Legislative Races Beginning to Take Shape as Candidate Filing Opens

Contested Republican primary in Senate District 2; Debo Powers files to defend one of only two Democratic seats in Flathead

By Myers Reece
Montana State Capitol building. Beacon file photo

Candidate filing in Montana opened on Jan. 9, with a number of Northwest Montana incumbents and newcomers alike announcing their candidacies for the 2020 legislative races.

The filing deadline isn’t until March 9, but the early returns have already set the stage for a few local legislative elections, including a contested Republican primary in Senate District 2, which covers Columbia Falls and the surrounding area.

Longtime Republican legislator Jerry O’Neil has filed for the Senate District 2 seat, which is open because incumbent Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse, is term limited. Norm Nunnally has also filed as a Republican to challenge O’Neil.

O’Neil served in the state Senate from 2001-2009 and then for two terms in the House beginning in 2011 before he was unseated by Democrat Zac Perry in 2014. Perry twice defended his House District 3 seat, in 2016 and 2018, but announced in September that he is resigning the position to attend graduate school.

The Flathead County Commission appointed Democrat Debo Powers to replace Perry. Powers has filed to defend her House District 3 seat. Braxton Mitchell of Columbia Falls has filed to run for the seat as a Republican.

Meanwhile, a number of Northwest Montana incumbents have filed and are awaiting challengers to file, including Democrat Dave Fern (HD5), Republican Frank Garner (HD7), Republican John Fuller (HD8), Republican David Dunn (HD9), Republican Mark Noland (HD10) and Republican Keith Regier (SD3). As of Jan. 14, no other candidates had filed for those seats.

Republican Amy Regier filed for House District 6, which will be vacated by term-limited Republican Carl Glimm.

In Sanders County, Republican Rep. Bob Brown, who represents House District 13, is trying to cross over into the other legislative chamber by filing for Senate District 7, which will be open because incumbent Republican Jennifer Fielder is term limited. Fielder’s husband, Paul, has filed for Brown’s HD13 seat.

In Lincoln County, incumbent Republican Steve Gunderson of Libby has filed to defend his seat in House District 1, while incumbent Republican Neil Duram of Eureka has done the same in House District 2.

In Lake County’s House District 12, Republican Rep. Greg Hertz is term limited, and Republican Linda Reksten of Polson has filed for the seat. Incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Salomon of Ronan filed to defend his Senate District 47 seat.

The 2020 primary is June 2. The general election is Nov. 3.

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