Special Montana House of Reps Election

Voters fill out their special election ballots May 25, 2017, at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in this file photo. 

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In the final days of filing for the 2020 elections, a flurry of candidates have announced bids for state legislative seats.

The local race with the most candidates is House District 64, which will see both a Republican and Democratic primary in June. Rep. Kerry White, a four-term Republican, can’t seek reelection for the seat in southern Gallatin County. Several candidates are seeking to replace him.

Republicans Randy Chamberlin and Jane Gillette will face off in the race’s June primary. Chamberlin, CEO of Montana Steel Industries, has lived in the district for years and said he understands the issues important to residents, including property tax relief, access to public lands and pro-life and pro-families policies.

“I have four kids and 10 grandkids, and I have a vested interest in this valley,” Chamberlin said. “I am tired of people coming into Montana and trying to change it. I want to preserve the Montana way of life.”

Gillette, a dentist, is running for the state Legislature for a second time after losing in 2018. She runs Sprout Oral Health and wants to focus on children, families and health care in Helena.

Two Democratic candidates joined the race Monday.

Josh Seckinger, who dropped out of the U.S. Senate race on Friday, is now seeking the state House seat. In a news release, Seckinger, a Bozeman-based fly-fishing guide, said he chose to run after learning about a raw sewage spill in Big Sky that may have reached the Gallatin River.

“Our state constitution enshrines the right to a clean and healthful environment, for present and future generations,” Seckinger said in the release. “I intend to guarantee that the Gallatin is there in all its splendor for those future generations.”

Brian Popiel, a Bozeman contractor, will face Seckinger in the June primary. He would like to see development in Gallatin County that addresses affordable housing and takes climate change into account. He also said legislation about land-use planning and development must consider the implications for businesses and jobs.

“Gallatin County and Montana are at a tipping point. This area of southwest Montana is really emblematic of the whole state and how we need to think about land-use development over the next 10 years to protect the life-blood of our state and the recreation opportunities it offers,” Popiel said.

In Belgrade, Colette Campbell is the only Democrat in the race for House District 67. She has worked for the Human Resource Development Council’s Head Start program, is an assistant technology coordinator at Montana State University and is on the board of the Montana Federation of Public Employees. If elected, she would like to strengthen public education and improve working conditions, wages and benefits for all Montanans.

Jedediah Hinkle, who previously served one term in the state Senate, is the lone Republican running for House District 67. Gallatin County Commissioner Don Seifert initially announced his candidacy for the seat as well but ended up filing last week for House District 69 in northern Gallatin County. He will face Jennifer Carlson, of Manhattan, in the Republican primary.

As the filing deadline approached, Claire Broling, a Democrat, decided to run for House District 68 for the first time, saying she wants to represent working-class people. Broling, 22, is an EMT at St. Peter’s Health in Helena and commutes from the Bozeman area for her job. In the state Legislature, she said she would work for property tax relief, more affordable and accessible health care options and a higher minimum wage.

“It seems like people are being left behind,” Broling said.

Incumbent Rep. Bruce Grubbs is seeking reelection in House District 68. Grubbs, a moderate Republican from Bozeman, faces a more conservative primary challenger, Caleb Hinkle, of Belgrade.

In Park County, Democrat Dan Vermillion, a former Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner who previously ran a failed campaign for state Senate, is running against Republican Marty Malone, a former Park County commissioner. The city of Livingston race includes Republican Joe Lamm, the husband of U.S. House candidate Debra Lamm, and Democrat Laurie Bishop who is seeking reelection.

There will be a three-way primary for Senate District 35, which has long been represented by Scott Sales, who is running for secretary of state. Debra Brown, a Winston resident who has worked with the Veterans Party, filed on Monday, joining former state Sen. Gary Perry and Walt Sales, who has served in the state House since 2017.

Just before filing closed Monday, incumbent Rep. Jim Hamilton in Bozeman’s House District 61 received a primary challenger, Brian Close, and Republican Rick Vaught, of Bozeman, filed for Senate District 31 where Christopher Pope, a Bozeman state representative, is also seeking election.

A handful of Libertarians are also a part of the state legislative races. Francis Wendt has filed for House District 62, Doug Campbell is running for House District 64, Andrew Schaefer is hoping to fill the seat for House District 67, Daniel Bennett is a candidate for House District 61 and Joshua-Luke O’Connor filed for Senate District 31.

In Senate District 36, a Libertarian has challenged incumbent Republican Jeff Welborn, who is seeking reelection for the seat, which includes Madison and Beaverhead counties and a part of Silver Bow County. John Lamb runs an organic vegetable farm and several other small businesses with his family in Norris. He and his wife homeschool their 12 children. “I want people to be able to live freely and not be restricted by the government,” he said.

Candidates will face off in the June 2 primary before going on to the general election on Nov. 3.

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

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