senate is in a position to address? How would you address it if elected or re-elected?

TESTER: Simply put, the Montana we know and love is changing. Everything from housing to groceries is more expensive as out-of-state multimillionaires move here and buy up our land, using Montana as their personal playground. With so much changing, we’ve got to have somebody in the Senate who’s willing to fight for our Montana way of life.

I still farm the land just outside of Big Sandy that my grandparents homesteaded more than 100 years ago. I feel those changes that are going on in Montana right now, every day.

Montana needs somebody back in Washington, D.C. who understands rural America. Someone who fights for our freedoms and goes to bat for our veterans, our family farms and ranches, our working families, our health care workers and our teachers. I’m running to keep up the fight for those folks, and to make sure our kids and grandkids can grow up in the same Montana we know and love. Montana is the greatest state in the greatest country in the world and it’s damn sure not for sale.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, how would you want to work with his administration as a senator?

TESTER: My most important job is listening to the voices of Montanans and bringing their perspectives back with me to Washington. I’ll take on anyone from any party — including Joe Biden — to do what’s right for Montana.

There have been times when I’ve worked with him because it helps Montana, like getting my Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed to fix roads, bridges, and airports across the state and get internet access into our rural communities. Other times, I’ve stood up to Biden, like demanding he keep Title 42 in place to secure our southern border, and protecting funding for our hunter safety classes after the administration tried to block it. And I worked with Republicans to protect veterans’ Second Amendment rights. My votes are never about toeing the party line — they’re about what’s best for Montana.

We live in the greatest state in the greatest country on Earth, and I’ll fight for what’s best for Montana no matter who the president is.

Similarly, if former President Donald Trump is elected, how would you want to work with him?

TESTER: When Donald Trump was president, I worked with him to get things done for Montana and he signed more than 20 of my bills into law to help veterans, crack down on government waste and abuse, and support our first responders. If we’re both elected this November, that’s what I’ll continue to do.

I have worked alongside President Trump to pass important legislation like my MISSION Act, which overhauled the VA’s disastrous Choice Program and cut down on bureaucracy so veterans didn’t have to deal with red tape and could get vital care quicker. I was also proud that President Trump signed into law my bills to audit key governmental programs to crack down on fraud and abuse, get critical resources to our rural fire departments across Montana, and protect the East Rosebud river system that south-central Montana knows and loves.

No matter who sits in the White House, I’ll work with them to deliver for Montana, because we live in the greatest state in the greatest country on Earth.

Do you regard reining in the federal deficit as a priority? If so, in what budget areas would you support spending cuts or tax increases?

The deficit is out of control and both parties are to blame. In Montana, we know how to balance a budget and live within our means. That is why I authored a balanced budget proposal. It would protect Social Security and Medicare benefits that our seniors have earned while still forcing the federal government to stop racking up the debt and passing it along to our kids and grandkids. We also need to hold massive corporations accountable and make them pay their fair share.

Would you support federal legislation that either restricts abortions or guarantees access on a national basis? With what conditions?

TESTER: I do not support a federal ban on abortion.

Montanans of all stripes don’t want the federal government telling them what to do, and they don’t want politicians or judges stripping away their personal freedoms. Just last year, politicians in Montana ignored the voices of the voters and passed abortion bans. I oppose these bans and will always fight to protect Montana women’s freedom to make their own health care decisions.

The last time I ran for reelection, Roe v. Wade had been the law of the land for nearly 50 years. Now, those protections are gone — and the attacks on women’s freedoms and privacy are just beginning. I fought in the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have enshrined the protections of Roe v. Wade into law.

We’re also seeing attacks on basic fertility treatment like IVF across the country, like when an Alabama court ruling forced IVF clinics to cancel their appointments. I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that never happens in Montana.

What if anything should Congress do to ensure Montanans have access to affordable housing?

TESTER: As a third generation Montanan, I am worried about what is happening to our state. Our local infrastructure is severely strained, and housing costs are skyrocketing. I am deeply concerned about the housing crisis in Montana, which is forcing families to make tough choices about family homes they’ve owned for decades. Out-of-state millionaires are coming here and buying up our land and using Montana as their personal playground. You shouldn’t need to leave your hometown to get a good-paying job, and you shouldn’t need a million bucks to keep a good roof over your head.

Montana isn’t for sale. I recently introduced a bill to establish a manufactured housing community improvement grant program, to help revitalize Montana’s affordable housing supply. I will continue pushing for my Rural Housing Service Reform Act to improve federal rural housing programs. We need to continue investing in affordable housing programs. I’ll never stop fighting to protect working Montana families.

To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any action should Congress take to address it?

TESTER: There is no question about it, climate change is impacting our economy and our way of life. Sharla and I see these impacts firsthand on our farm, where significant droughts have led to some of the toughest harvests in recent years.

We should be developing clean energy technologies to tackle climate change, create good-paying American jobs, and secure our energy independence, and Montana has the opportunity to lead the way. China is actively working to beat America in the clean energy sector in hope of taking over as the world’s strongest economy. We can’t afford to lose this competition. That is why we should invest directly in Montana companies researching next-generation energy technologies that are affordable and lower costs for consumers. Traditional energy sources like oil and gas remain a critical part of how we power our country, so we need to continue to invest in research and development of technologies like carbon capture and storage to reduce carbon emissions.

What if any action should Congress take to change how the nation controls movement across the U.S.-Mexico border?

TESTER: What’s happening on the southern border is unacceptable.

I’ve called on President Biden to step up and do everything in his power to secure the border, and I supported a strong bipartisan deal to get our border under control earlier this year. This bipartisan bill was backed by the National Border Patrol Council and would have hired more border patrol agents, cracked down on the fentanyl crisis, and tightened asylum standards. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues voted to keep the border open for another year so they could campaign on the issue.

I have been talking with Montanans, sheriffs, and mayors, they all are feeling the consequences of the situation at the southern border, from stretched law enforcement budgets to fentanyl in the communities. I was proud that my bipartisan FEND Off Fentanyl Act passed to place sanctions on countries engaged in international trafficking of illegal fentanyl and give law enforcement the resources they need to battle the fentanyl crisis.

The cost of health care is a concern for many Montanans. What if any federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

TESTER: Every Montanan deserves access to affordable and quality health care — especially for folks in rural communities where access to health services can mean the difference between life and death. That is why I have fought in the Senate to address health care worker shortages in rural Montana and secured crucial resources for our rural hospitals and clinics, including better funding for emergency services.

There are some politicians who want to fully privatize our health care system. I oppose any plan to do so. This would put our rural hospitals and critical programs like Medicare at risk. I will stand tough against any plan to privatize Medicare, because our seniors shouldn't have to forgo health care just because they can’t afford it. I was proud to pass legislation that allowed Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and capped the cost of insulin for seniors at $35/month — and I will fight to ensure that Montana’s nursing homes stay open and fully-staffed.

Under what if any circumstances do you believe the U.S. should be providing military support to parties involved in foreign conflicts?

TESTER: As chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee my top priority is to always keep America safe, and ensure Montana stays the greatest state in the greatest country in the world. Our military priorities should lie in protecting America and our allies, and staying ahead of our adversaries like China and Russia who want to replace us as the world’s leading superpower. I’ll fight tooth and nail to defend America from military, economic, and democratic threats.

We should be strategic and only involve America in foreign conflicts when it strengthens our alliances and benefits the United States. The U.S. can’t and shouldn’t get involved in every foreign conflict, but America is safer when we have strong alliances and our allies know they can trust the U.S. to stand by them when facing threats.

My top priority will always be defending Montana and our nation, full stop. I’ll continue fighting to forcefully counter foreign adversaries like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Republicans

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson, 73 as of Election Day, is a former Montana secretary of state and Public Service Commission chairman.

“I believe that the future of this Republic is in greater peril today than at any time since the civil war, and I want to play an active role in forging the solutions to the challenges the country faces,” Johnson said.

Johnson wants to actively oppose the policies of the Biden Administration or actively support the policies of the would-be Trump Administration. He says he believes in reducing federal spending, reinstating the Trump-era “remain in Mexico” policy and opposing government efforts at combating climate change.

He’s positioned himself as a grassroots alternative to Sheehy and has accused national Republicans of attempting to manufacture the outcome of the primary following Congressman Matt Rosendale’s termination of his campaign.

As former secretary of state and chairman of the Public Service Commission, I have proven electability and a real record for Montanans to judge,” Johnson wrote in a recent opinion column. “Mr. Sheehy has neither. Mitch McConnell and Steve Daines need to get their thumbs off the scale and let Montana Republicans choose their Senate candidate without further outside interference from The Swamp.”

This biography is based on material Johnson provided to MTFP as well as prior MTFP coverage of his campaign.

What do you see as the biggest issue Montana is facing that the Senate is in a position to address? How would you address it if elected or re-elected?

JOHNSON: There are many, but the most pressing for all fifty states is the border crisis. I will work tirelessly to codify the key elements of the Trump border policies. Finishing the wall, reinstating the "stay in Mexico" policy, ending "catch and release" and deporting as many illegal aliens as reasonably possible should all be made a matter of law.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, how would you want to work with his administration as a senator?

