Montana Congress 2022 western district
Credit: Illustration by Melissa McFarlin / MTFP

Editor’s note: As candidates for Montana’s newly drawn western congressional district competed in their respective party primaries this spring, Montana Free Press asked each of them to complete a written questionnaire to help voters understand their positions on key policy issues.

We initially published their responses as part of our 2022 election guide prior to the June 7 primary election. Now, as campaign season heats up in advance of the Nov. 8 general election, we’re republishing responses from the remaining candidates here, displaying them side by side so readers can easily compare their answers.

Note that it’s been a few months since we solicited these responses, meaning candidates have had time to hone their stances — or shift them. Additionally, you may want more detail on where candidates stand on specific topics than they’ve been able to convey in the brief space our questionnaire gave them.

Given both of those caveats, we’d love your feedback. What more do you want to know about the candidates’ policy positions after giving these responses a read? Are there things you consider key issues that we didn’t catch here? And lastly, what do you want us to push the candidates on as we seek live interviews that provide more opportunity for follow up questions?

Tell us what you think, if you’re so inclined, through the form embedded at the bottom of this page. Thanks in advance for sharing your insight with us.

— Deputy Editor, Eric Dietrich

See also: These responses for eastern district candidates.

Q1: Polls indicate many Americans are concerned about the integrity of the nation’s democratic institutions. Both as a political candidate and as a potential member of Congress, what can you do to promote Montanans’ faith in American democracy?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
The public’s trust and faith in election outcomes is important to ensure confidence in our government. I support the reforms signed into law by Governor Gianforte and believe elections should be run by the states.Too often on the trail I hear people say they no longer know who to trust. We need to be clear on this matter that there are special interests who seek to undermine our institutions, and they do it for money and power. 2020 saw one the highest levels of voter participation in a presidential election. We should be celebrating this high turnout, regardless of the electoral result. However, 19 states have responded by enacting laws that will make it harder to vote. That’s why we need federal legislation to ensure that regardless of where a voter lives, they have safe, secure, and reliable access to voting.

We also need to engage in conversations with our neighbors, and need representatives who are willing to lead the way in doing that. In Montana, our state is small enough you can get to know your leaders. I’ll show up in your community — big or small — and talk to each other about the issues that matter to Montanans. We may not always agree but I will always be open to listen and learn.

Libertarian candidate John Lamb did not respond to MTFP’s primary questionnaire.

Q2: Do you believe Joe Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
Joe Biden is the 46th president of the United States.Absolutely. The 2020 election should have been one to celebrate. The largest number of Americans in over 100 years cast a ballot in our presidential elections. The clear winner picked by the majority of voters and the majority of electoral votes was President Biden.

Rather than conceding a fair election, an administration obsessed with power called it “stolen.” Bizarrely, this claim was advanced in Montana. Not one elected Republican forsook office because of “fraud.” And there was none, as measured by Republicans across the country. The obsession with retaining power, at the expense of democracy itself, resulted in legislatures in 19 states, including Montana, trying to make it harder to vote. Fourteen states now let partisan bodies overturn future elections they do not like. Former generals warn of a potential coup in 2024.

This is why Congress needs to enact legislation to protect every person’s right to vote and the right to have the vote counted.

Q3: The cost of health care is a concern for many Montana families. What federal action would you support to improve the U.S. health care system?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
I support efforts to expand telehealth and rural health services and provide more flexibility and power to patients and doctors to make decisions outside what’s reimbursable or not. We also need to make improvements to veterans health care and Indian Health Services. We made a promise to our veterans and have treaty obligations — the federal government has fallen short on both.Congress must fund, support, and promote enrollment in the ACA. We must also expand Medicare. Anyone who is interested in enrolling in Medicare should have that option, and if you want to keep your private insurance you should have that option.

Congress must stand up to Big Pharma and stop price gouging on medication. Over 90% of Americans support allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies but the only reason it hasn’t passed Congress is because of the money Big Pharma has spent lobbying to get their people elected. As Americans we pay the highest prices of any nation for pharmaceutical drugs, and that needs to change.


Who holds the keys to Montana’s Western congressional seat?

The nine candidates in Montana’s new Western congressional district — a jagged ‘C’ encompassing Glacier County, Kalispell, Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley, Butte and Gallatin County — are as ideologically varied as the population they seek to represent. Which candidate can unlock House District 1’s political identity?

