Flathead Valley Candidates Bow Out of House Race

By Beacon Staff

The political landscape of the Flathead Valley became even more textured this week when a state legislator eyeing Montana’s lone House seat withdrew his name from consideration, another potential Congressional candidate decided instead to run for state senate and a relatively-unknown Tea Party conservative from Kalispell announced his bid for the U.S. Senate.

Jon Sonju, a veteran state legislator from Kalispell, and Scott Reichner, a three-term legislator from Bigfork, both said they decided not to run for Congressional office in order to focus on work and family.

Reichner, a mortgage broker with a large family who has served in the House for three terms, said he intended to take aim at an open state Senate seat. If elected to the state Senate, Reichner said he would work on “true health care reform.”

“I came to the conclusion that it’s better for me, my family and my constituents if I stay in Montana,” he said. “I am passionate about going back to Helena and fixing health care. I am anxious to get down there to do that. I hope I can bring our caucus together and get a lot of things done.”

Sonju, 37, is business development manager at Sonju Industries and has an interest in SI Defense, which manufactures firearms in the Flathead Valley. He stated in a letter to the Beacon on Oct. 3 that he was removing his name from consideration for the state’s single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in order to focus on his family and his business. The about-face came less than two weeks after publicly stating that he was “all in” for the House race.

“I have spent the past 45 days traveling across Montana, putting thousands of miles on my truck, and chatting with Montanans about the prospect of my seeking the congressional seat likely being vacated by Congressman (Steve) Daines. People from all walks of life have encouraged me to run, and the support has been nothing short of amazing,” he wrote. “Even though, I said a few weeks ago that ‘I’m in with both feet,’ after further thought, it is my intention to remove my name from consideration for Montana’s lone Congressional seat.”

Sonju ran as a lieutenant governor candidate with former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill last year, but narrowly lost to Democrats Steve Bullock and John Walsh in the general election.
Speculation about potential candidates ran rampant when U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced his upcoming retirement, and increasing pressure fell on Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines to run for the open Senate seat.

Daines continues to mull the decision at a deliberate pace and has not revealed his plans publicly, but a solid fundraising quarter has him poised as a potential frontrunner.

The decision by former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer – a party favorite – to pass on a Senate run has put all eyes on Daines, who emerged as a Senate favorite just six months into his first term in Congress.

Sonju announced in July that he would not seek re-election to the state Senate after a single term – he previously served three terms in the state House – and instead endorsed Montana Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel to run for Senate District 4, in next year’s primary election showdown with Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher.

The announcement gave Sonju the freedom to express an early interest in the U.S. House Seat as the ever-speculative political lens drew a bead on a slate of current and former Flathead Valley lawmakers, including former state senator Ryan Zinke, of Whitefish.

Zinke has not said with any certitude whether he’ll run, though he has not withdrawn his name from consideration.

Sonju says he’s not done with politics, but merely needs a break.

Meanwhile, David Leaser, the air traffic manager at Glacier Park International Airport has emerged as a surprise candidate for Baucus’ U.S. Senate seat.

Running as a Republican, Leaser, a retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer, said in a news release that he decided to run because “it’s time for a representative in the United States Senate to stand up for the conservative values of Montana.”

“I believe in supporting the rights given to Americans by the United States Constitution, practicing open and honest government and proudly advocating for active-duty forces and veterans. I strongly support the principles of the Republican Party and Tea Party conservatives. I intend to support more freedom for individuals and families through less government, lower taxes and the reduction of cumbersome rules and regulations that prohibit business and the creation of jobs,” Leaser stated.

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