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Montana Legislature candidates that filed on the first day in the Helena area

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 7:48 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 10:39:42-05

HELENA — Candidate filing in Montana is underway for the 2022 election. As of 5:00 p.m., eight candidates have filed for legislative seats in the Helena area, six Democrats and two Republicans.

Candidates are broken down by party and then district numerically.

Democratic Candidates

Senate District 41 - Central Helena and southwest Helena Valley

State Sen. Janet Ellis

State Sen. Janet Ellis, D-Helena, has filed her paperwork for reelection. She has served in five legislative sessions between the House of Representatives and the Senate. While in the Senate, she was the Vice Chair for the Finance and Claims Committee.

“I think experience matters a lot at the legislature, you get a lot more done,” said Ellis. “You know who to work with, who to trust, how the system works and that’s really critical.”

Ellis said her work on pensions and pension reform has been paramount, and believes moving forward managing the state budget as well as ensuring key programs and employee pay are taken care of is a top priority.

Senate District 42 - Southeastern portion of the Helena and East Helena

Mary Ann  Dunwell

Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, filed Thursday for Senate District 42. The seat is currently held by Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, who is termed out this election cycle.

Dunwell has represented HD 84 since 2015 and is now termed out for the district. She is a retired state worker and journalist who now focuses on her legislative work as well as charity and community work.

The established legislator says after servicing four terms in the Montana House of Representatives, it is clear to her that there is still a lot more work to be done.

“We need frankly bold climate solutions. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, two years and COVID is still on people’s minds. We need affordable health care, we need affordable mental health care, affordable housing, affordable childcare,” said Dunwell. “We need a workforce who earn a living wage, is not discriminated against and is able to unionize.”

House District District 79 - Western side of Helena

Laura Smith

Former Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Assistant Director Laura Smith, a Democrat, filed her paperwork for HD 79. The seat had been held by Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen, D-Helena, who chose not to run for reelection.

This is Smith’s first run for public office, although she is no stranger to the Capitol having worked under the Bullock administration. She told MTN she decided to run because of her children and wants to see legislation that benefits all Montana families.

“It’s everything from affordable housing to affordable, quality childcare, to public education to our public lands,” said Smith. “I think those issues are being discussed at the kitchen table more and more and it’s important to jump in as someone who cares about Montana.”

Smith added she’s happy to work across the aisle on a foundation of civility, and believes there is a lot of common ground for both sides.

House District 81 - Central Helena and southwestern Helena Valley

HD is currently served by Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, but will be open this coming election cycle, Caferro told MTN she intends to run for HD 82, her original district now that Re. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, has termed out. She has yet to officially file, but noted Funk left “some big shoes to fill” and she looks forward to getting out and reconnecting with people.

Jake Troyer

Jake Troyer was the first Democrat to file for HD 81 in person. A longtime Helena resident, he owns a strategic consulting company, Sleeping Giant Communications. He also served as Communications Director for the Department of Labor & Industry during the Bullock administration.

Troyer says he wanted to run after witnessing the work of the 2021 Republican majority legislature come to fruition.

“The past legislature was a textbook case of how not to work for the best interests of Montana residents, protect our public lands and system of public education,” Troyer said. “It’s unconscionable that the majority of legislators chose to embrace an extremist agenda that criminalized public health, worsened Montana’s affordable housing crisis and further tilted our tax system in favor of the rich. We can and must find better solutions to the pressing issues we’re facing as a state.”

Troyer says top issues that need to be addressed are protecting democracy and voting rights, Supporting responsible, science-based land and wildlife management proposals, and making sure all Montanans have the same rights and protections.

Jacob Torgerson

Jacob Torgerson was the second candidate to file for HD 81 on Thursday. Born and raised in Helena, he is currently a student at Helena College and has been a prominent activist for LGBTQ+ and other social issues.

Torgerson said he was inspired to run for public office after working as a page at the Montana Legislature. He told MTN he was disheartened by how individuals who were supposed to represent him voted and believes a young, progressive voice is needed more than ever.

“In 2021 our Republican supermajority trounced the rights of minorities, municipalities and individual freedoms at large and it was very painful for me to watch that as a member of the LGTBQ+ community,” explained Torgerson.

Torgerson said addressing the state’s childcare shortage, creating affordable childcare and addressing affordable housing needs to be a priority for the legislature.

Ben Kuiper

The third Democrat to file for HD 81 is Ben Kuiper. He currently works as a corporate tax auditor for the Montana Department of Revenue and serves on the Helena Citizen’s Council. He says his work with the council helped him discover his passion for serving his community and wants to use his knowledge of taxes and public fund allocation to better his state.

“[The Legislature] needs to make a competent and effective state budget, we’re going have to figure out how to combat inflation and bring tax dollars into the state,” said Kuiper.

Kuiper also said abortion rights need to be secured for those that need it, and the state needs to use science-based, not politically-based methods for managing wildlife.

Republicans

House District 82 - Northwestern part of Helena

Alden Tonkay

Alden Tonkay filed his paperwork Thursday to run for HD 82 as a Republican. Tonkay attended the University of Montana and is currently working at the Montana Department of Justice under Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

Tonkay said he wanted to run to add a young and fresh perspective to Helena politics.

“During the 2021 session, one of the things I saw was there weren’t enough young people involved and it was the same people that continue to get elected over and over again but aren’t getting anything meaningful done,” explained Tonkay.

The big issues he’d like the Legislature to address are crime rates in the state, reducing taxes and protecting Montanan’s rights from federal overreach.

House District 84 - East side of Helena and East Helena

Kaitlyn Ruch

Kaitlyn Ruch filed her paperwork Thursday to run for HD 84. The 17-year-old student grew up in Helena and has been involved with anti-abortion advocacy.

She says she never thought of herself as someone who would run for elected office.

“All throughout my childhood, my parents taught me if I saw a problem or an issue or I saw something that could be improved instead of complaining about it I should step up and do something about it,” said Ruch.”I also feel that there is a lack of young voices in our Legislature.”

Ruch said education is a big issue that needs to be addressed along with personal freedoms, and would like to see more done to encourage Montana’s younger generations to stay in the state for work rather than seek it elsewhere.