Mark Sweeney Montana
Democratic state senator and eastern district U.S. House candidate Mark Sweeney, who died unexpectedly May 6, 2022, is pictured here in an image from his campaign website.

U.S. House candidate Mark Sweeney died unexpectedly over the weekend, reportedly of natural causes. Sweeney was one of three Democrats seeking the party’s nomination in Montana’s eastern congressional district

Because absentee ballots have already been printed in advance of their mailing to voters starting this Friday, Sweeney’s name will still appear on the June 7 primary ballot.

Sweeney, who was a state senator representing the Philipsburg area, was mourned by his family and Montanans across the political spectrum.

“Today, our hearts ache as we are informing family and friends of the tragic passing of Mark Sweeney, a beloved father, husband and public servant to the people of Montana,” Sweeney’s family said in a statement released Saturday morning. “While our sadness and despair weigh on all of us, our spirits remain as bright as the twinkle in Mark’s eye with our love for him. Whether he be hunting, fishing, skiing or working on a farm or ranch, we will always treasure the enduring optimism, hope and love Mark brought to all of our lives and the people around him.”

In a statement, Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Sheila Hogan called Sweeney “a dedicated, selfless and effective public servant who always put the good of all people before himself or politics.”

“Throughout his time in the State Legislature, Mark was a tireless advocate not only for his constituents, but for working people across our state,” Senate Democratic leaders said in a statement. “His good humor and friendly smile will be missed by his many friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”

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Congressional races up and running

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Candidates running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives have filed their requisite paperwork as of 5 p.m. Monday, bringing the tally of active candidates up to nine Republicans, six Democrats, four Libertarians and one Independent.

“He was a dedicated public servant and was respected by Montanans on both sides of the political aisle,” said Montana Senate President Mark Blasdel, a Republican, also in a statement.

MTN News reported that a representative of Sweeny’s family said he had died of natural causes. MTN also reported that he died Friday evening at his home in Philipsburg.

Sweeney, who had served in the Montana Legislature since 2019, had been one of three Democrats running for Congress in the state’s eastern district against incumbent U.S. Representative and likely GOP candidate Matt Rosendale. The other Democrats in the race are former Billings City Council member Penny Ronning and Billings resident Skylar Williams.

Elections staff at the Montana secretary of state’s office said Monday that ballots for the June primary have already been printed, meaning voters will still have the option of casting a vote for Sweeney. According to the state’s official election calendar, election administrators had an April 22 deadline for sending ballots to out-of-state military and overseas voters. Ballots for other absentee voters are set to be mailed May 13, this coming Friday.

If Sweeney were to win the Democratic primary despite being deceased, state law and party rules require the Montana Democratic Party to hold a nominating convention to select a replacement candidate. The party held a similar nominating convention in 2014, when it selected Amanda Curtis to replace U.S. Sen. John Walsh on the 2014 U.S. Senate ballot following Walsh’s withdrawal from the race after the New York Times reported that he had plagiarized portions of his U.S. Army War College master’s thesis.

Democrats’ party rules place responsibility for calling a nominating convention with the party’s state chair, Robyn Driscoll. Delegates may nominate “any Democrat meeting the qualifications provided by law for the vacancy being filled.” In the case of congressional candidates, that means nominees must be Montana residents, U.S. citizens for seven years, and at least 25 years old.

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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.