Republican state lawmaker Al Olszewski announced Tuesday that he will run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in 2018, becoming the first challenger in a Senate race expected to draw national attention.
An orthopedic surgeon from Kalispell, Olszewski, 54, represents Senate District 6 and previously served a single term in the state House. So far, he is the only Republican to announce his candidacy to run against Tester, a two-term Senate Democrat from Big Sandy who plans to run for reelection.
Attorney General Tim Fox and State Auditor Matthew Rosendale are also considered possible candidates, though neither has made a decision yet.
Olszewski said his experience as a physician gives him a unique perspective of the nation’s health care system, and that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has foisted burdensome regulations on his independent practice.
“The big motivation for me to run for U.S. Senate is similar to what brought me to Helena,” he told the Beacon Tuesday. “I was doing something that I absolutely loved as a physician, but we have too many federal regulations that have come between doctors and their patients because of unfunded mandates.”
In his role on the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, as well as on Senate committees dealing with public health, finance and agriculture, Olszewski said much of his legislative experience has focused on health-care issues.
“I now have experience not only as a physician, but also as a legislator dealing with health care policy and appropriations and I think those skills could be effective in Congress,” he said. “Health care is going somewhere, and I want to see it go somewhere positive. I hope to influence the debate.”
While Olszewski remains opposed to the Affordable Care Act and voted against Montana’s expansion of Medicaid last session, he said Republican efforts in Congress to replace the federal health-care law with the American Health Care Act — a measure lawmakers ultimately withdrew — were misguided.
“The intent was good but it missed the mark,” he said. “It didn’t do anything to touch the very complex network of regulations under the Affordable Care Act. And what is killing me as an independent business owner are the regulations and unfunded mandates.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Chris Meagher, a spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party, drew attention to Olszewski’s record seeking to restrict abortions in the state.
“Al Olszewski may be one of the most radical politicians in the state legislature, and his agenda would hurt Montana’s women and families,” according to the statement. “Montanans don’t want politicians like Olszewski and the federal government getting between women and their doctors, and he’s wrong for Montana.”
Olszewski’s stance on abortion sets him apart from Tester, who did not support Neil Gorsuch as the nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court due in part to concerns about the judge’s views on women’s right to choose.
Olszewski also said Montana deserves more local control of its lands and resources, and supports the idea that states should assist the federal government in managing the lands under its jurisdiction.
“It is difficult for the federal government to efficiently manage its lands from Washington, D.C.,” he said.