A Missoula Sentinel High School social studies teacher is the latest to seek the Montana Democratic Party’s nomination to replace Republican Ryan Zinke, Montana’s lone congressman, who’s expected to be confirmed in the next couple of weeks as President Donald Trump's U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Gary Stein is the second Democrat from Missoula to throw his name in the mix. Dan West, a Sentinel High graduate who was a political appointee at NASA under the Obama Administration, made public his intentions last week.
Stein, 55, has never served in an elected position. In a press release Monday he said he is “a long-standing rank and file member of the Missoula Education Association” and has served as an officer for the association for many years.
Stein said he was motivated by what he sees as a crisis in the federal government.
“We’re at a very critical time in our nation’s history,” he said. “We can’t allow a particular political point of view or political practice to dominate the country.”
After watching from the sideline for so long, Stein said he has “reached critical mass” in his life.
“I hope I’ve been doing something good, being a teacher for 27 years,” he said. “I hope I’ve contributed to the community and to society, and I feel strongly this is the moment I’m getting the call. You can’t rely on somebody else, and I don’t see anybody else I have faith in to get all messy in the world of politics. Why not me?”
In his lone run for public office, Stein lost to Dave McAlpin in the 2008 June primary for a seat in Missoula House District 94.
Stein is perhaps best recognized in state political circles for his appearances as an analyst for Montana Public Broadcasting’s election night and political coverage from 2006-2014.
He and West join at least six others who've said they’ll try to win the approval of Democratic county central committee members to challenge for Zinke’s seat. They include Flathead Valley musician Rob Quist of Creston and Lee “Link” Neimark of Whitefish; state representatives Amanda Curtis of Butte and Kelly McCarthy of Billings; Bozeman attorney John Meyer and Tom Weida of Deer Lodge.
Nick Lockridge, the state Democratic Party’s special projects coordinator, said none are technically candidates unless they’re already raising money.
“Everything’s sort of informal at this point,” Lockridge said.
Unlike the Montana Republican Party, the Democrats are requiring no filing fee.
“If somebody were to jump in the race at the convention – and that’s actually a possibility – it would be a roadblock to have to do so,” Lockridge said.
County central committees can each send four delegates to a nominating convention in Helena, which Lockridge said would be held as soon as possible if Zinke is approved to Trump's cabinet and resigns his seat.
Political insiders were still guessing Monday when the U.S. Senate will debate and vote on Zinke’s nomination, which has been endorsed by Montana’s senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester.
An announcement of the Senate timetable for hearings for the remaining nominees to President Donald Trump’s cabinet was expected Monday night following confirmation hearings for Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary and David Shulkin for secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs. One report earlier in the day indicated that Zinke’s hearing will be fourth in line and may not come up until after a congressional recess next week.
Greg Gianforte of Bozeman, unsuccessful 2016 gubernatorial candidate, is the highest profile Republican seeking Zinke’s seat. Others include state Sen. Ed Buttrey of Great Falls; state Rep. Carl Glimm of Kila; Dean Rehbein of Missoula, and Drew Turiano of East Helena.
Stein teaches U.S. history and psychology at Sentinel. In his press release he said he was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and moved to Missoula at age 18 to attend the University of Montana, graduating in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He earned his masters in Fine Arts from UM in 2000 through the “Creative Pulse” program.