HELENA — Democrats now will have a contested primary for the U.S. House as former Public Service Commissioner John Driscoll of Helena has filed as a candidate.
That sets up a primary battle between Driscoll and John Lewis, a former top aide to former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who also is from Helena.
Republicans will have their own primary, with five candidates already filing for the seat.
Driscoll, 67, filed for the House on Thursday.
He is a semi-retired Army National Guard colonel who said he is learning to write long-form nonfiction. He writes for www.stewardmagazine.com, an online magazine he founded with his wife, Kathryn.
In 2008, Driscoll made a similar last-minute, surprise filing for the U.S. House and wound up winning the Democratic primary over Jim Hunt, who had the backing of some of the Democratic Party establishment, and Robert Candee. Driscoll garnered 49 percent of the vote to Hunt’s 42 percent, while Candee had 9 percent.
Former Rep. Denny Rehberg, the Republican incumbent, went on to defeat Driscoll by 64 percent to 32 percent in the general election.
Driscoll had said in October 2008 that he would vote for Rehberg if the congressman voted against the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. Rehberg voted against the bailout, but Driscoll said he ended up voting for himself.
In 2008, Driscoll made a pledge not to raise or spend any money for his campaign, and he didn’t.
This year, he said he won’t raise any donations for his primary election campaign. However, if he wins the primary, Driscoll said he will accept contributions “to communicate positively about the challenges of our time.”
Driscoll said he hopes news media across the state will sponsor a series of round-table discussions with both Democratic and Republican House candidates attending.
“We could gain experience and insight from each other, and fellow Montanans, as they assess our demeanors,” he said. “Listening will move us past polarization.”
Driscoll said he has attended a number of meetings of Republican groups around the state because he is so deeply concerned over what he called the Tea Party’s attempted takeover of the party. He said he even considered filing this year as a Republican, but in the end decided to run again as a Democrat.
“I thought about running as a non-Tea Party option for Republicans,” Driscoll said.
If he had run and been elected as a Republican, Driscoll said he would have worked to have the state party drop from its platform language supporting the definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman.
That language, based on an amendment added by voters to the Montana Constitution in 2004, is “a terrible injustice” to gays and lesbians, Driscoll said. “Their only crime is they’re in love.”
Driscoll said he has been reading biographies of a number of prominent Republican leaders.
“Taken as individuals, I believe most Montana Republicans, including Jeannette Rankin, along with (national) leaders like Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower, would fit nicely into the Montana Democratic Party,” Driscoll said in a statement.
If elected, Driscoll said he would ask his fellow Democrats to change their party’s name to the Democratic Republican Party. That, he said, was the party of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, “dedicated to preserving our priceless experiment in representative government against assault in their day by the minions of aristocratic wealth.”
Driscoll is a California native who grew up in Hamilton. He has three master’s degrees, one in international affairs from Columbia University, one in business from the University of Montana and one in public administration from Harvard University.
He served in the Montana House from 1973-1979, including as speaker of the House in 1977. Driscoll served three terms on the Montana Public Service Commission, from 1981-1993. He lost bids for the U.S. Senate in 1978, 1990, 2000 and 2002 and for the U.S. House in 2008.