JOHNSON: President Biden and I agree on virtually nothing when it comes to public policy. I see it as my responsibility as a senator to do everything I can to minimize the damage being done by the extreme progressive policies he is attempting to advance.

Similarly, if former President Donald Trump is elected, how would you want to work with him?

JOHNSON: Conversely, I agree with the vast majority of former President Trump's public policy positions. I will be completely committed to building alliances with my colleagues for the purpose of realizing those policy goals.

Do you regard reining in the federal deficit as a priority? If so, in what budget areas would you support spending cuts or tax increases?

JOHNSON: We simply cannot spend America rich and federal spending must be brought under control. There are a number of things that should be done to accomplish that. Moving to zero based budgeting, eliminating continuing resolutions and omnibus budget bills, defunding several departments including Education, Energy and Commerce and passing a Balanced Budget Amendment are among them. However, if we were to do away with all of the discretionary spending in the budget today, it would not be enough to bring it into balance. I will strive to be a catalyst for meaningful discussions regarding the reform of entitlement programs so that we can preserve them for future generations in a fiscally responsible manner. There is, in my mind, absolutely no justification for any new taxes and I will oppose any attempt to levy them.

Would you support federal legislation that either restricts abortions or guarantees access on a national basis? With what conditions?

JOHNSON: For 50 years I argued that Rowe was bad law because abortion policy should be determined by the states. I still believe that. I am staunchly pro-life and would be supportive of state legislation restricting abortion but including exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

What if anything should Congress do to ensure Montanans have access to affordable housing?

JOHNSON: This is another issue that rightly resides with the states. Nowhere in the Constitution does it give the federal government the power to become a real-estate developer or landlord.

To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any action should Congress take to address it?

JOHNSON: The climate has always been and is today in flux. However, that change does not present an existential threat to our future. The hysteria surrounding the debate and the knee-jerk reactions that hysteria brings poses a far greater threat. The draconian "solutions" proposed in the "green new deal" and by this EPA are impossible to achieve and would cripple our economy. Private sector innovation and market forces will continue to lead us to attainable, sustainable and cleaner energy sources.

What if any action should Congress take to change how the nation controls movement across the U.S.-Mexico border?

JOHNSON: I will work tirelessly to codify the key elements of the Trump border policies. Finishing the wall, reinstating the “stay in Mexico” policy, ending “catch and release” and deporting as many illegal aliens as reasonably possible should all be made a matter of law.

The cost of health care is a concern for many Montanans. What if any federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

JOHNSON: We should return to a market-based health insurance system with the addition of a means tested voucher system to assist those individuals and families who genuinely need the help.

Under what if any circumstances do you believe the U.S. should be providing military support to parties involved in foreign conflicts?

JOHNSON: First and foremost, military aid should be provided to another country only when a clear national interest has been identified. And then, that aid should be forthcoming only after we have assurances that there will be meaningful transparency and accountability regarding the use of the resources provided.

Tim Sheehy

Tim Sheehy, 37 as of Election Day, is a Gallatin County businessman and former Navy SEAL who has emerged as national Republicans’ top pick to take on longtime incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester this year.

Sheehy, a Minnesota native who moved to Montana in 2014 and founded the aerial firefighting company Bridger Aerospace, said he didn’t consider entering politics until the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, a chaotic exit in which 13 American troops were killed in addition to hundreds of Afghan civilian casualties.

“It was heart-wrenching,” he told MTFP. “I fought in our nation’s longest war. I worked to save our allies. I understand duty, service and sacrifice. That day showed me something was seriously wrong in D.C. and motivated me to run for U.S. Senate.”

His policy priorities include reducing the federal deficit, tightening immigration laws and restricting American support for Ukraine. Although Sheehy has donated to past political rivals of former President Donald Trump, he received Trump’s endorsement in February and pledges to work with Trump if elected.

“America is at a crossroads, and it’s time for a new generation of leaders to save our country from the career politicians — Republicans and Democrats — who run for office after office, go to D.C. to get rich, and lecture us about ‘fighting for you’ while our problems only get worse,” Sheehy told MTFP.

This biography is based on material Sheehy provided to MTFP as well as prior MTFP coverage of his campaign.

What do you see as the biggest issue Montana is facing that the Senate is in a position to address? How would you address it if elected or re-elected?

SHEEHY: We must bring accountability to D.C. Like many Montanans, I’m tired of hearing career politicians talk about how they’re going to “fight” for America while our problems only get worse.

From our nation’s out-of-control debt, the crisis at our southern border, the broken VA, and the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, the career politicians and bureaucrats in D.C. are not being held accountable. It's time to remind Washington what it means to have service, sacrifice, and accountability at the center of your mission.

That’s why one of my first actions as a candidate was to sign the Term Limits Pledge because we need more accountability and less career politicians. I’m committed to ensuring that politicians who fail to pass a balanced budget don’t get paid. And Montana veterans will have no bigger advocate than a fellow veteran to fight for them and fulfill the promise our nation made to them.

Montanans have an opportunity to secure our children’s future and save America. Let’s take it.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, how would you want to work with his administration as a senator?

SHEEHY: Our country is facing serious problems, and we need serious people to solve them. Record inflation, open borders, rising crime, collapsing foreign policy, unattainable housing prices and out-of-control debt. America is at a crossroads. Control of the U.S. Senate will decide if we can solve these problems to save the American Dream and deliver prosperity and growth while protecting our freedoms and liberties.

As senator, I will work to end illegal immigration once and for all, rebuild our economy with low inflation, unleash American energy, get tough on crime, fix the VA and put America First.

President Biden has failed our nation and is one of the worst presidents we’ve ever had. President Trump will win in November, and I look forward to working with him to deliver the commonsense policies Montanans want, and our country needs: safe streets, cheap gas, a secure border, America First foreign policy, a strong economy, a balanced budget, good schools, boys are boys and girls are girls.

Similarly, if former President Donald Trump is elected, how would you want to work with him?

SHEEHY: I’m incredibly proud and honored to have the support of President Donald J. Trump as we fight to take back the Senate and save America. As conservative political outsiders and successful businessmen, we will always fight for Montanans and put America First!

This race will determine control of the Senate, and with President Trump in office, the Senate is critical to advancing the America First agenda.

We need political outsiders to deliver the commonsense solutions Montanans want, and our country needs, but career politicians back in D.C. haven’t delivered. Under President Trump’s leadership, our economy was booming, our border was secure, and America was respected on the world stage. Together, we will take on and defeat the D.C. establishment and career politicians selling out our country, rebuild our economy, secure the border, get tough on crime, re-establish peace through strength, restore Montana common sense in D.C., drain the swamp, and Make America Great Again!

Do you regard reining in the federal deficit as a priority? If so, in what budget areas would you support spending cuts or tax increases?

SHEEHY: We are $34 trillion in debt. $34 trillion. The spending in Washington is out of control, and the career politicians are doing absolutely nothing to rein it in. Let’s be clear: We have a spending problem — not a revenue problem.

If we don’t fix our spending problem, we’ll be handing our children an insolvent nation, and the only thing our tax dollars will do is service our national debt. We must balance the budget and begin to lower our national debt.

The quickest way to balance the budget is to ensure that politicians who fail to pass a balanced budget don’t get paid. You’re not allowed to run your business that way, and they shouldn’t be allowed to run our nation that way. If politicians can’t pass a balanced budget, they shouldn’t get paid. No balanced budget, no paycheck!

We must also start cutting wasteful spending that doesn’t put America First — no more blank checks to Ukraine or sending billions to regimes, like Iran, that chant “Death to America!”

Would you support federal legislation that either restricts abortions or guarantees access on a national basis? With what conditions?

SHEEHY: I am proudly pro-life and support commonsense protections for when a baby can feel pain, as well as exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, and I believe any further limits must be left to each state.

Like most Montanans, I believe that allowing an elective abortion up until the moment of birth is an extreme position.

I strongly believe in helping bring more life into this world, including through our philanthropy benefitting Montana health care, which helped bring the upgraded neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to the Gallatin Valley to provide critical care to at-risk infants and helping Billings Clinic establish Montana’s first level one trauma center.

I also stand in support of IVF as a path for families to grow and thrive when they struggle to conceive naturally, like my brother and sister-in-law who battled infertility and eventually were blessed with my nephew through IVF. I will fight against any effort to restrict IVF treatments for women and families.

What if anything should Congress do to ensure Montanans have access to affordable housing?

SHEEHY: Record inflation has made the American Dream of homeownership tougher and tougher to achieve for Montanans. The reckless spending out of D.C. has given us record-high inflation, sky-high interest rates, higher building costs and rising prices on everything from homes to groceries. We need to rebuild our economy with low inflation. I will work to end the out-of-control spending and the disastrous economic policies that are crushing Montana families and small businesses.

We must also start taking advantage of our abundant natural resources and building more homes with Montana timber. In the middle of a housing crisis, why are we buying our timber and shipping it in from foreign countries when we could be getting it for cheaper while growing our economy right here in Montana? It makes no sense.

