The race for Montana’s soon-to-be-established second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is starting to take shape, with Democrat Laurie Bishop and Republican Al Olszewski officially announcing their candidacies today.

House District 60 state Rep. Laurie Bishop, who has served three terms in the state Legislature, announced she’ll be running on the Democratic ticket during a Thursday morning event in Livingston. Olszewski, a former GOP state lawmaker who most recently ran in the 2020 Republican primary for governor, is scheduled to announce his candidacy at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The race has already been entered by former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, who most recently served as Secretary of the Interior under the Trump administration and announced his candidacy in late April. Zinke’s announcement came on the heels of the news that Montana’s population has grown enough for the state to regain a second seat in the U.S. House — a seat it lost following the 1990 census. 

Democratic state Rep. Laurie Bishop, center, announces her candidacy for U.S. Congress in Livingston, MT on July 1, 2020. Credit: Amanda Eggert / MTFP

According to Federal Elections Commission filings, incumbent congressman Matt Rosendale has a quarter-million dollars in the bank to pursue a second two-year term in the House seat he was elected to in 2020. 

Speaking to a crowd of about 60 people at Livingston’s Sacajawea Park, Bishop promised to address the needs of Montana’s workers, families and children. She focused her remarks on social issues that have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, including cost of living increases that are forcing some Montanans to relocate out of state. She said more tools are needed to address housing affordability, and that she’d like to find ways to extend federal COVID-19 relief investments that have been made in the past 18 months.

“When our workers thrive, we all benefit, and we can and should do more to stand up for working families across our state and our country,” she said. “Working parents are jumping through hoops to grapple with the expensive price and scarcity of quality childcare. In Congress, I will fight to make the child tax credit permanent, while also advocating for smart investment to make childcare more accessible and affordable for families and support a more sustainable business model for providers.”

Bishop also highlighted her achievements in the Montana Legislature, including sponsoring the Montana Mental Health Parity Act, signed into law in 2017, which requires insurers to cover mental health at the same level as physical health.

Asked how her campaign will respond to the state Democratic Party’s poor showing in the last election, she said she thinks the current redistricting process will expand opportunities for Democrats.

“The chance of being able to start in a fresh district is a really important piece of this,” she said.

Two hours later and more than 300 miles northwest of Bishop’s event, another former state legislator launched his own bid for the new seat. Olszewski, a Flathead Valley orthopedic surgeon, sent out a press release about his candidacy Thursday morning, which he planned to follow with an evening event in Kalispell held in conjunction with the conservative political advocacy group Flathead Liberty Coalition. 

Al Olszewski Credit: Courtesy Al Olszewski

In a statement, Olszewski said he’s “committed to running a winning campaign that will give Montana two conservative votes in Congress.”

The statement says Olszewski’s top priorities include “protecting the Constitution, the unborn and access to Montana’s public lands, including the development of natural resources.”

In a brief follow-up conversation with Montana Free Press, Olszewski said natural resource development he wants to see expanded in Montana includes timber harvests and the mining of minerals needed for batteries and other necessities that power the 21st century economy.

“We need to get those minerals from the U.S, and not from out-of-country,” he said, adding that he supports “America First” policies and believes they’ve worked well for Montanans. 

Olszewski most recently ran in the 2020 Republican primary for governor, placing third behind former Attorney General Tim Fox and current governor Greg Gianforte. He also ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018, losing that primary race to Rosendale, who was bested by incumbent Democrat Jon Tester in the general election. Prior to that, he spent one term in the Montana Legislature as a representative and two as a senator.

Olszewski’s press release took aim at Zinke’s conservative voting record as well as his stance on the CSKT water compact, which Olszewski opposes, and which was ratified in late 2020. Olszewski also questioned Zinke’s decision to maintain the status of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument after the Interior Department’s 2017 review.  

Olszewski touted his own conservative voting record, saying in the press release that he’s “proud to have the highest lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union of any candidate in this race.” 

Zinke didn’t respond to MTFP’s request for comment by press time Thursday afternoon.

More candidates are expected to throw their hats in the ring in the coming weeks and months. Several potential candidates have said they’re waiting to see how the district lines will be drawn before making a decision. 

Other Republicans who’ve publicly expressed interest in the seat include Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson and former state representative and former district court judge Russ Fagg. A number of Democrats are also testing the waters, including Whitney Williams, who lost the 2020 Democratic gubernatorial primary to Mike Cooney; Tom Winter, who has served in the Montana House and unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary for U.S. House in 2020; Cora Neumann, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate; Kimberly Dudik, a 2020 Democratic primary candidate for state attorney general; and state Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula.

Last week Gov. Gianforte joined 14 other Republican governors in urging the U.S. Department of Commerce to release Census Bureau redistricting data as soon as possible, arguing that further delays would impede efforts to redraw congressional and state legislative districts. 

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission charged with deciding how district lines will be drawn has been meeting since May. The Census Bureau has announced plans to release the data by Aug. 16.

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Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism who has written for Outside magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners she led coverage for the biweekly newspaper Explore Big Sky. Contact Amanda at aeggert@montanafreepress.org.