Whitefish native Jared Pettinato has joined the hunt for Montana’s lone seat in Congress, entering a crowded Democratic primary that will determine who will challenge Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte.
Pettinato, 38, a Whitefish attorney currently running his campaign out of Bozeman, spent most of his career working as a natural resources lawyer for the Department of Justice, where he says he defended public lands, wind farms, highways, forests, and public rail projects.
In one prominent case, Pettinato defended the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to airdrop fire retardant after a federal judge in Missoula ordered the agency to reassess the chemical slurry’s environmental impacts.
Describing himself as a fourth-generation Montanan and the son of a Whitefish railroading family, Pettinato graduated from Whitefish High School in 1997. It is his first time running for office.
He earned his mathematics degree from the University of Montana and a law degree from Stanford. After clerking for Justice W. William Leaphart on the Montana Supreme Court, Pettinato worked for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., from 2008 to 2017, frequently arguing cases in Montana courtrooms.
In an interview Tuesday, he told the Beacon he would buoy Montana’s economy by increasing the capacity for wind energy in the eastern part of the state. He would promote responsible timber sales in order to curb the rate at which wildfires are burning and add timber jobs to the economy, saying decades of mismanagement have led to a surplus of fuels in Western forests.
“Right now we have suppressed forest fires for 80 years while we were taking out the biggest trees in the forest. That changed the landscape. It allowed more fuels to come up so fires burned hotter and higher into the canopy. Humans created the system and we have a responsibility to fix it.”
Working as a natural resources lawyer for the past decade, Pettinato said he has Montana’s best interests in mind, which is what prompted him to run for public office.
“I was born and raised here. The people of Montana taught me and educated me and sent me out into the world,” he said. “I have been able to contribute back to Montana all of my life as a natural resources lawyer, and when it came time to come home I was so glad to be back. I see a lot of opportunities to bring new ideas and some fresh perspective to continue giving back.”
Pettinato is attempting to publish a book on political science and economics titled “Beyond Party,”and started a small nonprofit business, Citizens for Constitutional Integrity, which aims to ensure federal, state and local governments are following constitutional law.
Other Democrats in the race include state Rep. Tom Woods and former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, both of Bozeman, Billings attorney John Heenan and former land-trust director Grant Kier of Missoula.
The primary is June 5.
Pettinato’s campaign website is at www.montanansforjared.com.