We should be able to responsibly manage our forests here at home to create more high-paying jobs, lower housing costs, support our communities, and protect the environment. That’s common sense.

To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any action should Congress take to address it?

SHEEHY: The climate has always been changing, but the Leftist Climate Cult agenda is not about the environment, it’s about control.

We must stand strong against the radical climate cult agenda that senselessly kills Montana jobs, weakens our economy, crushes business, devastates our communities and strips Montanans of their freedoms by weaponizing ESG. As a public company’s CEO, I know personally how this woke crap is stripping us of our freedoms.

We need to embrace commonsense policies that benefit the economy and environment simultaneously. It’s time to make America energy independent and dominant again by unleashing all forms of American energy and innovation and increasing active forest management. We should be able to responsibly develop those resources here at home to create more high-paying jobs, lower energy costs and support our communities, all while protecting the environment. This isn’t an either/or choice like the left would have you believe. We can do both.

What if any action should Congress take to change how the nation controls movement across the U.S.-Mexico border?

SHEEHY: President Biden inherited a secure border but created the worst border crisis in our history.

Congress could've held the Biden administration accountable for its disastrous policies in April by holding an impeachment trial for DHS Sec. Mayorkas and Jon Tester voted to dismiss it.

As senator, I’ll fight to defend America, stop the invasion and keep deadly drugs, like Chinese fentanyl, off our streets. But let's be clear: Joe Biden created this crisis and he has the authority—without help from Congress—to fix it.

We must stop incentivizing illegal immigration and restore President Trump’s successful policies of Remain in Mexico and ending Catch and Release. We can’t keep spending billions on handouts for illegals while we’re $34 trillion in debt, have homeless veterans on the street and hardworking Americans struggle to make ends meet.

We need new, strong leadership to crush the cartels, finish the wall, seal the border, end illegal immigration once and for all and put America First!

The cost of health care is a concern for many Montanans. What if any federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

SHEEHY: Our health care system is broken. I hear it from Montanans in their communities across the state. Because of Obamacare, Montanans face higher premiums year after year. Americans have lost access to doctors and health care plans they were told they could keep.

More government control of our health care has only made things worse. We must increase access and lower costs.

Like most Montanans, I believe we need to promote greater transparency, competition and shopping for services in our health care system. As someone who was wounded in battle and has had to deal with the VA, I know firsthand we should be rewarding outcomes and innovation, improving access to care in our rural communities, and most importantly, protecting Montanans with pre-existing conditions.

That's why I proudly donated millions across Montana to increase access to critical health care services, bring the upgraded NICU to the Gallatin Valley and help Billings Clinic establish Montana’s first level one trauma center.

Under what if any circumstances do you believe the U.S. should be providing military support to parties involved in foreign conflicts?

SHEEHY: We must put America First. If we're going to send military support overseas, we better damn well know why we're doing it, the American people better be behind it, and it better benefit our national interest.

We can't let the politicians back in Washington keep putting America Last and shoveling our resources, people and cash overseas as other countries take advantage of us. Everything we do as a country, domestically and internationally, should benefit the American people and serve our national interest, because when America acts in its own interest, the rest of the world benefits. When we're a strong America with a strong economy and a strong presence, everyone else benefits. We must get back to that.

Our government should always serve American interests and put Americans first. That's what America First means, and that's the type of commonsense leadership I'm going to fight for in the Senate.

Charles Walking Child

Charles Walking Child, an Anishinaabe tribal member with Blackfeet heritage, describes himself as a “poor man’s Republican” who wants to wrest Washington from corporate control and restore the U.S. to its basic constitutional principles.

Walking Child lives in Helena and owns an environmental contracting business.

“I will fight for all veterans, small businesses, small farmers and ranchers, and not to forget ALL Montanans!” he wrote in a recent Facebook post.

Walking Child ran in the Republican primary for Montana’s eastern U.S. House district in 2022, coming in third in a field of four candidates.

Walking Child did not respond to MTFP’s spring 2024 candidate questionnaire. This biography is based on prior MTFP reporting and social media posts by the candidate.

Greens 

Robert Barb

Robert Barb, a Green Party candidate, says he “walks the walk” when it comes to supporting the environment and living with “ecological wisdom,” one of the party's tenets. “I have lived ‘off the grid’ in the mountains of Western Montana for decades in concert with the environment and with a minimalist footprint,” he wrote on his campaign website. “I mostly hunt and fish, and I grow most of my own food.”

He says he opposes both major parties because they ignore such wisdom. He supports decriminalizing cannabis and a ceasefire and two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“One of Jon Tester’s greatest failures is his inaction on the continued Israeli assault on Gaza, and his refusal to support a ceasefire,” Barb wrote. “I’m running for the United States Senate to provide an alternative for the hundreds of thousands of Montanans who want to see an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and an end to war.”

Barb did not respond to MTFP’s spring 2024 candidate questionnaire. This biography is based on Barb’s campaign website.

Michael Downey

Michael Downey, a Green Party candidate, is a drought program coordinator at the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in Helena. He touts 25 years in natural resource management in the state, according to his LinkedIn page.

Downey did not respond to MTFP’s spring 2024 candidate questionnaire. This biography is based on Downey’s LinkedIn page.

U.S. House District 1

Republicans

Mary Todd

Mary Todd, 68 as of Election Day, is a Kalispell business owner and a pastor at Purpose Church Kalispell. She was born in Pomona, California, and says she has lived in Kalispell full time since 2009. She says she and her husband, a retired U.S. Navy aviator, have four sons.

Todd became a public figure after the death of her son Shane, who Todd says was murdered in Singapore in 2012. She previously made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2022, failing to advance beyond that year’s western district Republican primary.

She cites border control as the nation’s most significant issue and also says she wants to fight alleged corruption.

“I'm running to end government corruption, which I have seen at the deepest level after the federal government covered up my son's murder when he refused to compromise the illegal transfer of technology to the CCP,” she said in a statement to MTFP.

This biography is based on Todd’s response to a MTFP candidate questionnaire and prior media reports, including coverage of her 2022 campaign.

What do you regard as the biggest issue Montana is facing that Congress is in a position to address? How would you address it if elected or re-elected?

TODD: Currently, our open border is our biggest issue. A nation without borders is not a nation. As your congresswoman, I will use the power of the purse to defund our government until our border is shut. I will fight for limited and accountable government, Second Amendment rights and the sanctity of life. I will stand up to the ruling elite who are destroying the American way of life and all that has made our country great by taking away our liberty; by undermining our nation’s elections; and by pushing radical race and gender ideology in our schools, boardrooms and media. I will fight for Montana's water rights and logging rights. I will fight against tax hikes. I will say NO to manipulation used to cause fear, like pandemics and global warming. If we as Americans continue to abandon the principals that have made us the greatest and freest nation in the world and refuse to recognize the internal and external threats, we are sowing seeds of our own destruction.

Can you name a current member of Congress you admire? What do respect about them?

TODD: I admire and respect Congressman Matt Rosendale because he is not afraid to stand up against the ruling elite and to put the people first.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, how would you want to work with his administration as a congressman?

TODD: I would stand against government corruption, which should be a bipartisan issue, and I will fight to boldly speak truth and seek justice for all.

Similarly, if former President Donald Trump is elected, how would you want to work with him?

TODD: I would do the same and stand against government corruption, which should be a bipartisan issue, and I will fight to boldly speak truth and seek justice for all.

Do you regard reining in the federal deficit as a priority? If so, in what budget areas would you support spending cuts or tax increases?

TODD: Yes! I regard reigning in the federal government as a priority. I would support defunding all three-letter agencies. I would not support wasteful omnibus bills. I would not vote to support foreign governments over our own. I would support limited government and stop supporting liberal/woke agendas.

Would you support federal legislation that either restricts abortion access or guarantees access on a national basis? With what conditions?

TODD: Abortion should not be decided at the federal level.

What if anything should Congress do to ensure Montanans have access to affordable housing?

TODD: From a federal level, the only thing that can be done is to cut taxes and stop inflationary spending.

To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any action should Congress take to address it?

TODD: I do not see climate change as an urgent issue.

What if any action should Congress take to change how the nation controls movement across the U.S.-Mexico border?

TODD: Rebuild the wall. Fentanyl is pouring through our unprotected borders. Where is fentanyl made? China. Who is buying fentanyl? The cartel. Who is funneling fentanyl into our country to kill our fellow Americans? The cartel through China. This insidious drug is the number one killer of people ages 18-45 and it must be stopped.

The cost of health care is a concern for many Montanans. What if any federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

TODD: End Obamacare and allow free-market enterprise; give the power back to the state so they can manage their own health care system.

Ryan Zinke

Ryan Zinke, 63 as of Election Day, has represented western Montana in Congress since last year. He says he was born in Bozeman and raised in Whitefish on a property where his family has lived for four generations. He is also a retired U.S. Navy SEAL commander.

Zinke served as President Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior from 2017 to 2018. He previously served as a state legislator and was initially elected to represent what was then a statewide congressional district in 2014.

