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Democrat Monica Tranel running for state's new U.S. House seat


Monica Tranel is running for Montana's new U.S. House seat.

Citing her roots in rural Montana and past legal work defending the state from monopoly corporations, Democrat Monica Tranel said this week she’s planning to run for the state’s newly created seat in the U.S. House.

Tranel, of Missoula, is the second Democratic candidate to join the race. Last week Democratic state lawmaker Laurie Bishop, of Livingston, said she was running. Two Republicans have also said they’re in the race — former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who previously held Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House; and former Kalispell state Sen. Al Olszewski.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in April showed Montana gained enough population to add a second seat in the U.S. House. The state is the first to regain a second House seat after losing one, which happened after the 1990 census. A commission will draw the boundaries of the new seat by spring of next year, though candidates do not need to live within its borders. The primary election for the seat is in June 2022 and the general election in November 2022.

Tranel, 55, said she wants to be a voice for rural places and issues in Congress. She ran for the state Public Service Commission's District 4 seat last year, winning the primary but losing to former state GOP senator Jennifer Fielder in the general election. Her campaign cited that race as building her name recognition and a donor network that prepared her for the Congressional bid.

“This feels like the right moment and the right time. I think it’s absolutely essential we have a voice from Montana for Montana,” Tranel said in an interview Tuesday.

She called the new seat an “incredible opportunity for Montana to elect a Democratic voice to Congress.”

“We are now coming off the longest stretch in Montana’s history without a Democratic representative in the U.S. House,” Tranel said.

Tranel and her nine siblings grew up on a ranch in eastern Montana, a childhood she says helped set the stage for her congressional run.

“What I’m worried about now is that the Montana I grew up in and I live in is slipping away,” Tranel said. “We’ve really lost the chance where people can step up and take their hard work and get the benefits of that. I don’t want to lose the Montana that I grew up in. … I want (my kids) to be able to have the same opportunity that I had.”

That background, she said, should help a Democrat like her connect well with rural voters.

“My parents came from the Catholic Democratic traditional of the Mississippi River Valley. I was rooted in economic and social justice and that was something I learned and they really instilled in us growing up,” Tranel said. “It wasn’t so much the political party you belong to, it wasn’t so much defining ourselves as us versus them or Democrat versus Republican, but working hard and having the benefit of your hard work pay off.”

Though the district lines haven’t been drawn yet, Tranel said her PSC race gave her an opportunity to meet a lot of people in western Montana and spend time in the rural counties and get a good understanding of the issues and concerns they have.

“I don’t see that voice now, that voice of rural Democrats who come from that background,” Tranel said. “This is in my DNA. I love Montana. It’s in my blood, it’s the air I breath and I will fight for it every day.”

After college at Gonzaga University, Tranel competed in five World Rowing Championships and the Olympics twice. She went to Rutgers University Law School before a career that included time as the PSC staff attorney from 2001-2005 and then worked on the state's Consumer Counsel from 2014-2016. She now runs Tranel Law Firm, which works on clean energy, water and property rights and regulatory issues.

“That’s been advocacy, standing up to corporate monopolies in the regulatory context,” Tranel said. Her campaign in a release pointed to a case where she said she stopped NorthWestern Energy, the state's monopoly utility, from "price gouging customers for a plant failure, saving Montana consumers $10 million."

Tranel said to what happened with mega meat packing operations floundering during the pandemic and the fallout for farmers and ranchers as another place that needed a lawmaker to step in.

If elected to the seat, Tranel said her main focuses would include defending the state’s natural resources and environment by standing up to corporate monopolies and making “sure that the wealthiest people in the world — wealthy corporations — are paying their fair share of the load.”

As a lawyer, Tranel said, she understands what the back end, or implementation, of legislation looks like, which would give her a unique perspective to being a representative enacting those laws.

“The reason that I’m running in this race is to restore the dignity and economic strength of working folks in Montana,” Tranel said. “ … (I’m going to) focus on legislation that is going to give people an opportunity for better jobs and good-paying jobs and to create a strong labor force for the Main Street businesses who need to have people they can hire to keep their business going.”

Tranel lives in Missoula with her husband and three daughters.

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