A familiar but surprising face has entered the race for Congress in Montana.

Gary Buchanan, a Billings financial advisor and investment expert, filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday to run for Montana’s House Seat 2 as an independent, challenging sitting Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Republican.

As of Friday at the close of business, seven candidates had filed to run in what is Montana’s Second Congressional District, which includes Billings, Helena and Great Falls.

Rosendale has filed, as has James Boyette of Bozeman, Charles Walkingchild of Helena and Kyle Austin of Billings, who owns Pharm 406. All have filed as Republicans.

Skylar Williams and former Billings City Council member Penny Ronning as well as state Sen. Mark Sweeney of Philipsburg have filed as Democrats.

Buchanan believes running as an independent suits an increasing number of Montanans fed up by the fringe elements of both Democrats and Republicans. Buchanan wants to represent the “majority in the middle.”

Buchanan’s entry into the race likely changes the complexion of it. Rosendale’s campaign was seen as relatively safe in a new district that now gets more conservative the farther east it spans. However, Sweeney and Ronning on the Democrat side have name recognition and experience, too. Buchanan’s entry makes it a three-candidate race, something Montanans are familiar with. It could also mean another common result in Montana elections: A candidate winning with less than a majority of votes.

“Both parties are moving away from the middle and toward the fringes,” Buchanan told the Daily Montanan. “And they’ve been doing that for awhile.”

Working with both Democrats and Republicans isn’t just lip service for Buchanan. He served under Democratic Montana Gov. Ted Schwinden as the state’s first Department of Commerce director. He served under Gov. Marc Racicot, a Republican, to lead the state’s major reorganization of state government in 1994.

He also counts as one of his most memorable efforts leading a successful initiative to ban cyanide leaching from mining in the state, the kind that left so many mining sites permanently polluted, as in the case of Zortman-Landusky.

He’s not making any unreal predictions — most independent candidates rarely poll above 3 percent. However, he thinks that Montanans may be willing to support more independent candidates because they match the independent outlook of the state and are disillusioned with the hyperpartisan rhetoric coming from the national political parties.

Among his closest friends, he counts former Republican lawmaker Dave Lewis and former GOP Secretary of State Bob Brown. But he also said that current Sen. Jon Tester has demonstrated national leadership for being a moderate, rural Democrat. Buchanan said he’d fashion himself after independent Sen. Angus King of Maine who is able to cast off the shackles of partisanship and get plenty done by not kowtowing to a political platform.

Lewis has worked with and known Buchanan for more than 40 years.

“I have known him to be an honest man who has a great love of Montana, and I trust him to make good decisions and serve Montana well,” Lewis said.

Buchanan said he’s running because of his background in business and finance, and said that too many politics are distracting leaders from running the country well. Buchanan said he’s most worried because both parties have abandoned any kind of fiscal discipline.

His decision to run came after watching Rosendale vote against the resolution of support for Ukraine, becoming just one of three House members to cast a “nay” vote.

“It’s one thing to be embarrassed by him, but I don’t like being ashamed of our state,” Buchanan said.

He said that many people feel left without a party, and nearly every day, friends from outside the state call to ask: What’s going on with Montana?

“We’re Americans before we’re Republicans and Democrats. We have to work on expanding the middle. I have been an independent for a long time and I am comfortable there. I respect a lot of Republicans and Democrats in the state.”

And as much as Buchanan said he was disgusted by the Legislature that enacted rules, like House Bill 702, which specifically told prohibited businesses from operating safely, he said that Democrats have fractured into so many issues that it creates a “circular firing squad.”

He said that as both parties have headed toward the fringes, economic progress has stalled. He said it would be good to have a small business owner with bipartisan experience leading the state.

“I recognize the values that used to be part of Republicans – local control, privacy, common-sense spending, but they’ve completely done away with that,” Buchanan said.

He said the Democrats, though, “frightened” the average citizen with an overly aggressive spending plan and not much fiscal discipline, which has likely contributed to inflation.

“Both parties have lost control of spending. And (Donald) Trump certainly showed no restraint,” he said.

While he favored COVID-19 relief and a stimulus plan, he said other programs, like Build Back Better, were not well designed, and shook confidence in the public.

He also said that Trump’s most lasting positive legacy may be the appointing of Jerome Powell to lead the Federal Reserve. He praised President Joe Biden for re-upping Powell’s appointment.

“Powell’s been the adult in the room, and he’s been very reasonable about financial control and investment,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan said that his focus on the economy would be a positive for Montana because of his experience in good times and tough times. He called the “underlying economy strong” but also said that the Fed needs to have encouragement to start raising interest rates to slow inflation.

Buchanan has been surprised and encouraged that more people seem to be paying attention to world affairs, largely because of Ukraine. And that private businesses from Apple to Exxon have made decisions that would harm their own businesses in order to support the cause of freedom in Ukraine.

“It’s horrible that this is the reason that we’re having these conversations, but it’s also great to talk about strengthening Ukraine, rather than doing away with it,” Buchanan said.

Meanwhile, he chastised the GOP for its efforts to curb voting and cotton to the “Big Lie” of a stolen 2020 Election.

“I don’t think anything that keeps people from voting or casting a ballot is the way to go. It makes us look foolish,” Buchanan said.

He said that entering into the race may force a conversation in which candidates don’t just say the opposite of each other, sparing in a partisan fashion.

“Independents are growing much faster than Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “Win or lose, we have to get the conversation going.”