As he campaigns for re-election this year, Zinke describes himself as a “Reagan optimist” who believes the nation’s problems can be addressed “despite the mess (President) Biden has created in our economy, border, and national security.”

Federal investigations of Zinke’s tenure at the Interior department found he misled investigators about his role in a Whitefish land deal and about the department’s decision not to act on a gaming application from two Native American tribes while serving as secretary. Zinke has criticized both investigations as politically motivated.

This biography is based on written material submitted by the Zinke campaign and past MTFP reporting.

What do you regard as the biggest issue Montana is facing that Congress is in a position to address? How would you address it if elected or re-elected?

ZINKE: The two biggest issues are inflation and illegal immigration.

Bidenomics has cost Montana families an average of $26,000 more per household since 2021. Every economist agrees — the inflation is being driven by high energy costs and years of uncontrolled government spending. We need to continue pushing legislation that recall pointless spending, cut taxes and incentivize working instead of handouts.

On immigration, I meet with county commissioners, sheriffs and tribal leadership daily. I hear over and over how the border crisis is spilling into our communities, stressing our public resources and filling our jails. One of my early votes in 2023 was for the Secure the Border Act. The House has done their jobs, the Senate has neglected theirs for more than a year by not taking it up. But the easiest solution is for the President to do his job. Biden is derelict in his duty and has ignored the constitutional authority he has to fix the crisis he’s created.

Can you name a current member of Congress you admire? What do respect about them?

ZINKE: Oklahoma Congressman and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Congressman Tom Cole. He’s a statesman, conservative, strategic with policy, and every day he demonstrates how to disagree with someone across party lines without being disagreeable. I have come to know Tom as a friend and mentor over the years and I was honored that as a committee chairman he took a week of his schedule to visit Montana to see our needs.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, how would you want to work with his administration as a congressman?

ZINKE: Well, first I’d show Biden where Montana is on a map because he hasn’t shown up here since he got elected. Then, I’d ask for new leadership in the Departments of Interior and Transportation because both agencies are failing Montanans on every level.

Similarly, if former President Donald Trump is elected, how would you want to work with him?

ZINKE: I’ve got a fantastic relationship with President Trump. He knows Montana and the issues we face well. Under Trump our country was thriving economically, and we had confidence in our national security because our allies trusted us and our enemies feared us. Now, we couldn’t be in a more opposite situation with Biden in office. I look forward to working with him to make our country great again.

Do you regard reining in the federal deficit as a priority? If so, in what budget areas would you support spending cuts or tax increases?

ZINKE: Absolutely. I sit on appropriations and my two priorities were to curve spending and remove the woke out-of-touch agenda that’s costing Americans millions. The 12 individual spending bills the committee sent to the House floor cut spending by double digits across the federal government. We cut some agencies by 40%. But cutting is not enough. We also need to grow our way out of this, and that’s where cutting red tape and regulatory reform come in. I voted for the $600 billion tax cuts package to help small businesses hit by high interest rates, encourage lower income families to get back in the workforce, and provide relief to folks just trying to buy gas, groceries and rent.

Would you support federal legislation that either restricts abortion access or guarantees access on a national basis? With what conditions?

ZINKE: I have deep empathy for women who find themselves facing this difficult decision. I have never opposed an outright ban and I vehemently oppose efforts by the Democrats to make abortion legal up to the moment of birth. Abortion should be regulated, safe and legal in the first trimester, but policymakers must recognize that the best way to prevent abortions in the first place is to make sure contraceptives are widely available and affordable.

What if anything should Congress do to ensure Montanans have access to affordable housing?

ZINKE: When looking at the cost of housing in Montana you have to look at the big picture, that’s that under Joe Biden, every single thing is more expensive. It is also much more expensive to buy or build a home. To get home construction costs down the government needs to get inflation down, which means stop spending money we don’t have. Bring the historically high interest rates down. Open up mortgages on trailer homes. I’m also working with a bipartisan group on the Hill to expand low-interest and low-downpayment loans to first responders and K-12 educators so they can afford to live in the communities they serve. The average American is paying a $1,000 more a month for basics since Biden took office. It’s more expensive to power and heat homes because Biden’s war on American energy. We need to continue tax cuts for working families, encourage home ownership and policies that make it easier to attain a title, and give the private sector the space to bring back a competitive market.

To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any action should Congress take to address it?

ZINKE: There is no debate the climate is changing; man is an influence. I think where there’s debate on it is what that influence is and what can and should we do about it. My view has always been that promoting clean air and clean water and reducing our dependence on foreign energy is a positive step forward. Nobody produces energy more efficiently or cleaner than right here in the United States. When I was secretary we had the biggest production year on record and it was also the best safety year and we lowered emissions. So, the answer is not to cut domestic energy production, the answer is to allow the private sector to continually innovate to make energy more sustainable and efficient while lowering costs and improving safety.

What if any action should Congress take to change how the nation controls movement across the U.S.-Mexico border?

ZINKE: I just got back from a visit to the southern border and one thing is for sure — there is no border. There’s checkpoints where illegal migrants go to get a shower, a meal, and a piece of paper telling them to report for a court date in six years. The executive orders Biden signed on day one reversed what we spent four years building under Trump. Biden created this crisis, as a result crime, sex trafficking, drug trafficking and fentanyl overdoses are skyrocketing in Montana. The answer is H.R. 2 — the Secure the Border Act the House passed more than a year ago and the Senate has let collect dust since. Both the Senate and White House have the tools they need to secure the border — but it’s going to take a Senate and White House to work with the House to get it done. H.R. 2 Ends catch and release Supports ICE to do their jobs, Resumes construction of the wall, Holds Mexico accountable Reinstates the successful Remain in Mexico policy

The cost of health care is a concern for many Montanans. What if any federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

ZINKE: The evidence is clear that Obamacare has been a failure for Montanans and health insurance plans continue to get more expensive. History has shown us that the best way to ensure affordable and accessible health care coverage is employer-sponsored coverage. Additionally, the U.S. needs to stop providing coverage to illegal aliens. It’s crushing our hospitals and clinics, stressing systems and all the costs are being pushed down to patients.

Libertarians

Dennis Hayes

Dennis Hayes, 70 as of Election Day, told MTFP he was born in Oklahoma, moved to Montana in 2004 and currently lives in Townsend.

He said he is running for office in an effort to advocate for small-scale miners, loggers and ranchers who are having their use of public lands curtailed by federal authorities.

“I know how corrupt this government is,” Hayes said in a written statement to MTFP. “I've been fighting with the forest service for going on 10 years on their corruption and lies.”

This biography is based on materials Hayes provided to MTFP via a written questionnaire.

What do you regard as the biggest issue Montana is facing that Congress is in a position to address? How would you address it if elected or re-elected?

HAYES: The first thing I'm going to do is start running an investigation on the Forest Service on how corrupt they are and on the BLM and the corruption that's in the 9th Circuit Court in Montana that's my biggest issues besides the border and the illegals.

Can you name a current member of Congress you admire? What do respect about them?

HAYES: No, there may be only a handful of people that's for the American people.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, how would you want to work with his administration as a congressman?

HAYES: First thing I do is file impeachment papers on the corruption of Joe Biden the Republican Party wasting our taxpayers money with their dog-and-pony show and not getting anything done

Similarly, if former President Donald Trump is elected, how would you want to work with him?

HAYES: To start investigating the Forest Service, the BLM, the court systems on all of their corruption and start getting people fired and make sure they lose their pension too much corruption in this government they're not for the people anymore they're for their own back pockets.

Do you regard reining in the federal deficit as a priority? If so, in what budget areas would you support spending cuts or tax increases?

HAYES: I'd cut spending everywhere in this communist government it's too big they waste too much taxpayers money it's time to cut this government at least in half get rid of all of our money that they're giving away to other countries it's time we give it to our own people and to the veterans so they can have housing instead of illegals.

Would you support federal legislation that either restricts abortion access or guarantees access on a national basis? With what conditions?

HAYES: I don't have any thoughts on abortion that's not for me to decide the almighty God they will have to answer to when they die he's the one that will judge them not me.

What if anything should Congress do to ensure Montanans have access to affordable housing?

HAYES: Congress should stay out of it it's none of their business if the states would run their own it would be a lot better.

To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any action should Congress take to address it?

HAYES: Climate change is a farce nothing but a joke it's a waste of taxpayers money and too many people in this government making millions of dollars off of it it's a scam.

What if any action should Congress take to change how the nation controls movement across the U.S.-Mexico border?

HAYES: There should be a border wall at our south border and our north border no one is allowed in here unless they go through the door and through the proper channels like the Constitution says.

The cost of health care is a concern for many Montanans. What if any federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

HAYES: The federal government needs to get out of health care they have no business messing with any of it that's what the problem is now too many fingers in it and too many people's getting money in their back pockets on what they're voting for.

Ernie Noble

Noble told MTFP in April 2024 that he was halting his campaign to clear the way for fellow Libertarian Dennis Hayes. That decision came after the deadline to be removed from the ballot.

