HELENA - Elections offices are expected to mail primary ballots to voters this week and one congressional candidate’s name will remain on the ballot despite his death.
Montana State Sen. Mark Sweeney, D-Phillipsburg, died at his home Friday. Sweeney was a sitting state senator as well as the highest funded Democratic primary candidate for Montana’s new eastern congressional district.
Sweeney was vying for the chance to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale in Montana’s new eastern congressional district, which includes Billings, Glendive, Great Falls, Helena and Miles City.
The eastern congressional district was created this year when Montana gained a congressional seat for the first time in 30 years. The new district covers all or parts of 42 counties in central and eastern Montana.
Sweeney’s name will not be removed from ballots ahead of the June 7 primary election because officials finalized the list of candidate names about a month ago. The two other candidates in the Democratic primary are Penny Ronning, a former Billings city council member, and Skylar Williams.
Gary Buchanan, a financial advisor from Billings, is collecting signatures to get on the general election ballot as an independent candidate.
Rosendale’s Republican primary challengers include Kyle Austin, James Boyette and Charles Walkingchild.
If Sweeney wins the Democratic primary, the Montana Democratic Party will hold a nominating convention to pick someone to run in the general election, said Hadley Stack, a spokesperson for the party.
The Montana Secretary of State’s Office did not provide any information about what would happen if Sweeney won the Democratic primary.
The latest campaign fundraising data showed Sweeney raised more than $82,000 while Ronning raised more than $24,000 in the first quarter of 2022. Williams raising less than $5,000.
County commissioners in Sweeney’s district, Senate District 39, will appoint someone to fill his seat. Senate District 39 includes parts of four counties – Deer Lodge, Granite, Powell and Silver Bow – and commissioners from all four will have a say in who will replace Sweeney. The commissioners will pick from a list provided by three county Democratic central committees as Powell County does not have a Democratic committee.
The process to review and appoint someone to Sweeney’s seat will take about two months. The person appointed will serve until the next general election.
Sweeney was elected to his first term in the Montana Senate in November 2020. Sweeney was born in Butte and moved to Miles City with his family as a baby. He earned a degree in natural resource management from Western Montana College. Sweeney spent most of his career as a fisheries expert with the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Sweeney’s family released a statement Saturday calling him a “beloved father, husband and public servant to the people of Montana.”