Bozeman Democrat Cora Neumann is running for Montana's newly created seat in the U.S. House.
"Montana needs a strong, independent voice in Washington that's going to support Montana families and really understands what it's like to live and have grown up in Montana and really understand Montana values," Neumann said in an interview earlier this week.
She is the third Democrat to announce they're seeking the office, joining Livingston state legislator Laurie Bishop and Missoula lawyer Monica Tranel. Republicans Ryan Zinke, the former secretary of the interior who previously held Montana's seat in Congress, and former state Sen. Al Olszewski are also running.
The U.S. Census found Montana grew enough over the last decade to regain the second U.S. House seat it lost in the 1990s. A bipartisan commission will draw the borders of the state's two districts in the coming months. Republicans have held the state's at-large seat for nearly a quarter of a century, with Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale in the lone seat now.
Neumann, 46, launched the Global First Ladies Alliance a decade ago and in that capacity worked with first ladies from both political parties on issues like access to health care and economic development. She also worked at the State Department and on public lands issues in Montana.
During the pandemic, she founded We Are Montana, a nonprofit that focuses on increasing access to health care in rural areas. She previously ran for U.S. Senate in 2020 before exiting the primary along with most other candidates when former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock entered.
Over the last year, Neumann said, Montanans have struggled with the health, economic and social fallout form the pandemic. She said she understands those struggles, after her father died in a lumber mill accident when she was a baby and her stepfather had to commute all across the state as a union carpenter to support the family.
"In Congress, I will fight for good jobs and wages," Neumann said. "I think between my experience and my work on the frontlines, working with rural and Native families and communities, together with my own personal story of understanding what it's like to lose your parent, to have your parent have to drive across the state, and leave your beloved hometown ... Montanans know struggle but they also know how to overcome."
If elected, Neumann said she would work to bring a bipartisan approach to the job. She said she would fight to make sure the state is well-represented in things like the infrastructure bill now in the U.S. Senate.
"That is something that has the capacity to create really good jobs and bring good wages to Montana families," Neumann said. " ... My goal is to do as much as I can for my home state and I have the skills and background to really work across the aisle to get things done."
Neumann also said she would work to support the health care network in the state and aim to address the high costs of both accessing care and prescription drugs.
"It all goes back to good jobs and good wages. Health and the economy and jobs are completely interlinked," Neumann said.
She also said she would work to preserve access to public lands in the state.
"That is at the heart of what it means to be from Montana," Neumann said.
Neumann contrasted herself and her work in Montana with Zinke.
"When disaster struck our state, I launched into action and launched We Are Montana," Neumann said, adding that the organization worked with rural and Native communities around the state trying to lessen the blow from the coronavirus. "That's the kind of profile Montana voters, Republicans and Democrats want to see. ... Zinke was ousted by the Trump administration and we didn't see him again until he wanted to run for Congress."
Amid several investigations and scandals, Zinke resigned his post as secretary of the interior in 2018. He was scrutinized for reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, peeling back oil and gas restrictions and at one point the Interior Department reviewed a land deal he made with the chairman of Halliburton. Last week former Republican President Donald Trump, through an email sent by his super PAC, endorsed Zinke.
The Associated Press reported in late April that the full details of an investigation into Zinke's dealings related to a casino permit are not public yet, and other investigations into his actions have ended without findings of wrongdoing by Zinke.
While Republicans swept every statewide office on the ballot last year by large margins, Neumann said Democrats can prevail by connecting with voters in this election cycle hopefully less marked by the pandemic.
"Montana Democrats need to feel like we can dig into our purple roots," Neumann said. "Montana has always been purple and has a strong history of electing Democrats. This seat is a great chance for us to have more voices in Washington."
Neumann was born in British Columbia and moved to Bozeman as an infant, where she was raised by her mom and stepfather. She lives in Bozeman with her husband, two teenage children and dog, Sadie.