HELENA — Although the 2012 election is more than two years away, names of some potential candidates are surfacing for what will be an open governor’s seat, the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Jon Tester and other offices.
Term limits will prevent two-term Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer from seeking re-election in 2012.
Tester made it official at the Democratic convention in Billings earlier this month that he’s running for a second Senate term. He’s been raising money for re-election since shortly after winning the seat in 2006.
With the U.S. House race the lone statewide office up this year, politicians are looking ahead to 2012, when a number of state offices are up for election.
There is no shortage of names for governor being mentioned by political insiders from both parties.
On the Democratic side, they include: Attorney General Steve Bullock, of Helena; state Sen. Larry Jent, of Bozeman; state Transportation Director Jim Lynch, of Kalispell; and state Sen. Dave Wanzenried, of Missoula.
Republicans include: state Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley; former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, of Helena; Dean Folkvord, of Three Forks, CEO of Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery; former state GOP Chairman Erik Iverson, of Missoula; national security and terrorism expert Neil Livingstone, of Helena and Washington, D.C., state Senate Majority Leader Jim Peterson, of Buffalo; state Senate President Bob Story, of Park City; and state Sen. Ryan Zinke, of Whitefish.
One caveat: Few will admit publicly at this time that they are looking at higher office now. Most are serving in other political offices.
An exception to the policy of silence is Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, who confirmed that he is running for attorney general in 2012. He has been a federal prosecutor, a prosecutor in the Marine and Navy systems and a public defender who has a civil practice.
“I think I have the background for it,” Shockley said. “I’ve been practicing 34 years. I think I could do a good job and I’d like to do it.”
Here’s a look at the Republicans mentioned for governor.
Some college students have mounted an effort to draft Brown, an agricultural broadcaster in his first term as a state senator, to run for governor. However, Brown, who with his wife owns Northern Broadcasting System, so far has resisted the efforts.
“I’m not interested in seeking full-time public office and changing careers at this point,” Brown has said.
Hill sponsored a reception room at the Republican platform convention in Billings this weekend to gauge people’s enthusiasm for the possibility of him running for governor. The former insurance executive was Montana’s lone congressman from 1997 to 2000 but didn’t seek a third term because of eye problems. Hill said he’s fine now, but conceded, “I’ve been off the stage a long time.”
“I’ve had a lot of people calling me about it,” Hill said. “I’m seriously thinking about it. I haven’t made a decision about it. People are really worried. I’ve heard from business leaders who are concerned about the economy.”
Folkvord made his first trip to a political convention to the GOP gathering in Billings, saying he wanted to “see if there is any opportunity to serve the people of Montana in any capacity in public office.” The governor’s office is the one that most interests him, Folkvord said.
He said he feels honored that people mention his name as a future political leader, “probably because we’ve been fairly successful in business.”
Iverson, a businessman who stepped down as state GOP chairman and as Rep. Denny Rehberg’s chief of staff after the 2008 election cycle, said several people have suggested he run for governor.
“I’ve been around politics long enough to know you never say never,” he said, but added that he has no current plans to do so. Iverson said he was busy planning his 5-year-old son’s birthday party now.
Livingstone, raised in Helena, is president of a global investigative and security business in Washington, bought a house in Helena last fall. He spoke at the Billings convention.
Last fall, he said people had asked him to return to Montana to run for governor or Senate. An online intelligence newsletter reported he owns the Internet domain name of LivingstoneforGovernor.com.
Peterson, a cattle rancher who previously was executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said, “To be frank with you, I haven’t ruled anything out. I’m focusing right now on my re-election to the Senate.”
Story, a farmer and rancher whose Montana Senate term expires this year, said, “I’ve been pondering options, but I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. I’ve got to get through this term. Open seats tend to attract a lot of interest.”
Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL and a Whitefish businessman first elected to the Senate in 2008, said he’s considering running for governor.
“I’m evaluating the governor’s office, but it has to be a team effort that is going to dedicate itself to a vision,” he said. “If we don’t have a good candidate, I’m going to be that candidate.”
On the Democratic side, many are looking to Bullock, who as attorney general holds the second most powerful state office.
“Right now, I’m focusing on doing the best job I can as attorney general,” Bullock said. “I think we’ve been doing a good job and delivering results… I have been receiving encouragement from a lot of folks to consider running (for governor). I believe that is based on how I’m doing in my current job. I may consider it at the right time.”
Jent, a Bozeman lawyer who ran for Congress in 1996 before he was elected to the Legislature, said he currently is not a candidate for any office other than for the state Senate.
Lynch, a former businessman who has been state transportation director under Schweitzer, previously lost a race for the state Senate. He said he hasn’t looked at any future political offices, although people have asked, because he is devoting full attention to his job as state highway director.
He said he doesn’t know where his future leads, but added: “I don’t rule anything out in my life.”
Wanzenried was chief of staff and later labor director for Gov. Ted Schwinden before working in the private transportation business and serving in the Legislature.
“The job I have right now is serving in the Senate, and I’m honored to have that job,” he said. “I’m reminded every day that too many of my neighbors and too many Montanans do not have jobs. I want to work on that as a legislator. ... Then we can gauge our successes. Then I can take care of the question that’s being asked about the next office perhaps.”
As for the U.S. Senate seat, some Republicans believe five-term Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg may consider running for it in 2012. He is seeking re-election this year.
“I’m not interested in doing what’s ‘best’ for my political future, or what’s ‘best’ for the national Republican Party,” Rehberg said. “I have always done what’s best for Montana. And that means I’ll continue doing all I can to protect Montana from the harmful effects of the progressive experiment being pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President (Barack) Obama.
“I’m focused on my current race, and that is for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives so I can continue representing the people of Montana during this critical moment in our history.”
Steve Daines, a Bozeman businessman who ran for lieutenant governor in 2008, also sponsored a reception at the GOP convention. He said he intends to help elect “good solid conservatives” to the Legislature this year, but hasn’t ruled out anything for 2012.
“It’s a ways off,” Daines said. “The issues that concern me the most are what’s going on back in Washington. The deficits are of great concern. We had two senators who voted for Obama’s health care plan when the majority of Montanans opposed it. I think Denny Rehberg could use some help back there.”
Meanwhile, of the Democrats holding other statewide offices and not termed out, only Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said with certainty she will run for re-election in 2012. McCulloch, former superintendent of public instruction, said she is enjoying the secretary of state’s job and has more goals she wants to accomplish there.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen and Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau each said separately they are enjoying challenges of their current jobs, but were unclear about their 2012 political plans. Lindeen talked about implementing federal health care reform in Montana, while Juneau said she’s spending her time moving Montana’s public education system forward.
“It’s much too soon to make decisions about 2012 with so much other work needing my immediate attention,” Lindeen said.
Said Juneau, “It’s way too early for me to start considering other ways I might serve Montana in the future.”
One name mentioned by some, former state Auditor John Morrison, who lost to Tester in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary, said he is not looking to run for office in 2012.
“I had given some thought to running for the Supreme Court,” the Helena attorney said. “I seriously doubt I will do that. I am enjoying the private sector. (Wife) Cathy and I decided recently that we want to dedicate our efforts to the family and the private sector in the foreseeable future. I will continue to be involved in issues as I see fit.”
The Gazette State Bureau was unable to reach Tim Fox, a Helena lawyer, who lost to Bullock for attorney general in 2008.