Seven-term state legislator Jeff Essmann announced Wednesday he plans to end his legislative career to run for Billings mayor.
“I think my days of driving back and forth to Helena are pretty much over,” he said by telephone on his way to the Capitol Wednesday morning. “It’s time to pursue things of interest to my community.”
Essmann, 64, is chairman of the Montana Republican Party and a Billings businessman. He’s represented Billings in the state House of Representatives or state Senate since 2005.
In a news release, Essmann, a Billings native and a 1970 graduate of Billings West High School, outlined four priorities he’ll pursue if he’s elected in November:
- Completing the Inner Belt Loop, upgrading West End farm-to-market roads, rebuilding the airport terminal and finishing the bicycle and pedestrian Marathon Loop.
- Establishing a special victims unit for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases.
- Revitalizing and integrating Montana State University Billings as “a vital element in training and equipping the region’s workforce.”
- Returning the city council to what Essmann called “its proper role as the policy-making body of the community.”
“The city council needs to listen to the voices of the community,” he said. “From my perspective, it needs to be proactive and establish policies that the city administrator and city employees execute. I hope to lead a council more engaged with the community as a whole” and “does more outreach, a council that sets policy rather than reacting.”
During the current legislative term, Essmann said he came to realize that “the things I was most passionate about working on were things that involved my home community. With an open race, I think I have the opportunity to make a difference, and I’m excited about the challenge.”
He noted that with City Administrator Tina Volek retiring Sept. 30, the city council has “the opportunity to develop a new relationship with a new city administrator, and we need to hear and represent the entire community, not just a select few.”
He said he’s running “to bring common sense, priorities and fiscal discipline back to our city … I’m going to spend the whole campaign humbly asking the people of Billings to join me.”
Essmann called for “more action and less complaining,” especially when it comes to completing infrastructure projects.
“For example, the Inner Belt Loop has been identified as a major goal since the days I served on the Yellowstone County Planning Board nearly 20 years ago. It’s time we stopped talking and started moving some dirt, and the same goes for all these projects.”
He said he wants to form a leadership task force in Billings “to get the community to embrace the (MSUB) campus, and the campus (to) embrace the community” so that the needs of Billings employers can be met.
“We have got to get skilled employees to fill our employers’ needs, or our economy is going nowhere,” he said. “I think that’s the role the campus needs to play, and they need more freedom and support from the Board of Regents” to do that, he said.
Essmann is married to Sherry Bernhardt Essmann. He’s a 1974 graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology — “on Chicago’s beautiful South Side” he said — and earned his law degree from the University of Montana three years later.
“I look forward,” he said, “to an active summer and fall.”
Essmann joins Billings architect Randy Hafer in the race to succeed Mayor Tom Hanel, who is term limited. Voters will also decide on five city council races. The primary election is Sept. 12, with the general election set for Nov. 7.
April 20 is the first day that candidates can file to run for city office. The deadline to file is June 19.