Governor

Democrats

Jim Hunt

Hunt, 71 as of Election Day, is a Helena attorney in private practice and a retired Montana National Guard lieutenant colonel. He and his law partner, Pat Fox, represent people with personal injury claims and insurance disputes.

Hunt was born in Missoula, raised in Chester and has lived in Helena since the 1980s. His wife and two daughters work in the mental health and social work fields, a fact Hunt says has influenced his understanding of society. Hunt says he is running for governor as a Democrat to pursue a more fair and equitable state.

“The governor turned down $15,000,000 for hungry children, had a $2.5-billion budget surplus and still raised state property taxes on Montana homeowners,” Hunt told MTFP.

Hunt graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 1982. After his father, Bill Hunt, was elected to the Montana Supreme Court, Hunt took over his father’s law practice. He previously ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, losing in the 2008 Democratic primary.

This biography is based on Hunt’s professional website and responses to MTFP.

Many Montanans are concerned about rising residential property taxes, which primarily fund local government services but are calculated through a system set at the state level. What if any changes to the state tax system would you support?

HUNT: Gianforte cut his home’s property taxes and raised your property taxes. Gianforte had a $2.5 billion budget surplus, courtesy of the federal government, and still raised state property taxes on Montana homeowners by $250 million a year. And he cut taxes for big corporations and utilities. I will fight for tax fairness for Montana homeowners so they don’t shoulder burdensome and increasing property taxes while big corporations and utilities get property tax cuts. That’s not fair. Montanans are struggling to find places where they can live and work and these Republican property tax hikes are only making things worse.

Do you believe changes to Montana’s school finance system are necessary to ensure locally administered school districts have the funding they need to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students with a quality education? What if any changes would you advocate for over the next four years as governor?

HUNT: Yes, I believe changes are needed. I was involved in the school funding litigation in the late 80s and early 90s. Changes were made after the courts ruled changes were necessary to make funding equitable. I support a system that ensures equally funding for all school systems. Wealthier communities should not have better resourced schools than poorer communities. When this happens, it contributes to unequal educational opportunity and economic disparity. I would eliminate tax credits for private school tuition.

Montana maintains largely unencumbered legal access to abortion as a result of the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Montana Constitution’s right of privacy, even as other states restrict when and how patients can terminate their pregnancies. What are your priorities regarding abortion access?

HUNT: I am 110% for individual freedom and private medical decisions. Gianforte wants to take away Montanans’ freedoms by telling women how to manage their private health care decisions. These decisions are deeply personal and private. The government, and Gianforte, shouldn’t get between a Montanan and their private health care providers. It’s simple. Keep the government out of our private health care decisions. Period. I will not let the GOP and Gianforte take away our freedoms and trample on our private decisions.

Montana is one of the states that expanded Medicaid access under the federal Affordable Care Act, bringing health coverage to previously uninsured populations. As governor, would you sign a bill reauthorizing Montana’s expanded Medicaid program in its current form in 2025?

HUNT: Absolutely. As governor, I would sign a bill reauthorizing Montana’s expanded Medicaid program in its current form. Studies are clear: Early childhood intervention is critical to protect Montana's most valuable natural resource. Good medical care is critical to successful early childhood intervention and development. For adults, good medical care means more productive workers and a healthier population. Instead of proper health care, the GOP wants Montanans to get our primary care in hospital emergency rooms. Emergency room care costs more and provides less. This results in higher medical costs for all Montanans and poorer health for many Montanans.

Housing costs are a concern for many Montanans. What should state government do to push rents and home prices toward levels that are reasonably affordable for middle- and low-income residents?

HUNT: Rather than cutting taxes for the rich, give tax incentives to landlords who provide low income housing. Give tax incentives to first time home buyers and homebuilders for houses valued below a level determined by the geographical area. Montana needs affordable housing. We don’t have enough affordable housing stock and out-of-state buyers are moving in and pushing up home prices that are beyond the means of many working Montanans. We need to create incentives for builders to build affordable housing to ensure that working Montanans can afford to live, work and raise a family in the Big Sky State.

What role do you think faith should play in Montana’s public life?

HUNT: I grew up in a family and a community of faith. Faith steers my moral compass to treat all people fairly and with respect, regardless of their values and circumstances. I believe faith is private to each person and provides a framework for how each of us approaches our family, neighbors, community and society. Each person should be able to live their faith as they choose without government interference.

Ryan Busse

Busse, 54 as of Election Day, spent 25 years working as a salesman for the firearm company Kimber. He left his position as vice president of sales in 2020 and published a memoir, “Gunfight,” criticizing radicalization in the firearms industry the following year.

Busse, who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up on his family’s ranch in northwestern Kansas, has lived in the Flathead Valley since 1995. Busse has said his time in Montana has helped shape his identity as an environmental and conservation advocate. He previously served as a volunteer board member and board chair for both Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and Montana Conservation Voters.

“My Montana is a place where hardworking people make a good living for themselves, raise their kids with equal opportunity,” Busse said in his first campaign video. “Unfortunately the Montana that I love, and that my kids have been raised in, is being threatened right now.”

Busse has not previously held elected office. As he has campaigned for governor, Busse has pledged to make property taxes more equitable, stabilize school funding and protect reproductive rights and abortion access.

Busse was cited for hunting birds without a license in 1998, according to Lee Newspapers, paying a $120 fine. He has said he made a mistake about which combination of hunting licenses he needed to purchase.

This biography is based on Busse’s memoir, responses to MTFP and his campaign materials.

Many Montanans are concerned about rising residential property taxes, which primarily fund local government services but are calculated through a system set at the state level. What if any changes to the state tax system would you support?

BUSSE: Montanans’ concerns over Greg Gianforte’s reckless, record property tax hike on Montana homeowners is the biggest and loudest concern I hear on the campaign trail. I hear it from lifelong Republicans, even elected Republican leaders, who wonder why their wealthy governor, and his supermajority in the Montana Legislature, raised taxes on them while giving tax breaks to corporations. Gianforte also gave tax breaks to himself while increasing taxes on his neighbors! As governor, I will demand the Legislature adjust the property tax rate when home values increase to prevent the burden falling on homeowners, as previous Republican and Democratic governors have done. I also support the wealthy and corporations paying their fair share. Billionaires and millionaires who buy up third or fourth homes here should be on the hook for ensuring that our community heroes — law enforcement officers, teachers and nurses — have an opportunity to live in safe, affordable homes in the communities they serve.

Do you believe changes to Montana’s school finance system are necessary to ensure locally administered school districts have the funding they need to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students with a quality education? What if any changes would you advocate for over the next four years as governor?

BUSSE: Our Constitution guarantees “equality of educational opportunity” to every Montanan, and this isn’t up for debate. That means whenever schools in our state face shortfalls, we have a constitutional obligation to roll up our sleeves and find funding, without unfairly heaping the burden solely onto ordinary homeowners, and without creating chaos and uncertainty for counties, as Gov. Gianforte has recklessly done. I strongly support adequately funding all public schools in Montana with a tax system that doesn’t let the wealthy off the hook while ordinary homeowners get Gianforte’s additional tax bills. As governor, I would also never falsely blame higher property taxes on county commissioners or municipal leaders, as Gov. Gianforte has done. And unlike Gov. Gianforte, I also strongly oppose any effort to fund private or religious schools with public tax revenue.

Montana maintains largely unencumbered legal access to abortion as a result of the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Montana Constitution’s right of privacy, even as other states restrict when and how patients can terminate their pregnancies. What are your priorities regarding abortion access?

BUSSE: I strongly support a woman’s constitutional right to make whatever health care decisions are best for her health and her family and her future, including whether or when to have a family, without interference from any government or politician. I support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, which is guaranteed in our Constitution as a matter of privacy. I support strengthening those rights and freedoms. Greg Gianforte, and a handful of extremists in the Montana Legislature, are dangerously hell-bent on taking those rights and freedoms away.

Montana is one of the states that expanded Medicaid access under the federal Affordable Care Act, bringing health coverage to previously uninsured populations. As governor, would you sign a bill reauthorizing Montana’s expanded Medicaid program in its current form in 2025?

BUSSE: Yes. Folding more Montanans into Medicaid coverage was a bipartisan solution that has only improved the lives and livelihood of countless people. It has provided certainty and stability in our communities — for kids, seniors and Indigenous people. And it has saved all of us money in the long term. When asked about the 133,000 Montanans who lost Medicaid coverage under Gianforte’s watch, including 36,000 children, he responded that his plan for stripping health care was “working as intended.” That kind of approach is dangerous, cruel, costly and immoral.

Housing costs are a concern for many Montanans. What should state government do to push rents and home prices toward levels that are reasonably affordable for middle- and low-income residents?

