Eugene Graf

Eugene Graf

TOM LUTEY, Billings Gazette

BILLINGS – Butte Sen. Amanda Curtis is the first Democrat to express interest in running for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat should Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke become President-elect Donald Trump’s interior secretary.

Curtis told The Gazette this week that she will seek her party’s nomination when county-level central committee members convene to select a candidate.

That meeting won’t take place unless Zinke is confirmed by the U.S. Senate sometime after the Jan 20 presidential inauguration.

Once Zinke resigns from the House, Montana will have 85 to 100 days to fill his vacancy through special election.

District Judge Russell Fagg and Bozeman builder Eugene Graf IV expressed their interest in running to be the Montana Republican Party nominee.

Curtis said she's “been having conversations with folks who would like to see me do it, and with my family. It’s a life-changing situation whether you win or lose.”

A Butte educator, Curtis was the Democratic Party’s replacement candidate in Montana’s 2014 U.S. Senate race. Her campaign launched mid-August after Democratic Sen. John Walsh withdrew after being caught in a plagiarism scandal.

With less than two months before Montanans began voting by absentee ballot, Curtis went from being a relative unknown to capturing 40 percent of the popular vote. For perspective, Democratic candidate Denise Juneau received 41 percent of the vote in her bid to unseat Zinke this year.

Most of the committee people who selected Curtis in a four-candidate nominating convention in 2014 would be making the selection again this year.

A Democrat successful in winning Montana’s at-large seat in a special election would enter a Republican controlled House working with a Republican president and Senate. But Curtis said there’s opportunity. Democrats and Republicans in Montana don’t see the federal government working for them, Curtis said, which is a sentiment she shares.

President-elect Trump has said he would like to save Social Security and Medicare. Curtis would like to work with the Trump administration toward that goal. Curtis begins her second term in the Montana Legislature in January.

A district judge for 22 years and a former Republican Montana legislator, Russell Fagg, said he has eyed a congressional run for years. Now, with his children grown, the time seems right.

“I am considering running for the special election Congressional seat,” Fagg said. “Many factors to consider, including my family, my current position, which I love, and where I can best serve in the future. I've been talking to people I respect and praying about it.”

Fagg, who describes himself as a right-of-center conservative, would have to decide whether running for U.S. House was worth resigning as a Yellowstone County District Court. It’s a decision Fagg said he would have to make before culling favor with central committee members in advance of a party nominating convention.

Fagg also pens a monthly “Ask the Judge” column for The Billings Gazette. In fairness to other candidates, he would no longer be allowed to contribute to The Gazette should he choose to run.

Bozeman builder Eugene Graf IV pushes the list of potential Republican candidates to six. Graf is a past president of the Montana Building Association and Southwest Montana Building Industry Association. He is the fifth generation of a Bozeman business family that has over the years developed more than 4,000 parcels in the Gallatin County.

It was as a member of the executive board of the National Association of Homebuilders that Graf worked closest with Congress, raising money for the homebuilder’s political action committee and meeting the lawmakers about legislation.

“I’ve been interested in this for a long time and I have been participating at that level with congressmen and senators with the Republican Party and the Democratic Party,” said Graf.

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