The Missoula County Democratic Central Committee over the weekend selected three candidates to replace state Sen. Nate McConnell, a Missoula Democrat who resigned his seat in the Legislature.
Missoula County commissioners are scheduled to name one of the three candidates to the seat during a special board meeting on Tuesday.
According to the voting tally, Shane Morigeau received 57 committee votes, followed by Monica Tranel with 52 and Brian Lamb with 51. Other candidates receive one or fewer votes.
Sen. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula and a member of the central committee, said all three candidates had strong credentials. But with Democrats in the minority in both the House and Senate, and with Republicans holding the governor’s office, relationships will be key if the minority party is to have any success.
“We’re serving in an unprecedented minority,” Hill said on Monday. “I served under two governors and they were both Democrats, and that was really our stop gap. Our understanding is that the majority party has had their legislative staff pull every veto from Brian Schweitzer and Steve Bullock over the last 16 years, and have prepared bill drafts for all of those vetoes.”
Morigeau represented House District 95 and served as minority whip during the 2017 and 2019 sessions. Termed out, he ran for Montana State Auditor but lost to Republican Troy Downing.
No Democrat won a statewide race in the 2020 election and the party is going into the Legislative session in the minority. Morigeau’s experience helped him emerge as the Missoula County Democratic Central Committee’s top choice to replace McConnell.
“We lost a lot of Native American seats, including out of Great Falls, and Morigeau is one of the strengths of the Indian Caucus,” Hill said. “He served in a leadership position for us for two sessions. He’s a high contender to walk in as a whip in the Senate. He has those relationships with folks on the other side of the aisle because of his experience.”
Tranel was also a popular choice to take McConnell’s seat. She narrowly lost her race this November for District 4 in the Montana Public Service Commission. Many incumbent Democrats believe she has a strong political future and has their endorsement to run for the Legislature when the next seat opens.
“From my perspective, with complete support of how much Missoula and the state needs Monica’s expertise on energy policy and climate change, this session will be about relationships, and not necessarily about policy change,” Hill said.
The final choice will be up to Missoula County commissioners, who are all Democrats.
Under state law, the central committee for whichever party the resigning member belonged to is responsible for providing commissioners with a list of three prospective appointees to fill the vacancy within 45 days of receiving notification of a resignation.
The commissioners must make and confirm an appointment and notify the Secretary of State within 15 days of receiving the list of appointees.
The 2021 session begins this week.