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Published on January 17th, 2018 | by Arch Stanton

The Challengers Stepping into Greg Gianforte’s Ring

There may be fire and fury in the White House, but the 2018 elections are just heating up here in Montana. In honor of our at-large and in charge, body-slamming congressman, welcome to the Thunderdome Edition of Hashtag MTPOL.

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This week, we’re profiling the heels and faces looking to challenge Congressman Greg “The Million Dollar Man” Gianforte, the undisputed favorite to win reelection. Please forgive the wrestling jokes, folks.

Let’s face it, the Democratic candidates running to challenge Gianforte for the House seat once occupied by rugged outdoorsman Secretary Ryan Zinke are less fun than Republicans running to challenge Senator Jon Tester. There are no deep state conspiracies and the Deans of Havre are not involved – at least not yet. John Heenan and Grant Kier are the only candidates to have reported any fundraising activity and appear to be establishing themselves as frontrunners. But it’s still January, and too early to write anyone off.

Two Men Enter: John Heenan and Grant Keir

John “Kurt Angle” Heenan

Billings attorney and restaurateur John Heenan has the most cash-on-hand and seems to be establishing himself as the Democratic frontrunner much like Kurt Angle was the WWE frontrunner and Champion from 2000-2001.  Heenan has used that money to organize a polished online presence and canvass the state. He has struck an aggressive tone when differentiating himself from Gianforte. In December, he injected himself into the Alabama special election by supporting Roy Moore’s opponent Doug Jones and demanding a position on Moore from Gianforte. Gianforte wisely remained tight-lipped on the controversial candidate. In November, Heenan also urged Gallatin County to press charges against Gianforte for providing false information to the police after body-slamming a reporter on the eve of the special election.

Grant “the Rock” Kier

Like the Rock, Kier is a political novice with rock-hard abs. He is a Missoula resident and a geophysical engineer who touts experience in public lands and environmental policy. Kier worked for the Ravalli County Farm and Ranch Board in Hamilton before coming to Missoula to lead the Five Valleys Land Trust. Kier is setting a bipartisan tone and demonstrating his knowledge of public land management. He has raised a significant amount of money, but has the disadvantage of being a Democrat running out of the dreaded People’s Republic of Missoula.

One Man Leaves: Tom Woods

Tom “Andre the Giant” Woods

“It’s a rich man’s game,” says former candidate Tom Woods of Bozeman, who left the race as prematurely as Andre the Giant left this world. Woods was positioning himself as one of the more progressive candidates in the race before dropping out shortly after the New Year. Overwhelmed by the fundraising efforts of the other candidates, Woods’ campaign probably couldn’t afford to pick up the tab for one night of drinking with the real Andre (who would reportedly drink over 156 beers in a sitting). Woods gave a soft endorsement of John Heenan, but with the caveat that all the Democrats running would represent Montana well. Woods is considering the less-expensive option of running for re-election for state legislature in Gallatin County.

Amateur Circuit:

The remaining candidates have not reported any fundraising activity.  We’ll consider them amateurs for now (and won’t spend the time photoshopping them onto wrestlers).

Democrats

Kathleen Williams – Williams is a retired, three-term state legislator and former associate director of the nonprofit Western Landowners Alliance. Like Kier, she has a record of achievement on environmental and public lands issues.  She conveys a moderate tone and laments hyper-partisanship in Washington. She seems to have the chops for the job, but needs to energize her fundraising to compete. Williams is a Gallatin County resident.

Lynda Bourque-Moss Bourque-Moss, a Billings native, served two terms in the State Senate and was the majority whip in 2007. In 2012 she ran for Montana Public Service Commissioner, but was knocked-out in the primaries. She has the advantage of experience in Montana politics and being a Democrat running out of populated Yellowstone County, but like Williams is behind in the fundraising game.

Jared Pettinato – Pettinato graduated from Stanford Law, and has worked as a natural resources lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice. He aims to focus his campaign on policy issues like wind power and forestry, but seems to lack authority on other policy issues. His early campaign documents have highlighted his desire to work across the aisle. Pettinato is a fourth generation Montanan and a Whitefish resident.

The Republican Challenger: Drew Turiano Turiano is a conservative Tea Party Republican that has run for office in Montana many times and lost. Turiano was a 2016 candidate for Montana District 40, a 2014 candidate for the U.S. House seat, and a 2012 candidate for Montana Secretary of State. He authored a young adult novel called George Buchanan Enters the Wormhole from which I pulled this relevant book jacket quote: “Can he leave his own world behind, save Earth, and become the unlikely champion of mankind?” We’ll see!

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Arch Stanton



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