BUSSE: Montana faces a housing crisis that Greg Gianforte has overseen, while making our state the most expensive it’s ever been. And only someone as wealthy as him would have the gall to call his own crisis “The Montana Miracle.” The first thing I’ll do as governor is to stop making the problem worse — as Gov. Gianforte has done. Look, he raised property taxes on ordinary homeowners (while cutting his own taxes) and proclaimed “Montana is a great place to sell” without doing the hard work of making our state more affordable and more livable (he has certainly not looked out for public schools, law enforcement agencies or hospitals). We must ensure that our community heroes — law enforcement officers, teachers and nurses — have an opportunity to live in safe, affordable homes in the communities they serve, and we can do that by reexamining our tax system to make sure that billionaires and millionaires (like Gianforte) who drive up home prices here are on the hook for their fair share.

What role do you think faith should play in Montana’s public life?

BUSSE: While I deeply respect the First Amendment right for all people to practice whatever faith they choose, I also believe in the First Amendment guarantee that our government respects no establishment of religion. To that end, I have significant concerns about Greg Gianforte’s efforts to fund private religious schools with public tax dollars. As governor, he wants to impose his extreme religious views on the rest of us, and I’ll fight his betrayal of our First Amendment rights at every turn.

Republicans

Greg Gianforte

Greg Gianforte, 63 as of Election Day, was elected as Montana’s governor in 2020, the first Republican to hold the position in 16 years in 2020. He originally ran for governor in 2016, losing to Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock. Gianforte was later elected as Montana’s at-large U.S. representative in 2017 and reelected in 2018.

A former technology entrepreneur who built Bozeman-based RightNow Technologies into a $1.5 billion business before selling it to Oracle in 2011, Gianforte has cut income taxes, capital gains taxes and reduced tax burdens for business equipment during his first term. He has signed into law government restrictions on abortion, religious freedom protections and school choice policies, and also established task forces intended to address housing affordability issues and property taxes.

In his campaign for a second term, Gianforte is pledging to grow Montana’s economy and rein in government regulations.

“For too long, Montana hasn’t lived up to our full, outstanding potential, and while we’ve made great progress to reach our potential over the last three years, there’s still more to do to create more good-paying Montana jobs, boost opportunities for all Montanans and protect our Montana way of life,” Gianforte told MTFP.

Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in 2017 after he physically attacked a journalist in the closing days of his 2017 congressional campaign. He was also formally warned by state game wardens after trapping a wolf in 2021 without completing a required certification course and fined $70 in 2000 after self-reporting that he had shot a spike bull elk in a district where hunting was restricted to brow-tined bulls, according to Lee Newspapers.

This biography is based on MTFP’s reporting on Gianforte’s first term, media reports, and other existing public records.

Many Montanans are concerned about rising residential property taxes, which primarily fund local government services but are calculated through a system set at the state level. What if any changes to the state tax system would you support?

GIANFORTE: As I’ve said and as Montanans know all too well, property taxes are too high and need to be reined in. Last year, we delivered Montana homeowners property tax rebates of up to $1,350 and permanent reforms, saving them over $120 million. Taken together, these measures completely offset the property tax increase of the average Montana homeowner.

I’m committed to delivering long-term solutions to rising property taxes. With about 85% of property taxes being collected and spent at the local level, I support reining in out-of-control county spending. We tried to do just that in the 2023 legislative session with SB 511, but special interest lobbyists killed the bill. Just like hardworking Montanans, government at all levels, including local government, should live within its means.

I also support providing Montana homeowners with a homestead exemption, ensuring out-of-staters, who own second homes in Montana, pay their fair share for our law enforcement, schools, and roads and bridges.

Do you believe changes to Montana’s school finance system are necessary to ensure locally administered school districts have the funding they need to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students with a quality education? What if any changes would you advocate for over the next four years as governor?

GIANFORTE: My priority is to support teachers, empower parents, and deliver the best education possible for our kids so they can reach their full potential.

Last year, we provided record funding for our K-12 public education system. I also stood with our public schools and students when some counties refused to collect the full 95 public school mills. The state collects those mills and fully returns them to school districts to ensure each Montana student has access to a quality education, as the law and our Constitution require. The mills better ensure that students have access to a quality education, regardless of whether they live in lower-resourced school districts or better-resourced ones, like Big Sky. My opponent has criticized collecting the 95 mills, which would have cut public school funding.

I am also proud to have proposed the TEACH Act, and signed it into law in 2021. The TEACH Act provides millions of dollars in incentives to local school districts to raise starting teacher pay.

Montana maintains largely unencumbered legal access to abortion as a result of the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Montana Constitution’s right of privacy, even as other states restrict when and how patients can terminate their pregnancies. What are your priorities regarding abortion access?

GIANFORTE: All life is precious and must be protected. We’ve made progress to protect life — protecting a child born alive as a result of botched abortion, requiring a doctor to provide a woman with the option to see an ultrasound, safeguarding parental consultation when a 16-year-old girl seeks an abortion, and eliminating taxpayer-funded abortion. Voters know where I stand, but my opponent refuses to say where he stands, including whether he thinks on-demand abortion should be available all the way up to the ninth month.

The reality is Montana is unique. The Montana Supreme Court in 1999 interpreted our Constitution to guarantee the right to abortion.

Abortion is a heart-wrenching decision facing pregnant mothers. As we work to protect as many unborn lives as possible, we must also have compassion for these women. We must love them both — mother and unborn child. We must also expand upon our successful work to encourage adoption, so that more children can find loving, healthy homes.

Montana is one of the states that expanded Medicaid access under the federal Affordable Care Act, bringing health coverage to previously uninsured populations. As governor, would you sign a bill reauthorizing Montana’s expanded Medicaid program in its current form in 2025?

GIANFORTE: The safety net of Medicaid should be there for those who truly need it, but it will collapse if all are allowed to climb on it.

During the pandemic, the federal government didn’t allow states to verify eligibility for Medicaid, and Medicaid enrollment spiked. Last year, the federal government required states to begin verifying eligibility again. Since then, we’ve ensured only those who are eligible can participate, and enrollment is back down to pre-pandemic levels.

Medicaid should be a temporary program for most people to help them get back on their feet. We should encourage work and reduce government dependency by requiring able-bodied adults with no dependents, excluding seniors and single parents, to work to receive benefits.

Housing costs are a concern for many Montanans. What should state government do to push rents and home prices toward levels that are reasonably affordable for middle- and low-income residents?

GIANFORTE: Joe Biden’s inflation is making it harder for Montanans to make ends meet. Our housing problem has existed, but was ignored, since 2010, as our population grew faster than housing supply.

In the last few years, we’ve made progress to solve this crisis. Because government can’t spend its way out of the housing crisis, we’ve emphasized reforms to increase housing supply while protecting our way of life from sprawl.

Working with legislators and the bipartisan Housing Task Force I launched, we made Montana a national leader, delivering historic pro-housing reforms that will boost supply and make housing more affordable and attainable. Our reforms make it faster, easier and cheaper to build homes. We created incentives for communities to build more densely. We’ve allowed ADUs, apartments in commercial areas and increased access to starter homes.

The results won’t come overnight, but I’m proud of what we’ve done and remain focused on continuing to build on our pro-housing reforms.

What role do you think faith should play in Montana’s public life?

GIANFORTE: My faith is a guiding light and deeply personal. Just as faith guides many Montanans, my faith has positively influenced my life.

Government alone can’t provide the full services and support to the people it serves. A central part of our Montana way of life is neighbors help neighbors. Our nonprofit organizations and places of worship also support and serve others. For example, about one in four individuals who seek help for mental health turn to faith leaders before they seek clinical professionals.

In 2022, our Department of Public Health and Human Services launched the Office of Faith and Community Based Services to strengthen partnerships with organizations that play a fundamental role in supporting health and wellness, as well as self-reliant individuals. By working with these organizations we’re expanding resources and strategies to improve health outcomes for all Montanans.

We’ll continue to emphasize partnerships between the state and organizations that support Montanans.

Tanner Smith

Tanner Smith, 49 as of Election Day, is a Lakeside resident who represented House District 11 in the 2023 Legislature as a freshman lawmaker. While in the Legislature, he served on the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee, House Taxation Committee, House Transportation Committee, and the Joint Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Senate Fish & Game Committee.

He sponsored four bills during the 2023 session, including one that would have limited the location of marijuana dispensaries, though none passed into law.

As he campaigns for governor, he has pledged to represent conservative Republican values, crack down on crime and drug trafficking, reduce homeowner property taxes and expand natural resource production.

“The Montana my children are growing up in is nothing like the Montana I grew up in,” Smith told MTFP.

Smith owns his own construction business in Lakeside, where he lives with his wife and five children. Smith was a school board trustee for Somers Lakeside School District 29 but resigned in January 2023. He grew up in Stevensville.

This biography is based on materials compiled by the Montana Legislature, Smith’s campaign website, news reports and public business records.

Many Montanans are concerned about rising residential property taxes, which primarily fund local government services but are calculated through a system set at the state level. What if any changes to the state tax system would you support?

SMITH: All of us conservative Republicans tried fixing this in the 2023 session. The entire tax appraisal formula needs to be based off of acquisition value not fair market value. What you paid for your house is what you are taxed on. As governor I intend to return to mining, logging and responsibly utilizing our natural resources. The property tax problem is because the tax burden has shifted to residential property owners where as 30 years ago proceeds from natural resource taxes is what funded local government.

