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First Democrat enters race for MT’s new U.S. House seat

State Rep. Laurie Bishop won't be the last
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Posted at 8:58 AM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 12:09:40-04

LIVINGSTON — State Rep. Laurie Bishop on Thursday became the first Democrat to jump into the 2022 race for Montana’s new congressional district, saying she’s someone who can work on bipartisan solutions that boost the economy.

“At the center of my record is really working across the aisle, with Republicans, being somebody that really approaches my service in a respectful way that puts listening at the center,” she told MTN News in an interview.

Bishop officially kicked off her campaign at an event in her hometown of Livingston Thursday morning.

The three-term state lawmaker and director of a group that coordinates after-school programs said she’ll be running in Montana’s new congressional district, whose boundaries have yet to be drawn.

Montana is gaining back a congressional district in 2022, giving the state two U.S. House districts – just as it had for decades before losing one in the 1990 Census.

Population gains in the state over the past three decades and losses in other parts of the country led to granting Montana an additional seat, in the wake of the 2020 U.S. Census.

A five-person commission will draw the new district boundaries by late fall. Montana’s only current congressman – Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale – is expected to run for re-election in one of the districts and the other seat will be open.

Bishop said she’ll be running in the open seat and doesn’t expect to be the only Democrat competing.

MTN News has learned that three other women are considering running as Democrats for the seat: Cora Neumann, a health-policy expert from Bozeman who briefly ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020; Monica Tranel, an attorney from Missoula; and Whitney Williams, a Missoula businesswoman who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year.

Williams’ father, Pat Williams, is the last person to hold office in the old western Montana congressional district before it was combined with the eastern district to form a single, statewide district in 1992.

Former Republican Congressman and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is already campaigning for the seat. He was re-elected to a second term in 2016 as Montana’s sole congressman but left the job when then-President Trump chose him as Interior secretary.

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Former GOP Congressman Ryan Zinke.

He resigned the Interior post in late 2019.

Bishop, 51, moved to Montana in 1996 from upstate New York, where she grew up and attended college at Syracuse University. She said her husband, who she met at college in New York, is from Ennis, and that they decided to move back to Montana.

Bishop is director of the Montana Afterschool Alliance, which helps coordinate and create after-school programs across the state.

She first ran for the Legislature in 2016, ousting a Republican incumbent in Livingston by a 251-vote margin. She’s won re-election twice by larger margins and served as House Democratic whip during the 2021 Legislature.

“Having success in getting re-elected and elected in tough election years for Democrats, comes down to the fact that my community knows me to be fair and thoughtful in the way that I approach things,” she told MTN News.

Bishop acknowledged that few voters statewide know her, but that she plans to begin campaigning full-time across the state.

She said she’ll be emphasizing issues that resonate with Montana’s workforce, like child care, affordable housing, and access to public lands.

When asked what solutions she’d offer on access to child care, Bishop offered few details, other than to suggest that some form of government investment is needed.

During her legislative career, Bishop has had only one of her bills pass -- to require health insurance parity between physical and mental health coverage, in 2017.