Matt Rosendale of Dawson County announces he’ll challenge Tester for US Senate seat in 2018

Jason Stuart
Yellowstone Newspapers

Dawson County’s Matt Rosendale officially threw his hat into the ring Monday for the 2018 U.S. Senate race in the hopes of unseating incumbent Sen. Jon Tester. 

Rosendale, a Republican, currently serves as Montana Commissioner of Insurance and Securities, a post to which he was elected in November 2016. Prior to that, he served in the Montana Legislature representing Dawson County. He was first elected to the Montana House of Representatives in 2010, and served in that body for the 2011 session. In 2012, he was elected to the Montana Senate and served in that body for two sessions, including being chosen as the Senate Majority Leader for the 2015 session.

This will mark Rosendale’s second shot at running for Congress. In 2014, he competed in the GOP primary for  Montana’s seat in the House of Representatives, finishing a close third behind eventual election winner Ryan Zinke.

Rosendale said on Monday that people across the state have continued to urge him to seek federal office. Speculation about a potential Rosendale run in 2018 has been rife the last couple of months, especially as one high profile Montana Republican after another has declined to enter the race against Tester, including Zinke and Attorney General Tim Fox.

Rosendale said that he took his time to decide to enter the race because he was waiting for the dust to settle on the 2017 legislative session, his first while serving as state Insurance Commissioner. Now that the session is in the rearview mirror and Rosendale said he’s comfortable with what he’s accomplished in his short time in the office, he said he’s ready to follow his supporters’ wishes and take on Tester.

“Basically, I continued to get feedback from people around the state encouraging me to run, and they just don’t feel like they’re being represented by Jon Tester,” Rosendale said.

Rosendale wasted little time in coming out swinging against Tester, a Democrat, accusing Montana’s senior senator of being out-of-touch with his constituents.

“(Tester) comes back here and acts like he’s one of our farmers and then he goes back to Washington and votes  like Chuck Schumer,” Rosendale said.

Given his current office, Rosendale had a lot to say on the issue of healthcare and the ongoing but so far unsuccessful effort by the GOP-controlled Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare.

He accused Tester of being “partly responsible” for Obamacare, saying he was the “fiftieth vote for it,” further adding that as Congress has debated a replacement for the controversial healthcare law, Tester has sat back “waving his finger” at Republicans rather than working to provide solutions.

Rosendale said that in his view, the healthcare industry is undergoing a massive sea change because people are living longer and thus requiring more care over a longer period of time. He said that first and foremost, he would like to see most decisions about healthcare industry regulation taken from the federal government and given to the states so that each state can craft healthcare regulations best suited for their needs.

“I’d like to see the federal government return the regulatory authority back to the states where it belongs,” he said.

One role Rosendale said he does see for the federal government is to direct federal funding and resources to the states so they can provide healthcare coverage for people with chronic illnesses and preexisting conditions. He said he believes that will help lower healthcare insurance costs for the rest of the population by taking those people out of the insurance pool.

Rosendale also said he believes people should be offered more choices in healthcare insurance so they can select a plan that fits their specific budget and healthcare needs. He also said that Congress should expand or even completely remove the restrictions on Health Savings Accounts so that there’s no limit on how much people can put into those accounts and to make them available to everyone regardless of what kind of insurance plan they have. At present, HSAs can only be utilized by people on “high-deductible” insurance plans.

Rosendale has openly called for a complete repeal of Obamacare, even without an immediate replacement, and he spoke to that, saying that he does not believe making sure everyone has health insurance is necessarily beneficial.

“I don’t want to focus on making sure everybody has insurance, because just having insurance doesn’t mean having good healthcare,” he said.

Rosendale also knocked Tester on his efforts to improve the Veterans Administration, saying he does not believe the sitting senator has done nearly enough to improve the VA’s administration and services, given that Tester sits on the Senate committee which oversees the VA.

“The VA has no leadership and poor administration, and that’s something Tester has been in a very good position to do something about, and he has done zero,” he said.

Democrats, of course, see things very differently, and it didn’t take long after Rosendale’s announcement Monday for the Montana Democratic Party to release an official statement slamming Rosendale.

“Matt Rosendale has failed at his job as insurance commissioner, and has done nothing to keep health care costs down,” said Montana Democrat spokesman Chris Meagher in an email statement. “He’s not a voice for Montanans, he’s another vote to increase healthcare costs and take away healthcare from thousands of Montanans. He’s another politician interfering with a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions. And he’s another politician in favor of dark money in politics. Matt Rosendale would be the wrong choice for Montana.”

Before he can get to taking on Tester, however, Rosendale must make his way through what could be a crowded GOP primary field. State Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell and businessman Troy Downing have already declared for the race and Billings district judge Russell Fagg has formed an exploratory committee.

Rosendale, however, is unfazed by that. He has the advantage of being the only one of the bunch to have been elected to statewide office or to have previously run in a congressional campaign. He said his career to this point has prepared him for a run at a U.S. Senate seat in a way that the other GOP candidates can’t match.

“I stand head and shoulders above anybody else flirting with this idea, and that’s because I’ve got a business background, a ranching background, a legislative background and an executive background, and I’ve proven I’ve been successful in each of those areas,” Rosendale said.

He also shrugged off any suggestions that the fact that he’s originally from Maryland — and still speaks with a discernible Maryland accent — might turn off Montana voters. He laughed off the thought it could hurt him in the Senate race saying “they keep putting me in office,” and argued it doesn’t really matter where you’re born and raised, only where you decide to hang your hat and call home.

“Folks keep voting me back in office, and there’s only one person I know of who was able to pick where he was born, and that was 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem,” Rosendale said. “The rest of us, we just get to choose where we want to live.”