Q4: Housing costs are an increasing concern for many Montanans. What federal action would you support to promote housing affordability in Montana?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
The answer to Montana’s housing crisis is not more government housing. The answer is to get government out of the way and reduce costs and timelines for builders. The federal government can take action to promote the affordable and stable supply of building materials to include implementing a series of regulatory holidays, increasing domestic production of raw materials and minerals, and ending covid-era policies and spending that are driving up inflation. We also need meaningful permitting relief; lengthy and costly permitting processes also unnecessarily tie up construction projects.I went on a rural education tour in Seeley Lake, and I learned there were only four houses for sale, all over $700k. That doesn’t work for a teacher with a starting salary of $33,000. Affordable housing is one of the most important infrastructures needed to create a healthy, vibrant, and inclusive community. Congress must support efforts to increase the supply of housing with funding and incentives. Currently only one in four eligible projects in Montana are funded because of the limit in federal tax credits available.

We must also ensure families get a fair shot at owning and renting a home. We’ve all seen the proliferation of Airbnb, short-term rentals, and home purchases by companies in the past few years. Demand in Montana is rising because people are moving here, it should not be rising because investors view it as a way to make a profit. Congress should eliminate tax incentives investors get by buying up homes that could be purchased by families that live and work here in Montana.

Q5: To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any federal action would you support to mitigate its effects?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
Conservation does not mean locking people out of public lands or stopping multiple use of the land. During my tenure as Secretary of the Interior we increased federal energy revenues (which benefits conservation of public lands) by promoting all energy sources, not just fossil fuels or renewables. Under my leadership, we held the largest renewable energy sale in the history of this country with offshore wind and we expanded onshore wind and solar projects. At the same time, we produced record volume of oil and gas, reduced emissions and had the strongest safety year on record. The government’s role should be to ensure a fair playing field for all forms of energy, not select winners and losers with regulations that drive up costs. Industry has proven it is more effective at innovating greener technology than the government is at piling on mandates.Montanans know that climate change is happening — we see it in the intensity of our forest fires and the drought harming our crops.

Congress has an enormous role to play in the energy transition and right now it is missing a rural voice who understands climate and energy. Montana can lead the way in the energy transition.

In the infrastructure bill, Congress invested in the new energy economy: by funding construction of EV charging stations; by allocating funds to protect against drought and heat; and by funding upgrades to our electric grid.

Montana needs a voice in Congress to connect those dollars with projects that will reduce carbon emissions. Montana can continue to be the engine room of the country, and supply clean, renewable energy.


Q6: Do you see reining in the federal debt as a priority? If so, how should that be accomplished? If you support new taxes or spending cuts, please identify specifics about who would pay more or what budget areas you’d cut. (We assume that working to minimize waste, fraud and abuse is a given.)

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
Absolutely, which is why I cosponsored legislation for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. If elected, I will maintain my seniority from previous terms in Congress. I will use that position to seek a spot on the appropriations committee to defund and zero out regulations that cost the economy and projects and offices that are wasteful or outside the scope of the federal government. I’ll also work with colleagues to reorganize and reform the executive branch. As Secretary, I saw firsthand how bureaucratic, antiquated and, frankly, wasteful the federal government is. When you try to change anything the answer you’d get back is “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” It has to stop. Billions of dollars in grants go out with no oversight, just autopilot. Jobs are filled blindly without even considering if the tasks could be done better elsewhere. And at the Department of Defense alone there are more than 800,000 employees that aren’t military. Then there’s the procurement process…This is a complicated question. Economists agree that governments need not operate like families and can function with some degree of deficit spending. The national debt also is a political football, with the party in power increasing it and only complaining about its size when the federal government is not supporting their political agenda.

The reality is we can have some debt but we must be responsible stewards for the future. With all functioning governments, this is an area that requires bipartisan solutions — not partisan attacks — so that everyone sacrifices a little to rein in the debt. This is an area where a bipartisan working group must unite and identify agreed-upon areas where taxes can be raised and which programs can be cut. Both must happen.

Q7: What do you see as the most important priorities for the management of federal lands in Montana? Should the federal government consider transferring some federally held land into state ownership?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
I never have and never will support the sale or transfer of federal lands. In fact, I was nearly kicked off the House Natural Resources committee my freshman year of Congress for voting against all sale/transfer efforts and for LWCF reauthorizations. The federal government must prioritize public access and multiple use of public lands. As Secretary, I opened up hunting and fishing access on millions of acres of federal lands, including in Montana. We constantly sought land swaps and acquisitions to open access to landlocked parcels, and we made historic investments in infrastructure for National Parks. The rationing of access at Glacier National Park would have never happened under my watch. The answer is modernizing infrastructure to allow folks to enjoy more of the park versus shutting the park.It’s important the federal government retains land so that it may be used by the public, rather than off-loaded to states with the eventual goal of privatizing it when the state can no longer afford to maintain it. We cannot let the checkerboard challenges of private and public lands continue to intensify.

