HELENA – The 2016 election season officially started Thursday – the first day Montanans could register as candidates for dozens of top state posts, ranging from governor and chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court to legislators and district judges.
In total, 124 people formalized their candidacy on the unofficial holiday for Montana pols, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said.
Dozens of people from across the state – from Missoula to Culbertson – drove to Helena to register in person as candidates project management collaboration software. Many incumbent legislators already were at the Capitol for a week filled with interim committee hearings.
Candidates must register before 5 p.m. March 14 to appear on the ballot for June 7 primaries.
Many will wait until that deadline or announce on a different day over the next two months, in part, so they do not have to share the spotlight. That might be the plan of incumbent Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock, who is expected to seek re-election, and Greg Gianforte, a presumed top Republican candidate who has said he will announce this month whether to make his exploratory campaign an official gubernatorial bid.
Legislative leaders from both parties leveraged filing day as an opportunity to tout campaign themes and priorities for the next session in news conferences at the Capitol rotunda.
Sen. Robyn Driscoll, R-Billings, said her party had gained legislative seats in the last two election cycles and pledged to do so again. She said the party’s diverse legislative membership is a key reason why Democrats are better equipped to serve all Montana residents, noting more than half are women and seven are American Indians.
“I’d implore you to pay attention through March to the candidates that file for each party and I ask you to think about what a difference it makes when we have a diverse Legislature,” Driscoll said, noting that fewer than 20 percent of Republican legislators are women and just one is an American Indian.
Each Democratic candidate stepped to the lectern to name their promises for the 2017 legislative session: to support public education from pre-K to college, fight privatization of public lands, protect voting rights and invest in infrastructure.
Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, said his party’s priorities include simplifying the tax code, removing red tape on resource development and “lowering taxes for all Montanans.”
“Today, we take the first official step toward delivering majorities in the Montana House and the Montana Senate. … Montanans are fed up with radical Democrat policies,” Knudsen said.