HELENA — Republican Steve Daines of Bozeman announced Saturday that he is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in 2012 because he wants to reduce the size of the federal government and unleash American innovation to create more jobs.
In remarks prepared for delivery in Bozeman, Daines said he is running for the Senate "to change the direction Washington is taking our country so that my four children can be part of a generation that is left better off and not worse off."
It's the second shot at statewide political office for Daines, 48. He unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2008 on the gubernatorial ticket headed by Roy Brown.
"We've seen what happens when government gets too big, taxes get too high, entitlements too rich, regulations too thick," he said. "The people of America rose up on Nov. 2 and rejected what has happened in Washington the past two year. We need a new president in 2012, and we need a new U.S. senator from Montana in 2012."
Daines, 48, received a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Montana State University and worked as a businessman for Procter & Gamble in Iowa and later in Hong Kong and China. He returned to Bozeman in 1997 to work for his family's construction firm.
Since 2000, Daines has worked for RightNow Technologies, a startup high-tech business founded and based in Bozeman. His most recent assignment has been general manager/vice president of RightNow's Asia-Pacific business, but he intends to take a job with less responsibility for the company so he can run for the Senate.
With his 26-year business background, Daines said he has had to manage budgets, solve difficult problems and deliver measurable results and wants to apply those skills to the federal budget.
"We have to find ways to do more with less," he said in an interview.
Forty percent of federal expenses go to entitlements — Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, he said.
"We are going to have to address these systems because we are currently on a path of spending that is not sustainable," he said. "We have an obligation to those who have paid into the system and are receiving benefits not to change the rules of the game."
But Daines said Congress must look at other options for the next generation so the system will be solvent when they're ready to retire.
Revenue increases are off the table, he said.
"It is not the time to increase taxes," Daines said. "It is time to reduce spending."
He said he favors extending the Bush administration tax cuts to everyone, regardless of income, and favors eliminating the estate tax entirely or phasing it out.
"We need to make sure that we are not raising taxes on those who are the job creators as well as those who need jobs," he said.
Asked where else he would look to make cuts, Daines said, "There's no area of spending in our government that should not be scrutinized."
Daines criticized Tester for voting for the federal health care reform bill and said he would support repealing the law. Then Congress could implement an affordable system that actually improves the quality of health care, he said.
He also criticized Tester for voting for the $1 trillion federal stimulus bill (the $787 billion appropriated, plus interest on the borrowed portion of the spending).
"Instead of helping our economy, it has created an even deeper hole for our economy with increasing debts," Daines said. "When the economy is in trouble, the last thing you want to do is increase federal spending and create uncertainty for small businesses."
As for congressional earmarks, Daines said he supports a moratorium on these direct congressional appropriations because the process is broken.
Daines was asked if he would remain in the Senate race if Rep. Denny Rehberg, who has represented Montana in Congress since 2001, decides to jump in the race. He called Rehberg a good friend who has been a "great representative" for Montana in Congress.
"I don't know what Denny's going to do," Daines said. "That's Denny's decision. I'm not going to worry about that. We are focusing on the U.S. Senate race and sending a new senator back to Washington that I believe will be more aligned with the values and issues that Montana cares about."
Daines said he expects to have to raise $5 million to $8 million for his campaign, based on what Tester and former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, whom Tester unseated, spent respectively in 2006.
"It's one of the unfortunate parts of the political system today, the amount of money it takes," Daines said. "It's one of the reasons why we're jumping in early."
He and his wife, Cindy, want to visit every community in Montana, Daines said.
Daines long has been active in Republican politics. In 2007, he started a group that took out ads calling on Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer to return Montana's $1 billion surplus to taxpayers.
Democrats this week filed a Federal Election Commission complaint accusing Daines of campaigning illegally for Tester's Senate seat by using "soft money" from a Colorado political action committee, Common Sense issues. Daines denied any wrongdoing.