Public lands cannot exclusively serve commercial and corporate interests. Conservation is about how we protect public and private land from misuse, how we protect the quality of water, how we preserve access to hunting and fishing places, and how we make sure Montana’s public lands remain open to all of us. Congress has a vital role in making those things happen.

I will support local conservation solutions that start from the ground up. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act brought ranchers, loggers, recreationists, business owners, and conservationists together to chart a path forward for the Blackfoot River watershed.
2022 election guide

Q8: What do you see as the single most significant issue facing Montana’s public education system, and what if any federal action would you support to address it?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
The federal government is a huge issue facing Montana education. One size fits none federal mandates attached to funding do not work for Montana, especially during covid. I believe Montana’s public education is best managed at the state and local levels and that funding should follow the student, not the school.Among 36 industrialized countries, the U.S. is the only one to not provide early education programs to all 4-year-olds. And we are last among 36 countries that provide child care for 3- to 5-year-olds. I support efforts to create high-quality early childhood programs.

The best reforms support local innovation and control, increase teacher pay, and reverse the defunding of public schools. The Leave No Child Behind Law discriminates against rural areas by employing criteria that deem rural schools to be failing when they are not. Schools then suffer by losing funding and not being able to attract and retain quality teachers. We must fund schools so that all of Montana’s children can succeed.

I support making college more affordable by increasing the availability of need-based scholarships and by charging students the same interest rate that the federal government charges banks, 0%. I also support free and affordable tuition to community colleges.


Editor’s note: We asked this question before the U.S. Supreme Court formally released its landmark ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June.

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
I agree with the draft opinion leaked from the Supreme Court that there is no constitutional right to murder an unborn child.I am running for Congress to fight for policies that allow families to make their world a better place, in their own way, on their own terms. I fully support a woman’s decision to choose whether or when to have a child and will fight in Congress to protect that fundamental right.

We must also enact more policies that give families greater control over their lives and promote their health and well-being. Policies like making contraception easily available to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

We must also support families when they decide to have children. Child care is 35% of some families’ budgets. Congress can provide child tax credit, paid family leave, affordable child care, and more.

I pledge in Congress that the first bill I put forward will strengthen families and codify the right to an abortion. Politicians should not make personal decisions for people. I stand with families and trust them to make their own decisions, including when or whether to become a parent.

Q10: What changes, if any, would you like to see to current federal regulations regarding firearm ownership?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
I have an A rating from the NRA because I believe in the Constitution and that our Second Amendment rights “shall not be infringed.” As a Navy SEAL, Secretary of the Interior and a Montanan, I can say without a doubt our Second Amendment rights protect all the others. As Secretary I opened access for hunting and recreational shooting on millions of acres of federal lands and repealed Obama-era rules that banned traditional ammo on federal lands and prevented the BLM from managing land as shooting ranges. As Congressman, I would support legislation to further solidify Montanans’ Second Amendment rights such as to: recognize concealed carry reciprocity, ensure equal access to capital for firearm manufacturers, remove suppressors from the NFA, prohibit the VA from stripping veterans of their Second Amendment rights without judicial process, and a series of other measures. I also support local and state efforts to teach hunter education in schools.I grew up on a ranch. I know responsible gun ownership is a way of life in Montana. But as a mom to three daughters and the sister of a public school teacher, it breaks my heart to see another mass shooting in the news every time we turn around. The grief we feel must be met with action, rather than another round of condolences from leaders.

We don’t have to choose between supporting the Second Amendment and having common-sense laws to reduce gun violence, like universal background checks. We have to make it harder for dangerous people to go out and buy a gun. Most Montanans agree with that.

Q11: Montanans voted to legalize adult marijuana use in 2020. Do you support removing cannabis from the federal government’s Schedule 1 controlled substance list?

Ryan Zinke (R)Monica Tranel (D)
Yes.Yes. We must bring federal policy more in line with Montana and a number of other states. However, addiction to drugs, even marijuana, is real and damages lives and communities. We must increase support for treatment programs and ensure that marijuana is not sold to teenagers and the edible market is regulated for safety.