HELENA — This is the second of a two-part series on the 2022 races for Montana new congressional races.
In Montana’s new eastern district, incumbent and first-term Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale starts out with huge advantages for 2022, both in terms of money and political lean of the district – but he is not without opposition.
Outdoor writer Jack Ballard, a Democrat from Red Lodge, kicked off his campaign in August, three months before Montana District 2’s boundaries were made final two weeks ago.
He’s been traveling the state and talking to voters, delivering the message that he’s the candidate with working Montanans in mind, saying it’s getting harder and harder for them to make ends meet in the Big Sky State.
“Democrats need to do a better job messaging on `Look, we’re for working-class people,” Ballard told MTN News in a recent interview. “We want wealthy individuals and corporations to pay a fair share of the taxes, and we will demand that they compensate people fairly.”
Ballard, 58, who grew up on a ranch west of Three Forks, says he wants to raise the federal minimum wage, supports labor unions, and that Congress and the federal government should take on concentration in the meat-packing industry, so ranchers get paid a bigger share of the consumer dollar for their product.
Republicans won’t do any of that, he says, and voters need to keep that in mind when they go to the polls next November.
Yet according to the website Dave’s Redistricting, which analyzes congressional districts, the new District 2 has a 22-percentage-point lean for Republicans, 60 percent to 38 percent among its current voter makeup.
The district includes the cities of Billings, Great Falls and Helena and spans 40 counties in central and eastern Montana and the eastern half of Pondera County.
Rosendale was elected as Montana’s only congressman in 2020 and presumably will be running for re-election in District 2. The state gained an additional House district seat this year after 30 years as a single, statewide district.
Rosendale already has about $700,000 in his campaign account – nearly 40 times the cash that Ballard had at the end of September ($19,000).
He told MTN News that he’s not in Congress to “vote whichever way the political winds are blowing,” but rather to stand up for Montana, and that includes opposing President Biden’s “unprecedented attacks on our liberties and our American way of life.”
As a congressman, Rosendale has voted against the major initiatives passed by congressional Democrats, such as the $1 trillion infrastructure bill in November and the expansive COVID-19 relief bill in March.
Like many Republicans who voted against the infrastructure bill, he called it a “trojan horse” filled with money for “leftist objectives,” such as clean-energy initiatives.
He also has joined some of the House’s most outspokenly conservative members on a number of controversial votes, such as opposing congressional gold medals for police who defended the Capitol from the Jan. 6 rioters.
“He has aligned himself with a group of about a dozen Republicans in Congress that aren’t doing the work of the people,” Ballard says. “I just don’t see how that is a positive for Montana or how it’s a positive for the country.”
Rosendale’s campaign said he’s introduced and worked on many proposals to help the state, such as ones to stop “frivolous” lawsuits that block timber management on national forests, expand telehealthcare, reduce drug prices and increase oversight of the VA healthcare system.
While Ballard has been campaigning since August, he likely won’t be the only Democrat running a long-shot campaign in District 2. Billings City Councilwoman Penny Ronning announced last week that she will be a candidate, and Skylar Williams has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to do the same.
In addition to writing for outdoor publications and books on wildlife and hunting, Ballard also has worked as a teacher and a Baptist minister. He has degrees from Yellowstone Bible College in Billings, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Montana State University-Billings.
He says he would have voted for the infrastructure bill, and notes that the Democratic “Build Back Better” bill still before Congress has funding for enforcement of antitrust laws, that could be used to examine the meat-packing industry.
“The infrastructure bill is such a no-brainer for Montana,” he said. “There is so much that needs to be addressed in this state in relation to rural, municipal water systems, road, bridges, and irrigation delivery for ag operations. …
“And, by the way, producing thousands of really good jobs, that you don’t need to have an advanced education to hold.”
Yet when asked how a little-known Democrat can stand a chance in a new district with a 22-percentage-point lean for Republicans, Ballard says he’ll have to do it one voter at a time, meeting people face-to-face and talking to them about issues that matter.
“My focus is to start with the basics,” he says. “You have to be able to make a living. You have to not worry about health care. Prioritize those and then work out into the other areas that really make Montana what it is for our citizens.”