Do you believe changes to Montana’s school finance system are necessary to ensure locally administered school districts have the funding they need to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students with a quality education? What if any changes would you advocate for over the next four years as governor?

SMITH: The school finance system of ANB funding is fine. It's not a funding issue. Private schools educate their students with less money and students generally have better outcomes. The public schools need to return to the three R's of education. Private schools and home schools are taking children out of the public school because the parents don't want their children indoctrinated. They went woke and they're going broke. Many public schools are top-heavy with administration and those funds should go to the teachers. Many schools also went fully computerized with Google classroom and the cyber and ransom insurance for these platforms is extremely expensive. These schools could buy text books and pay their teachers much higher salaries.

Montana maintains largely unencumbered legal access to abortion as a result of the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Montana Constitution’s right of privacy, even as other states restrict when and how patients can terminate their pregnancies. What are your priorities regarding abortion access?

SMITH: I believe life begins at conception and ends at natural death. If the Legislature brought me that bill I would sign it. Every life matters and unborn babies have the right to live. As a husband, father and man I need to protect those that can't protect themselves.

Montana is one of the states that expanded Medicaid access under the federal Affordable Care Act, bringing health coverage to previously uninsured populations. As governor, would you sign a bill reauthorizing Montana’s expanded Medicaid program in its current form in 2025?

SMITH: I would have to see what bill comes out of the 2025 Legislature. We need to provide some assistance for the health care of children and those folks in need of temporary coverage. I also believe people who can work need to work and provide for themselves, including their health insurance. There needs to be sideboards and curbs on Medicaid or it will become financially unsustainable like every governmental assistance program. Those of us in the private sector don't work seven days a week so everyone can have freebies.

Housing costs are a concern for many Montanans. What should state government do to push rents and home prices toward levels that are reasonably affordable for middle- and low-income residents?

SMITH: This is what happens when you vote for Democrats and regulate fossil fuels out of business. Housing prices are based off of energy production. Higher inputs for developers and builders equals higher outputs to consumers. As governor I would advance the cause of Montana becoming energy independent. I will insulate Montana from the bad policies coming out of Washington D.C. The state of Montana shouldn't be picking winners and losers with regards to who gets housing assistance. The folks getting the assistance are doing so at the detriment of another. I would support the use of tax abatements to allow the private sector to start building again. What's missing in the rental/housing discussion is ‘Why are people short of money?’ Tax proceeds from recreational cannabis will be $100 million in 2024. That revenue is 20% of the $500 million spent on pot? $500 million "reported" in this cash business..... really $600 million, $1 billion? Our entire state annual budget is $7 billion.

What role do you think faith should play in Montana’s public life?

SMITH: Faith SHOULD pay a paramount role in Montana life....unfortunately it doesn't. As a legislator and as governor we can't constitutionally mandate people to have religion in their lives. It is the role of missionaries and churches to spread the word. As governor I would advocate for and educate the people on living by the "Golden Rule" and be kind to one another. Treating others the way you want to be treated resonates with all ages and genres.

Attorney General

Republicans

Austin Knudsen

Austin Knudsen, 43 as of Election Day, says he’s spent his first term increasing crime fighting resources to state and local law enforcement agencies and fighting federal policies that “run roughshod over our rights.”

The Republican, a former speaker of the State House and Roosevelt County Attorney, was elected attorney general in 2020, the same year voters gave Republicans control of both the Legislature and governor’s office for the first time since the mid-2000s. He has since been most visible as the face of Republican state government in court, mounting defenses to constitutional challenges against dozens of Republican-backed laws and joining national lawsuits against Biden Administration policies — more than 40, by his count.

“I'm running for reelection so that I can continue to fight drugs and crime in our communities, fight the disastrous Biden agenda that has harmed Montanans, and fight for Montanans’ freedoms and liberties,” he said.

Knudsen currently faces a complaint from Montana’s attorney ethics organization due to his office's defiance of a court order during a 2021 separation of powers fight. Knudsen’s office has branded the complaint a campaign season-motivated “political stunt” designed to persecute a difference in political opinion.

This biography is based on materials provided to MTFP by Knudsen’s campaign and previous MTFP reporting.

The attorney general is Montana’s chief law enforcement officer. What do you see as the state’s top law enforcement issue?

KNUDSEN: My top priority is the safety of our communities. We've strengthened our laws and directed more resources to those fighting on the front line. 100% of the illicit fentanyl and methamphetamine coming to Montana is manufactured by Mexican cartels and coming across the southern border. This is why I've taken aggressive and proactive legal action against the Biden policies that have left our border unprotected. Locally, we’ve dedicated more resources than ever before to local and state law enforcement, including more narcotics agents, increased participation and leadership in drug task forces, and securing 24 drug detecting K9s for agencies across the state. It's working — more than a half-million dosage units of fentanyl were taken off our streets just last year. I will continue to support law enforcement in the fight to disrupt trafficking networks, keep illegal drugs out of our communities, and aggressively target cartel affiliates and drug dealers who bring this poison into Montana

Montana attorneys general have historically worked with attorneys general from other states to advance multi-state litigation against parties such as federal officials, pharmaceutical companies and social media companies. What if any national issues would you focus the Montana Department of Justice’s litigation resources on?

KNUDSEN: I’ve joined with my colleagues from around the country in filing more than 40 lawsuits against the federal government relating to the border, gun rights, energy development, economic policies and more. The Biden administration has abdicated its duty to secure the border, allowing drugs to pour into our country, making the fight against crime in Montana more difficult. A state like Montana can’t afford to have an attorney general who will let the federal government run roughshod over our rights.

I’ve worked with other state AGs — and our own — to hold opioid manufacturers and companies in the prescription opioid distribution network accountable for their roles in the opioid epidemic, securing tens of millions of dollars for state and local governments to use for evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery initiatives.

I’ll continue to aggressively defend Montanans’ rights and our state’s interests during my second term as attorney general.

The attorney general has the job of defending against lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of laws passed by the state Legislature, which leaders from both major parties say will likely remain in Republican control following this year’s election cycle. How do you see yourself working with legislators as elements of the agenda they pass face judicial review?

KNUDSEN: Defending state laws has become an increasingly large part of the litigation work the Department of Justice undertakes as special interest groups seek to overturn the laws duly passed by the state Legislature. The attorney general’s job is to enforce and defend the laws of our state — period. If someone won’t commit to doing the job, they shouldn’t be running for the position.

Logan Olson

Olson is the Daniels County attorney and a lawyer with the O’Toole Law Firm of Plentywood and Scobey.

A 2020 University of Montana law school graduate and a member of the board of trustees for Scobey Public Schools, Olson has a history with a number of conservative legal causes, including as a university chapter president of the Federalist Society.

Olson doesn’t appear to be actively running a campaign against Knudsen. He has no campaign website, has reported no fundraising, and the individual his campaign hired for campaign finance compliance work is the same as Knudsen’s.

Olson did not respond to MTFP’s candidate questionnaire. This biography is based on Olson’s LinkedIn page.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Republicans

Sharyl Allen

Allen, 65 as of Election Day, has spent the past four decades working at various levels of public education, most recently as the principal and superintendent at Harrison Public School in Madison County. Prior to that role, Allen served as deputy state superintendent under Elsie Arntzen, routinely representing the Office of Public Instruction in education policy discussions at the Legislature and before the Board of Public Education. Allen left the agency in July 2023.

Allen was born in Choteau and raised in Fairfield. She got her start in school administration in the Augusta Public Schools, and from there went on to jobs at multiple other districts in Montana and Arizona. During her time at OPI, Allen says she led efforts to establish new approaches to teacher retention and student assessment and worked with state lawmakers, higher education leaders and local public school administrators on a range of other initiatives. She has emphasized student safety and parental rights as core issues in her campaign.

“We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of our kids,” Allen said, “and we need someone at the OPI that will fight for a bright future for each one of our kids while getting false philosophies out of what our kids experience.”

This biography is based on materials provided to MTFP by Allen’s campaign via a written questionnaire as well as prior MTFP reporting.

What do you regard as the most pressing issue facing Montana’s education system?

ALLEN: Winning the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of our kids.

Do you believe changes to Montana’s school finance system are necessary to ensure locally administered school districts have the funding they need to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students with a quality education? What if any changes would you advocate for over the next four years as state superintendent?

ALLEN: Yes - I would advocate for. simplified and transparent system that ensures equity and elements that address the critical needs of rural Montana districts differently than our larger systems. The second thing I would advocate for is a change to the inflation methods for public schools. Lastly, I would advocate for marijuana dollars for public schools that is guaranteed, not like the lottery for schools that waned.

Education policies have become increasingly politicized in recent years. How can state policy help Montana’s public schools balance the diverse ideologies and worldviews of the families they serve?

ALLEN: State policy needs to reflect that values that Montana stands for rather than the ideologies of foreign entities or those striving to rewrite the history of our nation and state.

