HELENA — Rob Stutz, a Helena attorney who served as the Legislature's chief lawyer for nine months before resigning earlier this year, said Friday he's looking at running as a Democrat for the state's open U.S. House seat in 2012.
If Stutz, 38, decides to jump in the race, he'd be the fourth Democrat running. Another Democrat, Diane Smith, a Whitefish businesswoman, also is considering running, political sources said, but she couldn't be reached for comment.
Two Republicans also are running, although one is not actively campaigning for the seat that six-term U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., is giving up to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester next year.
"I'm somebody who's looking into it and putting feelers out," Stutz said. "I'm looking to serve the people. I don't have a lot of money."
Stutz said he's interested in running for the House because it's the closest national legislative body to the people.
Hired in the summer of 2010 as the Legislature's top lawyer, he resigned in the middle of the 2011 session in mid-March. His job involved reviewing bill drafts for their legality.
"The legislative legal work finishes with the transmittal break," he said.
Although not working, Stutz said he remained on the legislative payroll until July 1 drawing pay for his vacation and compensatory time.
It was then that Stutz said he began to discuss the possibility of running for Congress with his wife, Blanche, a pediatric nurse, and two sons and making sure they were "on board" with his decision.
Asked why he's interested, Stutz said, "The biggest motivator was not only a belief that I could do a good job representing the people of Montana and that I've got a diverse background that covers a lot of areas."
His experience as the chief legislative attorney also influenced him, Stutz said.
"I think I'm motivated primarily by seeing what happened in the Legislature this session and being concerned about the direction the Legislature was taking with bills that were unconstitutional and that bothered me," Stutz said.
He said the Legislature Services Division legal staff "did an excellent job of providing impartial, nonpartisan advice about legal issues."
Stutz was born in North Carolina, the son of a Marine and a U.S. State Department employee, and moved to Montana at the age of 2. He received a bachelor's degree in political since from Purdue University in Indiana in 1994 and a law degree from the University of Montana in 2000.
As an attorney, Stutz worked in private practice, as a state assistant attorney general under then-state Attorney General Mike McGrath, as lawyer for the Montana School Boards Association and in the general counsel's office of the U.S. Department of Education in the Bush and Obama administrations.
"It's been a long time since I've been actively involved in partisan politics," Stutz said. "That probably works to my disadvantage in the primary."
Two Democratic candidates are legislators, Rep. Franke Wilmer of Bozeman, and Sen. Kim Gillan of Billings. The third, Dave Strohmaier, was elected as a nonpartisan candidate to the Missoula City Council, but is active in Democratic politics there.
"It certainly gives them name recognition in the party during the primary, but I don't know if it's a characteristic that helps them in the general," Stutz said.
On the Republican side, Steve Daines of Bozeman has been actively campaigning. John Abarr, a Great Falls hotel auditor and former organizer for the Ku Klux Klan, said last month he is running but has not been actively campaigning.