Missoula County awaits nominees for Sen. McConnell’s replacement

Nate McConnell

The resignation of Sen. Nate McConnell, D-Missoula, from his seat in the Legislature on Monday presents an opportunity for the Democratic Central Committee to recommend his replacement.

Missoula County commissioners will also play a role in the process, choosing the district’s new legislator based upon the committee’s nominees.

But Chris Lounsbury, the county’s CAO, said the timeline will be tight given the upcoming holiday season and the rapidly approaching 2021 session.

“The Democratic Central Committee has 45 days from the time they’re notified of the vacancy to provide the commission with a list of three names,” Lounsbury said. “Assuming they take all 45 days to notify the commission, it would put Dec. 22 as the date when (commissioners’) 15-day clock will start.”

Republicans already held the majority in the state House and Senate but succeeded in flipping additional seats in both chambers, further expanding their majority.

In a statement, McConnell said his children and the pandemic swayed his decision.

“It is with deep regret that I announce my resignation from Senate District 48 — serving the people of Montana has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” McConnell said. “As my colleagues know, my kids are my first priority and this decision will allow me to best focus on my family during this time.”

Lounsbury said the county will send a letter to the central committee informing its members that time is of the essence and commissioners will be awaiting their list.

Commissioners plan to schedule interviews with each of the three candidates before making a selection based upon the committee’s recommendations.

“The reason it’s the DCC is because the previous incumbent was a Democrat,” Lounsbury said. “It’s that central committee under state law that gets to make that recommendation.”

The 2021 session begins on Jan. 4.

The last time Missoula County selected a political candidate based upon the recommendations of the party came after Cola Rowley resigned her seat on the Missoula County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners vetted the three recommendations forwarded by Missoula County Democrats and selected Juanita Vero as Rowley’s replacement. Vero won her election to the commission earlier this month.

Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said the process will be similar.

“There’s a vetting process before the names even get to us,” he said.