HELENA – Two Republican state legislators from Flathead County, Jon Sonju and Scott Reichner, said Thursday they won’t be candidates for the U.S. House next year.
In separate interviews, each cited family concerns.
It was an about-face for Sonju, a state senator from Kalispell and Republican governor candidate Rick Hill’s running mate in 2012. Less than two weeks ago, Sonju said he was “all in” the House race.
Both Sonju and Reichner were eyeing the U.S. House seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, who is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by longtime Democratic Sen. Max Baucus in 2014.
Sonju had gone to Washington, D.C., to meet with the National Republican Congressional Committee, business and gun-rights groups last month and seemed a sure bet to run for the House, if Daines jumped into the Senate race.
“You have to be all in, and I’m all in,” Sonju told the Lee Newspapers State Bureau on Sept. 24.
On Thursday, he was all out.
“I spent the last 45 days traveling around Montana,” Sonju said. “It was great to have the support that I was receiving. I had some window time to reflect on family and business. I just thought I would spend more time with family and tend to the business side of things.”
Sonju and his wife, Tania, have two young sons, age 5 and 7.
“I felt comfortable with my position politically,” Sonju said. “Where I didn’t feel comfortable was the time spent away from family. My family comes first before politics.”
Sonju is business development manager of Sonju Industrial, a family owned aerospace manufacturer in Kalispell. A different branch of the business, SI Defense, makes weapons.
Sonju, who turns 38 in December, said he plans to remain active in politics, helping other candiates. He served four terms in the state House and is completing his four-year Senate term.
“Just stay tuned,” Sonju said. “I’m still a young guy.”
Reichner, meanwhile, said later Thursday he also decided to forgo the House race, and will run instead for an open state Senate seat. A mortgage broker from Bigfork, Reichner has served in the House for three terms.
“I looked at this long and hard, and at the end of the day, I have eight children still at home,” Reichner said in an interview. “It would be a great opportunity. I had a lot of support. It came down to a family decision. I would see my kids once a week, on Sunday.”
Reichner said he believes he could have been strong candidate for the U.S. House seat.
“It’s not the right time for me,” he said. “Maybe later. I’m 46. I’m still young.”
If elected to the state Senate, Reichner said he will work on “true health care reform” to reduce health insurance rates, as he did with workers’ compensation rates in 2011.
Expected to run for the Republican nomination for the House next year, if Daines goes for the Senate, are: state Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula, former Secretary of State Brad Johnson of East Helena, state Sen. Matt Rosendale of Glendive, former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings and former state Sen. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish.
On the Democratic side, John Lewis of Helena, a former aide to Baucus, has filed papers to raise money for the House race. State Rep. Amanda Curtis, a Butte teacher, also has expressed interest.