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Monica Lindeen

Monica Lindeen.

The executive director of the Montana Democratic Party announced Monday she is stepping down by the end of the year.

Monica Lindeen has been at the helm of the party for about 10 ½ months, taking over at the very end of 2018. A press release Monday said she will stay on during the search for her replacement.

“It has everything to do with the fact that I have been doing this sort of thing for 24 years, and there just comes a point in time in your life where you decide that it’s time to turn it over and continue on into the next chapter of my life,” Lindeen said Monday, adding she plans to continue to work and has some opportunities she’s exploring but can’t discuss yet.

Former Executive Director Nancy Keenan, who was in the role about three years, left after the 2018 primary, which saw the party retain the seat of Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and fail to unseat U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican.

Lindeen said she originally planned to stay on through the 2020 cycle, but “other opportunities have come about that I want to explore, and it’s OK. I’m ready to move on and do some other things.” She said he's always been passionate about health care issues, public policy and the economy and wants to continue that work.

On Monday Lindeen said she hasn't spoken with any potential replacements yet.

"The process is the process. I think that can be two to three months, or it could be shorter. It just really depends on who puts their name in and how many rounds of interviews they need to go through," Lindeen said.

In a statement announcing her departure, Lindeen said the Montana Democratic Party is "ready to fight in 2020."

Her departure comes at a time when Democrats are gearing up for contests across the board in 2020. Holding onto the governor's office after 16 years of control will be a top party priority. Republicans have made clear taking back that office is their main goal in the coming year.So far four Democrats have announced they're running in that race.

Democrats around the state have voiced frustration that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's 2020 plans include only, as he aggressively insists, a long-shot bid for president and not an entry into the U.S. Senate race. He's seen by many as the party's best chance to unseat incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican. Three Democrats have announced for that race.

The U.S. House race is one in which Democrats hope to be competitive. The seat is open next year as Rep. Greg Gianforte is running for governor and not seeking re-election to that position. There are three Democrats running in that race, including Kathleen Williams, a former state representative who came within 5 points of incumbent Gianforte in 2018.

As Democrats nationally debate how moderate or progressive the party should be and how to connect with voters who don't live on the coasts, the same debate, to some extent, is also happening at the state level. In Montana, urban areas that lean Democratic continue to grow, but Democrats who want to win statewide races still need to pick up enough votes from rural areas.

Lindeen said she tried to find a message that balanced the concerns from voters in all parts of the state as head of the state party.

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“There’s always been a lot of diverse ideas about what we should focus on, and I think in the end everybody agrees that our core values are the same,” Lindeen said. “Here in Montana, we all understand the importance of making sure that we are doing what’s right for all of our Montana communities. ... Maybe sometimes we have a differing opinion in how to get there, but in the end I think it’s good to have those discussions and those debates, and when it’s all said and done, we all come together and we find a path we can agree on and move forward.”

Lindeen also said Monday recent criticism the party hasn’t been as engaged recently as some would like is “nothing new.”

“I think that is something that happens every single cycle. … Everyone insists that the party does what they think they should be doing, and we cannot make everyone happy. I don’t care what organization it is. It certainly is nothing new, and we do the best we can to do what we think is right to make sure we’re framing a Montana message that is going to help all of our candidates up and down the ballot," Lindeen said.

Before working for the Democrats, Lindeen was most recently executive director of YWCA Helena, following eight years as the state Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. She was previously vice chair of the party and served eight years in the state House, representing the Billings area. She also won the Democratic primary for Montana’s U.S. House seat in 2006, losing the general election to Republican Denny Rehberg.

Lindeen said in whatever comes next for her, she’d like to work on health care issues and the state’s economy.

“I’m sure I will be working on issues that are near and dear to my heart, it’s just a matter of what that looks like," Lindeen said.

In her more than two decades of public service, Lindeen said she’s “always been somebody who is willing to work with everyone from both sides of the aisle.”

“I’m not really a strong partisan generally,” Lindeen said, adding that she didn’t think that was a negative in her role as the party’s executive director.

“It’s just a perspective you bring to the role. It’s certainly a perspective I’ve brought to everything I’ve done.”

In the statement announcing her departure, party leaders praised Lindeen.

“I thank Monica for her service to the Montana Democratic Party over the past year. I have every confidence as she hands over the reins to the next executive director that the party will be in great shape to ensure we win in 2020. I wish Monica all the best," said Bullock.

Tester said Lindeen will be missed:

“Monica is a good friend, and I want to thank her for dedicating her life to fighting for hardworking Montanans. Her presence will be missed, but I know she will remain active in helping elect Democrats across the state.  I look forward to working with her eventual successor to defend Montanans' way of life and making sure government works for everyone, not just the wealthy and massive corporations."

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