Political candidates begin filing for June primary

Democrats and Republicans seeking seats in the Montana legislature outlined their philosophical differences Thursday as campaign filing season opened.

Republicans said they would continue to fight for lower taxes and less governmental regulation while Democrats said they supported tax fairness that would adequately fund education and health care.

This as candidates seeking seats in the Montana Legislature began filing for office on Thursday. There were 145 candidates that filed online, in person and by mail. This is a record for number of candidates to file on the first day of a non-presidential election. In comparison, there were 138 candidates who filed on the first day in 2014.

All 100 seats in the state House of Representatives and 25 of 50 state Senate seats are up for election this year.

Republicans hold a 59-51 advantage in the House and control the Senate, 32-18.

Democrats and Republicans had different opinions on what effect the Trump presidency might have on midterm elections.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Jenny Eck of Helena said Democrats are seeing a surge in energy and grassroots activism. Republican Sen. Fred Thomas of Stevensville said people might not like Trump’s antics, but they like having more money in the bank and seeing improvements in the economy.

Democratic candidates for legislature held a news conference Thursday afternoon saying they were going to fight for working families and a responsible balanced budget based on equitable taxation that would allow the state to adequately invest in education and infrastructure and provide services for the needy.

Eck said six years of Republican control of the Legislature led to irresponsible fiscal policies that “drove the state budget off the rails,” leading to a special session in November to address a projected $227 million budget shortfall.

Republican lawmakers in their own news conference said they would continue to support lower taxes and fewer governmental regulations and emphasized that they refused to raise taxes during the special session.

If Democrats had been in the majority, Rep. Greg Hertz of Polson said, Montanans would have been paying millions of dollars in additional taxes. He said Republicans would continue to keep spending under control while providing critical services for those in need.

By late Thursday afternoon, two dozen candidates had filed for state Senate seats while more than 90 had filed as state House candidates.

In statewide races, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is seeking his third six-year term. Businessman Troy Downing of Big Sky and state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell filed to run for the Republican nomination to challenge Tester in the Nov. 6 general election. State Auditor Matt Rosendale and retired District Judge Russell Fagg of Billings were also expected to seek the Republican nomination, but had not filed by late Thursday afternoon.

Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte is seeking a full two-year term after winning a special election last May. Billings attorney John Heenan and former nonprofit director Grant Kier of Missoula filed for the Democratic primary to challenge Gianforte along with former state legislators Lynda Moss of Billings and Kathleen Williams of Bozeman.

Moss was first in line when the Secretary of State’s office opened at 8 a.m.

Other candidates filing for office Thursday include people seeking District Court judgeships and seats on the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.

Candidate filing continues through 5 p.m. on March 12 for the June 5 primary. Candidates can file in person, online or by mail.