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August 10, 2023

Republican Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale is inching closer to formalizing a run for U.S. Senate, potentially scuttling plans by GOP establishment leaders to fend off primary challenges against declared candidate Tim Sheehy in their quest to topple three-term Democrat Jon Tester, per Politico. 

“He’s running. Of course he’s running,” Jim DeMint, a former U.S. senator from South Carolina who has reportedly pledged to aid Rosendale’s campaign, told the outlet. Politico also reported that Rosendale has enlisted GOP fundraiser Caroline Wren, a former Trump aide, to help his cause. Wren could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Rosendale has also recently attended events in Flathead County and other communities far from his usual stomping grounds in the state’s eastern U.S. House district, potentially signaling his interest in running a statewide campaign. 

“Rep. Rosendale is the clear choice among Montana voters. He has their overwhelming trust and support, should he decide to run,” Aashka Varma, a spokesperson for Rosendale, told Politico. 

Rosendale has yet to publicly disclose his plans for the forthcoming election cycle, but national media has repeatedly reported that he’s all but made up his mind to enter the race. The congressman has also taken some notable potshots at Sheehy, deriding him on social media as an establishment flunky. Rosendale has staked his own political identity on iconoclastic rebellion, primarily as a member of the House Freedom Caucus that repeatedly stymied House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in leadership votes earlier this year.   

Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has sought to keep Rosendale out of Sheehy’s lane, telling Politico earlier this summer that he really likes Rosendale, “which is why I am encouraging him to build seniority for the great state of Montana in the House and help Republicans hold their majority.”

But GOP aspirations to ensure an easy primary contest for Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and the owner of an aerial firefighting company in Belgrade, begin to look dicey if Rosendale is in the mix. That reportedly has some national Republicans nervous. Montana is one of just a few red states with a statewide-elected Democrat in office, and the GOP needs to gain only two seats to wrest control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats. 

Sheehy has never held elected office, but is independently wealthy and well-connected — traits that contributed to Daines and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recruitment of the political newcomer.

Rosendale, on the other hand, enjoys statewide name recognition and respect in hardline circles, which could aid him in a primary. But he has a losing record against Tester, and in 2018 gave the Senate’s only working farmer the only majority win of his Senate career. 

If Rosendale enters the race, he’ll join Sheehy and Clancy businessman Jeremy Mygland in the GOP primary. He would also leave behind a potentially competitive primary for the deep-red eastern House district he won handily in 2022. 

—Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Swanson Tapped for Labor Department

Gov. Greg Gianforte on Thursday announced his appointment of Sarah Swanson to direct the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, which administers programs supporting Montana workers and businesses, including professional licensure, job placement services and the state’s unemployment insurance program.

Swanson, who previously worked as the department’s director of strategic engagement, replaces Laurie Esau, who resigned from DLI in July following her arrest on DUI charges in Missoula after an alleged hit-and-run collision.

“As a former small business owner, I personally understand the significance of meeting payroll, caring for employee needs, helping rural communities survive, and struggling to find qualified employees,” Swanson said in a statement. “I look forward to working hand-in-hand with DLI’s dedicated team, industry partners, and Montana workers to continue to address the long-standing disconnect between employers and education, to modernize IT systems, and to deliver meaningful red-tape relief to Main Street.”

—Eric Dietrich and Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Say What?

“I said, ‘Who goes to libraries anymore besides pedophiles and homeless?’ I was wrong, very wrong.”

—Montana State Library Commissioner Tammy Hall, describing her initial response to being named to the library commission by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte in March 2022. Hall made the remarks last week at an event in Gallatin Gateway hosted by the Donald Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute. The event also featured GOP U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, and former Trump cabinet officials Matt Whitaker and Chad Wolf. 

The library commission, and Montana libraries in general, are currently an unquiet front in the American culture wars, with Christian conservatives and self-styled parental rights groups targeting books and events that foreground issues and expressions of gender, race and sexual orientation. In July, members of the state library commission voted overwhelmingly to withdraw the Montana State Library’s membership in the American Library Association, citing a 2022 tweet from current ALA president Emily Drabinski describing herself as a “Marxist lesbian.” Critics of the vote noted that the ALA presidency is a largely ceremonial role, and that membership in the national organization provides professional development, policy advice and funding to local libraries. Last summer, the state commission also rejected a redesigned logo for the library after some commissioners — Hall among them — said the prismatic graphic resembled a Pride flag. 

Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Background Reading

Reading between the front linesMontana Free Press’ Alex Sakariassen has everything you’d want to know about the role of the state’s libraries in broader political fights over LGBTQ expression and representation. 

The GOP’s meticulously laid plans for beating Jon Tester could go up in smokeTension within GOP ranks is rising as Montana GOP Congressman Matt Rosendale considers a formal U.S. Senate campaign announcement, per this Politico story. 

When the Culture Wars Come for the Public LibraryThere’s been a ton of excellent local reporting on libraries-as-political-flashpoints, especially from the Flathead Beacon. But we’d be remiss not to promote the piece the New Yorker’s E. Tammy Kim wrote in April centering Flathead County’s ImagineIF libraries. “Every public library is an exception. The world outside is costly and cordoned off, but here no one is charged, and no one is turned away,” Kim wrote in the opening of her story. Perhaps that has changed.