Forrest Mandeville says the best way to effect progress in the Legislature is to become an expert in a specific subject. The Republican representative from Columbus has served three terms in the Montana House, starting with the 2015 session, and spent much of that time applying his professional background in land-use planning to the State Administration Committee, for which he served as committee chair the past two terms. That committee, which included 20 legislators in the 2019 session, plays a big role in crafting election laws, and if elected secretary of state, Mandeville would be responsible for implementing those laws. 

In addition to overseeing state elections and business services, the secretary of state also serves on the five-member state Land Board, which administers state-owned lands for the benefit of public schools. Mandeville says that natural resource development, such as the proposed Black Butte Copper Mine near the headwaters of the Smith River, would be among his front-and-center priorities as Land Board commissioner.

“We need to not be afraid of developing our natural resources,” Mandeville tells Montana Free Press editor-in-chief John S. Adams. He dismisses concerns that such projects pose a threat to nearby waterways.

“[I]t’s a scare tactic, honestly, to say that any mine is just going to leach a bunch of chemicals into the water system. It does not happen anymore.”

Mandeville is running in the Republican primary against Senate President Scott Sales of Bozeman, current Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, and state Supreme Court clerk Bowen Greenwood. The lone Democratic candidate is Missoula state Sen. Bryce Bennett. Incumbent Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is seeking the Republican nomination for Montana’s U.S. House seat. 

Asked about the challenge of campaigning against eight-term legislator Sales, Mandeville laments a lack of young conservatives running for statewide office. 

“We can’t be relying on the same people to do the same things over and over and over again, because we will run out of people,” he tells Adams.

Adams’ conversation with Mandeville is featured on the Dec. 10 episode of the Montana Lowdown podcast

Alex McKenzie has worked with a diverse array of start-ups and nonprofit organizations. He is a former record producer and music journalist, has additional experience working in agriculture and food security, and previously operated his own dairy business. He lives in southwest Montana. Follow him on Twitter.