Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, speaks to Montana Free Press' John Adams for the Montana Lowdown podcast. Credit: JOHN S. ADAMS / MTFP

HELENA — In his 16 years serving in the Montana Legislature, Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, has been in Democratic leadership positions in both the House and the Senate.

As a freshman in 2005, Sesso was appointed to the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which set him on the path to becoming the Democrats’ top budget negotiator.

There are few lawmakers in the capitol with as much legislative and budget experience as Sesso. 

In 2009 and 2011 he served as House minority leader before moving over to the Senate in 2013. As a freshman in that body, he was elected Senate minority leader, a position he’s held throughout his two four-year terms in the Senate.

Sesso says the way to advance Democratic priorities when consistently dealing with Republican majorities is to find the middle ground.

I have always made it my business to make sure I was part, and my group was part, of the majority of members in the room working on what’s in the best interests of Montana,” Sesso said.

Butte Democrats are notorious in the Montana Legislature for voting as a block, often in favor of bills that favor natural resource development over environmental protection.

Those votes can rankle some members of Sesso’s party.

“Certainly I take my criticism as a Butte guy looking out for my community. Some of the things I vote on are not typical for the mainstream Democrats, and particularly the more progressive wing of our party,” Sesso said. “And so some of the progressives give me a good lickin’ when I vote for mining development and natural resource development. I get criticism that I’m too quick to find the middle. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and I know the answer where we’re going to get to and I’m too anxious to get there.”

Sesso said Democrats in the House and the Senate have played critical roles in passing significant legislation over the past several sessions, from campaign spending reforms aimed at reigning-in dark money in elections, to expanding Medicaid, to ratifying water compacts with the tribes.

We got things done even though we were in the minority…that’s why I am I’m hoping that the last week or two of the session, this time, will produce the same results we have been able to do the last couple,” Sesso said.

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John Adams began his professional career in 2001 in Idaho Falls, ID writing and editing for a variety of trade magazines. He covered topics ranging from potato and sugar beet farming to skate park and playground construction and maintenance. Adams started his newspaper career as the city government reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, WI where he covered the City Hall, police, fire and local courthouse beats. In 2005 he joined the staff of the Missoula Independent in Missoula, MT where he worked as a staff reporter covering a wide range of issues including the environment,...