Daines Hopes For Productive 114th Congress

Montana's new U.S. Senator says he's eager to pass key legislation on behalf of constituents

By Tristan Scott

The tumultuous race for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat was beset with unforeseen bombshells, but when the votes were tallied to manifest a decisive Republican win, the upshot was a matter of predictable course.

In a landslide victory that followed a national swell of Republican nods, one-term GOP Congressman Steve Daines sailed to victory as Montana’s newest U.S. senator, handily defeating Democrat Amanda Curtis to become the first Republican delegate to hold the seat in more than a century.

Curtis, a high school math teacher and one-term state legislator from Butte, became a late substitution for Democrats when Sen. John Walsh dropped out of the race amid revelations that he plagiarized a college paper.

Scrambling to mount a formidable campaign in August, Curtis’ camp never achieved the momentum that sent Daines charging out of the gates when he launched his Senate bid less than a year after winning his first election to the U.S. House in 2012. Prior to that, he spent 27 years in the private sector, first as a manager for Procter and Gamble and later as an executive with the Bozeman-based RightNow Technologies.

Final results showed Daines capturing 57.9 percent of the vote, or 211,331 votes, while Democrat Amanda Curtis earned 40 percent, or 145,902 votes. Libertarian candidate Roger Roots won 2.1 percent, or 7,721 votes.

Following a brief post-election vacation with family members at his Bozeman home, Daines was prepared to return to Washington, D.C., earlier this week to conclude the lame-duck session. The 52-year-old said he’s just as focused on wrapping up his freshman term as Montana’s lone U.S. House Representative with a bang as he is on the work that lies ahead in a Senate that now enjoys a Republican majority.

Despite Republican majorities in both Congressional chambers, the basic factors that have caused gridlock in the U.S. Senate did not dematerialize in the Nov. 4 midterm elections, and will likely cause more delay and stalemate when the session reconvenes in January.

Republicans don’t have the 60 votes they need to overcome Democratic filibusters, making it hard to pass many of their priorities, but Daines said he’s already been in discussion with Democrats and believes the 114th U.S. Congress can band together to pass policies that will postively affect Montana.

“I really think we may have an opportunity to remove some of that gridlock with the new Senate,” Daines said.

In particular, Daines said bipartisan support is possible on energy bills, including approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and so is pushing through a variety of job creation bills that passed in the GOP-controlled House last Congress but that were never taken up by Senate Democrats.

“We are going to have a chance to get Keystone through the House and Senate. I think we can get the votes with Keystone, and we may have a veto-proof majority in the Senate,” he said in a Nov. 10 interview with the Beacon. “I think Montanans don’t want me to go back to Washington with an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to my name, but with an ‘MT.’ You know, my background is in engineering. I’m trained to solve problems not just win arguments, and even though I hold conservative philosophies and views, I am pragmatic in my approach to getting things done in Congress on behalf of my constituents.”

Daines acknowledged that political positioning for the 2016 presidential and congressional elections will have an influence on the day-to-day workings of the Senate, particularly as that campaign season commences in earnest.

In the next cycle, Republicans will need to defend 24 seats, many from politically divided states, while Democrats only have to defend 10, most of which are from blue states.

To that end, he said it will be critical to charge ahead with gusto when the Congressional session begins in January, while also keeping an eye toward finalizing goals he set out to accomplish from the beginning.

“I still have a day job, and there is a lot of work left to be done. I disagree with those members who want to run out the clock. We need to keep working hard on behalf of the people who elected us. They are our bosses and we have to keep moving forward,” he said.

One priority for Daines before the clock winds down is passing the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which would ban energy development on 435,000 acres of land in the wild and scenic river corridor. Daines successfully passed the measure through the Democrat-controlled House, but it stalled in the Senate.

He said he is working with Sen. Walsh to pass the measure, which has been a near-universally supported policy in Montana for decades.

Although a suite of national policy issues will weigh heavily on the session as it wraps up, Daines said the North Fork bill would remain a priority for him, particularly because all measures of success the bill enjoyed this session will be reset in January.

“The North Fork is going to remain high on my list of priorities. I’m not willing to lose any of the momentum we gained this session,” he said.

Other top priorities for Daines include passing a balanced budget and reining in federal regulations.

Daines said while he is hopeful for a Congress that can work together effectively to place policies on President Barack Obama’s desk, he said the Obama administration needs to demonstrate flexibility with the newly controlled Republican Senate to move the policies forward.

“We will be looking forward to bringing Montana priorities to the national stage,” Daines said.