HELENA (Daily Montanan) - Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is endorsing Monica Tranel in the Democratic primary for the state’s newly created congressional district, the Tranel campaign announced Monday.

Schweitzer, who served from 2005 to 2013, ushered in a 16-year period of Democratic governance in the state after interrupting a streak of three Republican governors. He was followed by Gov. Steve Bullock, another Democrat, after being termed out.

“I have watched people who have run for office for a number of years now, and I have recognized what it takes to be successful and what happens to those who don’t have those attributes,” Schweitzer told the Daily Montanan. “In addition to that, I’ve watched people who have run for office and won, and appeared they’d be perfect for Montana, and then they get elected, in particular when they go to Washington, and you don’t recognize them after four or six years. Monica knows who she is and what she is.”

Schweitzer said that means that Tranel — a former Olympic rower — is a tough competitor, someone who will take on powerful interests and won’t quit in fighting for the state.

“The last thing we need to do is send someone to Washington, D.C. who will be enamored by the powerful people,” he said. 

Monica Tranel
Monica Tranel

Tranel is one of three Democrats who have announced runs for Montana’s new congressional seat, along with state Rep. Laurie Bishop of Livingston and former U.S. Senate candidate Cora Neumann. Population growth as measured in the U.S. Census earned the state a second congressional district after decades of relegation to a single at-large seat that’s been in Republican control since the 1990s.

The Montana Districting and Apportionment commission has yet to draw the line that will separate the two districts — and may well determine how winnable this new district is for Democrats — but commissioners have signaled that a return to an east-west split roughly along the continental divide is likely.

So far, two Republicans have declared candidacies: former state lawmaker Al Olszewski and Trump-era Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has netted the endorsement of the former president. Zinke previously represented the state’s at-large district in Congress before resigning to take his cabinet position in 2017.

“I’m honored to have Governor Schweitzer’s support,” Tranel said in a statement. “In Congress, I’ll fight to invest in education, to create good-paying jobs here in Montana and to make sure everyone has access to affordable, quality health care.”

Tranel, an attorney raised on a ranch in central Montana but now based in Missoula, has made two bids for state office before. In 2004 she ran as a Republican for the Public Service Commission, where she was working as a staff attorney at the time. And in 2020, Tranel, by then a Democrat, ran for PSC again, ultimately falling to Jennifer Fielder in the 4th District.

In the early 2000s, she went to Washington, D.C. to work for Republican Montana Sen. Conrad Burns. Since leaving Washington and the GOP, she’s been involved in high-profile consumer litigation against large firms like Northwestern Energy.

Montana Democrats faced a series of tough losses in 2020, losing across the board in statewide races and losing ground in the state legislature. But the creation of a new congressional seat has injected some hope for the forlorn party.

Schweitzer said the challenge that Tranel faces resonates with him”

“It’s been 30 years since (Montana Democrat) Pat Williams was a Congressman, and it had been 20 years since a Democrat had been elected governor when I was elected governor,” he said. “I didn’t know that wasn’t winnable according to all the honchos in Helena. So I just ran.”

To win, he said, “it’s gonna take hard work and somebody that can demonstrate that they are Montana.”