We all share the same air on this planet and building understanding and appreciation for different cultures and upbringing can be done through expanded exchange programs of teachers and students. As a Rotarian, I was able to send two teachers to India who came back with a strong message: Appreciate public education in America.

Worldviews should be honored in context but never at the expanse of the land where they live: Our views need to see the blessings that come from being an American in the land of the free, home of the brave and one nation under God.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction has undergone significant changes during the eight years of Superintendent Elsie Arntzen's tenure. In your opinion, how has Arntzen's leadership changed the agency for good and for ill?

ALLEN: As the longest tenured deputy during her 8 years (3.5), there were seasons of peace and progress. Here are three that stand out.

The Digital Communications team, early in the tenure was on fire and a tremendous asset in capturing and telling educational stories across the state. This work was great.

Telework implementation during COVID was a reflection of good as it tied strongly to the changing workforce and priorities.

The focus on the family right-sized the lens of the OPI to remember the power and importance of parents.

Challenges:

The OPI staff turnover, and the loss of staff history - due to lack of systems to ensure systems worked on processes rather than people.

The waning relationship with the Board of Public Education

The elimination of monthly representation at MASS meetings - left the impression that the OPI was not so interested in the work of our school leaders or supporting their work.

Susie Hedalen

Susie Hedalen, 40 as of Election Day, has worked at numerous levels of Montana’s K-12 school system over the past few decades, from teaching in classrooms to serving as vice-chair of the state’s Board of Public Education. She obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Montana State University, both in the education field, and is currently the superintendent of the Townsend public schools, where she lives with her husband.

A graduate of Helena High School, Hedalen characterizes herself as a “product of Montana’s public school system” and describes a long list of professional certifications and credentials. She previously served as deputy to the current state superintendent, Republican Elsie Arntzen, and her campaign has so far focused on various state-level issues including parental rights, tribal collaboration and the enhancement of career and technical education.

“I am running for state superintendent to get education back to basics, put parents and students first, and keep our schools safe,” Hedalen said.

This biography is based on materials provided to MTFP by Hedalen’s campaign via a written questionnaire as well as prior MTFP reporting.

What do you regard as the most pressing issue facing Montana’s education system?

HEDALEN: I am running to get education back to basics, put parents and students first, and keep our schools safe. These are the most pressing issues before our education system. If you look at our state report card, less than half of students are proficient in reading, writing, and math, yet we spend a record of $13,000+ per student per year. As state superintendent, I will prioritize academic outcomes in core subjects for students and expand career and technical education. I will support professional development for educators, improve customer service from OPI, reduce state administrative burdens on schools, and remain accountable when schools fall short. By focusing our resources on student learning, we can get more funding directly to the classroom and families where it belongs and, in turn, improve student outcomes. Additionally, safe schools and parent engagement are critical to student success.

Do you believe changes to Montana’s school finance system are necessary to ensure locally administered school districts have the funding they need to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students with a quality education? What if any changes would you advocate for over the next four years as state superintendent?

HEDALEN: Montana’s school funding formula has not been critically studied in a decade. Next year, state education leaders and legislators will begin a new study of the school funding formula. As state superintendent, I plan to play a substantial role in examining what is working and what is not working in how we fund education. We must ensure that school funding directly supports students and makes its way to classrooms while minimizing administrative costs. This will allow education dollars to stretch further and put the focus where it should be: educating students.

Education policies have become increasingly politicized in recent years. How can state policy help Montana’s public schools balance the diverse ideologies and worldviews of the families they serve?

HEDALEN: As a teacher and school administrator, I know how vital family engagement and respect for family values are to student success. I have collaborated with families for my entire career. By focusing on the fundamental building blocks in education and personalized learning opportunities, we can keep political ideologies out of the classroom. Schools should be environments for learning, not indoctrination. As state superintendent, I will support parental rights while allowing our teachers to focus on teaching their students. That is how I have run my schools and will lead the OPI.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction has undergone significant changes during the eight years of Superintendent Elsie Arntzen's tenure. In your opinion, how has Arntzen's leadership changed the agency for good and for ill?

HEDALEN: As state superintendent, I will closely work with colleagues in the Legislature, executive branch, and university system to implement new education laws successfully. Montana students are best served when state agencies work together. I can bring leaders together to expand educational opportunities. I have worked with education committees, the Regents, and executive branch agencies. Montana passed innovative education laws in the last session. As state superintendent, I will faithfully execute the laws of our state and ensure that there are no roadblocks to families accessing the personalized educational opportunities they deserve.

State Auditor

Republicans

James Brown

James Brown is the outgoing president of the Montana Public Service Commission, the state’s elected utility board. Brown, 53 as of Election Day, is a graduate of Beaverhead County High School who served as a congressional aide in Washington, D.C. and ran a private legal practice prior to his election to the PSC.

“My Montana roots, my extensive educational training, and my 30-plus years of work experience have prepared me to be a highly effective state auditor from day one,” Brown told MTFP. “I have an extensive background in protecting Montanans from insurance and securities fraud while regulating those who work in these important industries fairly and impartially.”

Brown said he knows “what it means to sign both the front and back of a check” as a small business owner and would work to ensure “robust competition” and a “healthy regulatory environment” for Montana’s insurance industry if elected auditor.

Brown is in the last year of his first four-year PSC term. He also made an unsuccessful run for the Montana Supreme Court in 2022.

This biography is based on Brown’s response to MTFP’s questionnaire and past media coverage.

What issues within the state auditor’s purview would you prioritize if elected?

BROWN: The role of the state auditor is far reaching and multi-faceted. Consequently, it is hard to name just one important issue to address. But I absolutely will focus on key issues such as making Montana a place where people seeking insurance coverage have numerous policy choices and can find insurance at affordable rates due to a healthy regulatory environment and robust competition.

I will also focus on protecting all Montanans from insurance fraud and scams. The underhanded criminals who perpetrate crimes against our seniors and other white-collar criminals will know that there is no place for them to operate in the Treasure State.

Montanans in some areas are reporting difficulty finding affordable home and property insurance as some companies pull out of markets located within the wildland-urban interface. What, if anything, should the state auditor do to help homeowners in this position?

BROWN: The best way to protect against insurance companies leaving the state is by creating a regulatory environment that makes Montana attractive to do business in. Additionally, incentives could be offered to property or homeowners who undertake their own mitigation efforts. Insurance agents can also be a tremendous asset in this regard because they are on the most local level and will be most accessible to the consumer.

The state auditor position has often been a springboard for higher office. If elected, will you commit to serving out your full four-year term rather than making a bid for another position in 2026?

BROWN: If I am elected as state auditor, yes, I intend to serve my full term.

John Jay Willoughby

Willoughby, 63 as of Election Day, transitioned to working in the insurance industry after a 20-year career in law enforcement. He sells home, auto and life insurance through Willoughby Insurance Services in Helena and also founded Bad Boy Bail Bonds.

Willoughby Montana’s top auditor should be someone “who has actually worked in the insurance industry,” Willoughby said, adding he’d like to put a stop to politicians “using the office for their own political gain.”

Willoughby has worked in the insurance industry for 25 years and dubs himself as “the consumers’ voice in the insurance industry.” He said aggressively soliciting more insurance providers will help Montanans find more affordable coverage options.

“I have prided myself in my service to the public and providing solutions to everyday problems people encounter,” he said.

This biography is based on Willoughby’s response to MTFP’s questionnaire, information on his business websites and media coverage of the state auditor race.

What issues within the state auditor’s purview would you prioritize if elected?

WILLOUGHBY: I will prioritize the huge rate increases in home and auto insurance as well as all types of insurance the current commissioner has allowed. I'll work hard to bring more insurance carriers to the state in an effort to create competition to help curb these rate increases.

We will incorporate a Fairness in Rate Increase Information Act whether through administrative rule or legislation that requires insurance carriers to inform their clients anytime they have a rate increase over 10% in any given year.

Consumer protection and awareness will be a key priority. We will be informing the public on current trends in fraud and deceptive practices that are taking place not only in Montana but nationwide. We will educate the public in email phishing scams, phone scams and other means being used to take advantage of Montana consumers.

We will aggressively investigate fraud cases and prosecute bad actors to the fullest extent of the law.

Montanans in some areas are reporting difficulty finding affordable home and property insurance as some companies pull out of markets located within the wildland-urban interface. What, if anything, should the state auditor do to help homeowners in this position?

WILLOUGHBY: We need to actively and aggressively solicit more carriers to come and want to do business in Montana. This will not be an easy task based on the current state of the insurance industry but it will be essential in securing coverage for Montanans across the state.

The auditor’s office will also become a resource for providing consumers information on how they can better protect their homes through proper wildfire mitigation. I believe if we can prove to insurance carriers that our citizens know how to help protect their property we can find common ground to make coverage more affordable and available to all.

The state auditor position has often been a springboard for higher office. If elected, will you commit to serving out your full four-year term rather than making a bid for another position in 2026?

WILLOUGHBY: I'm 63 years old. I am not and never will be a politician and can promise the voters I have NO INTENTION OF PURSUING ANY OTHER OFFICE. I'm here to put a stop to that trend.