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A state senator from Kalispell is going to run against U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who is seeking re-election next fall.

Sen. Albert Olszewski, R-Kalispell, is the first Republican to officially declare he’s running. Attorney General Tim Fox has said he’s being courted by the Republican party to seek the position, but has not said if he will.

Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon from Kalispell who previously ran as a lieutenant governor candidate, said Tuesday he’s interested in the seat because he wants to rein in health care regulations he said have hampered doctors like him.

“Regulations have gotten between me and my patients, it’s affected how I do my work. I have to pay more attention to government and all the unfunded mandates from Obamacare.”

In his time in the Montana Legislature, where he has served in the House and Senate, Olszewski said he’s seen the state limited by requirements and chances from the Affordable Care Act, the hallmark health care bill from former President Barack Obama. This session he is carrying bills to change several health care laws. He is also the main sponsor of a bill that would effectively outlaw abortion after 24 weeks.

On Monday Olszewski called the failed bill by House Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act an “incomplete product.” 

“On the positive side it was the biggest repeal in taxes in the history of our nation, but it did nothing to repeal the regulations of Obamacare,” he said. “It’s the regulations that are just smothering us.”

Olszewski said the state’s expansion of Medicaid, which would have disappeared under the Republican’s health care plan, in effect took $84 million out of the state budget to pay for health care of those who are better off than some segments of society budgetary cuts this year hit hardest, such as the elderly and blind.

“We have to figure out how to balance how we handle Medicaid expansion, which was designed to help the vulnerable, but now we’re balancing our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable and poor,” he said. “We need to really do a reset of federal regulations that allows us to treat all our people fairly.”

In Montana and other states holding special elections to replace members of Congress who were appointed by President Donald Trump to positions in his administration, Republicans have said the race will serve as a referendum on Trump. The president has seen low approval ratings after his election in November, which has polarized many in the country.

Olszewski said he didn't have an opinion on if his race would get pulled into the same scenario, but he believes the biggest issue in the race will be addressing health care.

“It will be a referendum on where health care should go,” he said.

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In response to the announcement Tuesday, Chris Meagher, spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party, released a statement calling Olszewski "one of the most radical politicians in the state Legislature."

Meagher said Olszewski's agenda would hurt Montana’s women and families.

A release sent by Olszewski said Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas called him a "rising star" in the Montana Senate.

Olszewski, 54, is married to Nancee Olszewski. The couple have five children.

Olszewski was born and raised in Great Falls. He is a graduate of C.M. Russell High and completed his undergraduate degree at Carroll College in Helena. He has a doctorate degree from University of Washington Medical School. After medical school he served in the United States Air Force as a flight surgeon and rapid mobility trauma surgeon. He runs Flathead Orthopedics Center in Kalispell.

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State Bureau reporter for The Independent Record.

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