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HELENA - State Rep. Franke Wilmer, D-Bozeman, said Tuesday she is running for the U.S. House seat that Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., will be vacating to run for Senate.

She became the first candidate from either political party to jump into the race for the state's sole House seat.

On Thursday, Republican Steve Daines, vice president of RightNow Technologies of Bozeman, will announce he will drop out of the U.S. Senate race and instead run for the House.

Wilmer, 60, has been a political science professor at Montana State University since 1991. She is a three-term member of the state House and was House speaker pro tempore in 2009.

"I think I bring qualifications and experience," Wilmer said in an interview. "I've been a waitress, and I've been a full professor of political science. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, but I also worked for General Motors, so I have a diverse experience."

Wilmer said she also brings common sense to the U.S. House race.

If elected, Wilmer has three issues she wants to address in Congress, ones that aren't going away.

"If health care is unconstitutional, then we have to fix it and get on with the program because Americans need it," she said. "And we waste 11 percent more of our GDP (gross domestic product) on health care than any other industrialized democracy. That's not good market sense. That's not good public policy."

Wilmer also said Montanans need energy development that is also protective of their natural resources.

"I don't think you have to make a tradeoff," she said. "I think you can ask the question about any energy, natural resource development about how clean is it. How sustainable are the jobs and are they good-paying jobs, not just jobs, but good-paying jobs that last?"

Finally, Wilmer said she would work to reduce the federal deficit.

"I think I'm one of those who does believe that the fastest way to reduce the deficit is to grow the economy," she said. "But in this case, I think we need a few other policies, tools to make it happen faster."

She referred to some recommendations of a bipartisan commission headed by former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and former White House budget director Alice Rivlin.

Wilmer said she decided to jump in the race early so she could start fundraising.

"You get your message out by fundraising," she said. "I think I've thought through why I'm running and what I'd bring to Washington. I'll be looking at things through the lens of fairness and accountability. That's what being a Democrat means to me."

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Several other Democrats also are looking at running for Congress.

Senate Minority Whip Kim Gillan, D-Billings, who has served in the Legislature since 1997, said: "It's something I would absolutely love to do, but I've got to get through this session and focus on jobs, the economy and (lowering) the business equipment tax. I'll be in a better position to make a decision when the session's over."

Gillan is work force development coordinator at Montana State University-Billings.

Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, an unsuccessful U.S. House candidate in the 1996 Democratic primary, said he isn't ruling out a run for Congress but has been looking at running for governor next year.

"If I had to decide today I'll run for governor," said Jent, who has a private law practice. "Part of the reason is I've been in state government for 10 years (as a legislator). I like the people here that I work with. I think I'd be a strong candidate either way."

Also considering a run is Tyler Gernant, a Missoula lawyer who ran for Congress in 2010.

On the Republican side, the only name being mentioned besides Daines is Neil Livingstone, a national security and terrorism expert, and author and frequent commentator on those issues. He was raised in Helena and has a house in the Capital City.

Livingstone told Roll Call he's been urged by a number of people to consider running for the House seat, but probably won't make a decision until spring.

 

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