Gallatin County Democrats on first filing day

Democratic candidates for office gather on the steps of the Gallatin County courthouse on Thursday morning, the first day they could file for the 2020 election.

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The Gallatin County Democrats gathered on the snowy courthouse steps Thursday morning to mark the first day of candidate filing for the 2020 election.

A handful of new faces stood out in the crowd. So far, 2020 is shaping up to be a year in which both Democratic and Republican newcomers are vying to join the Legislature.

Among the new faces Thursday was Ed Stafman, who served as the rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom and was a civil rights attorney. He’s hoping to represent House District 62, which covers south-central Bozeman. The seat has been held by Democratic Rep. Tom Woods, who is termed out and is running for the Public Service Commission.

“A big part of my work as a rabbi has been in creating interfaith communities, which means bringing together a diverse group and finding commonalities,” Stafman said. “This is what the Legislature needs because we all generally agree on what’s important but aren’t necessarily discussing our commonalities.”

Stafman would like to bring a “moral voice” to conversations about climate change, the environment, economic justice, public education and health care.

Kelly Kortum, a Democrat, has followed politics ever since he was a kid growing up in Ekalaka. He attended Montana State University and stayed in Bozeman after graduation. He’s a systems administrator for the Bozeman Co-op and has volunteered with local progressive groups.

He decided to dive deeper into politics by running for House District 65, which covers north Bozeman. He hopes to fill the seat of Democratic Rep. Chris Pope, who is vying for Senate District 31, an area long represented by Democrat Mike Phillips, who is termed out.

“I’ve seen most sides of Montana and I think there is room for consensus-making with a slightly younger group,” said Kortum, 34.

Like Stafman and Kortum, Alice Buckley is taking her first step into state politics as a Democrat. She is seeking the open seat for House District 63.

“I’ve had a long-term drive to give back to this community and participate in the change I want to see,” said the 27-year-old Democrat. “When I saw the open seat, I saw it as a chance to help diversify the Legislature as a woman and a younger candidate.”

Democratic Rep. Zach Brown, Buckley's fiancé, holds the seat now. He announced his bid for Gallatin County Commission this week.

On the Republican side, Jennifer Carlson has launched a campaign for House District 69, hoping to be a new voice for northern Gallatin County. Carlson is a long-time Churchill resident. She announced her candidacy this summer and has since been meeting with those who live in her district.

She said she's passionate about personal liberty and wants to limit government overreach.

“I really didn’t think this was for me, but I realized we are best served by people who reflect our views and I feel I can be a voice for my neighbors in Helena,” Carlson said.

Carlson is seeking Republican Rep. Walt Sales’ seat. Sales has filed for Senate District 35, an open seat now that Republican Sen. Scott Sales has joined a crowded primary race for Secretary of State.

Republican county commissioner Don Seifert is leaving the commission to run for House District 67 in Belgrade, a seat held by Republican Rep. Tom Burnett. Seifert said he would like to take work he’s done on the commission to the state level.

“I love Gallatin County and I love Montana and I think there are important things that will come up in the next few sessions in Helena that really affect Gallatin County and I want to be a part of those discussions,” Seifert said.

Jedediah Hinkle will face Seifert in the Republican primary in June. Hinkle served one term in the state Senate for District 32, covering southern Gallatin County. He graduated from MSU with a degree in fish and wildlife management and owns a small business, Patriot Taxidermy.

If elected, he would like to focus on issues that affect sportsmen, such as land access, as well as on tax relief.

“You can’t make a difference sitting on the sidelines, so I want to get back in there,” Hinkle said.

Andrew Schaefer, a Libertarian, also has filed for House District 67.

Burnett can't run again and said he doesn’t plan to run for a different office.

Rep. Bruce Grubbs, the Republican incumbent in House District 68, will also face a primary challenger, Caleb Hinkle. Hinkle, who is Jedidiah Hinkle's brother, served in Montana Army National Guard. He has helped out with Republican campaigns across the state and was a legislative staff member during the last two sessions.

He said he would bring a more conservative voice to the Legislature than Grubbs, who has been known as a moderate.

Republican Jane Gillette is making another attempt at joining the Legislature after a failed bid in 2018. She is running for House District 64, which spans southern Gallatin County and has been represented by Republican Rep. Kerry White for four terms. White, who is term-limited, said he doesn’t plan to seek another office.

Gillette, a dentist, has worked for Community Health Partners in Bozeman, previously owned Mint Dental Studio and launched Sprout Oral Health where she provides care to kids across Montana. In Helena, Gillette said she would focus on children, families and health care. She wants to bring science and data into policy discussions.

Randy Chamberlin also filed on Thursday and will face Gillette in the June primary.

In addition to newcomers, a handful of incumbents are looking to hold onto their seats — Rep. Laurie Bishop, a Livingston Democrat; Rep. Jim Hamilton, a Bozeman Democrat; and Rep. Denise Hayman, a Bozeman Democrat.

Sen. Jeff Welborn, a Republican from Dillon, is running for another term for Senate District 36, which includes Madison and Beaverhead counties and a part of Silver Bow County.

No one has announced their candidacy for Republican Rep. Alan Redfield’s seat in Park County and Republican Rep. Ray Shaw’s seat in Madison County. Both are termed out.

Across Montana, dozens of offices will be on the 2020 ballot. Filing runs through March 9 for the June primary. The Gallatin County Elections Department is already preparing for record turnout in the upcoming election, which will include local, state and federal candidates in addition to a presidential election.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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