Mayor Wilmot Collins gives the 2019 State of the City address

Mayor Wilmot Collins gives the annual State of the City address on Jan. 27 in the Helena City Commission chambers.

Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, who has previously said he was considering a run for state or federal office, tweeted a 60-second video Thursday afternoon advertising a “special announcement” to take place in Helena this coming Monday.

"They say it could never be done. A Liberian refugee elected to office in Montana. Let's prove them wrong again," Collins wrote in the tweet. 

And on Friday, Politico  quoted "two people familiar with the matter" as saying Missoula resident Michael Punke was considering running for either Senate or the Montana governorship as a Democrat. Punke may be best-known as the author of the 2002 bestselling novel “The Revenant,” which was adapted into a 2015 Oscar-winning film.

Collins made national headlines when he defeated four-term incumbent Jim Smith in 2017 to become the first black mayor of a Montana city since statehood. 

In March, Collins told the Independent Record that he was considering a run for governor, U.S. Senate or U.S. House but was not “limiting himself.” When asked about a party affiliation, he added, "I'm exploring as an American."

Helena’s local elections are nonpartisan and campaign manager Trent Bolger declined Friday to name which party’s nomination Collins will seek in which race. However, Bolger became CFO of the Montana Democratic Party in 2008.

Collins will make his announcement at 12:30 p.m. Monday at Performance Square on Helena's Downtown Walking Mall.

Montana’s governorship, lone seat in the U.S. House and one of its seats in the U.S. Senate are all up for grabs in 2020. A Monday declaration to run for governor or U.S. Senate as a Democrat would make Collins the first to declare a campaign.

Punke did not return requests for comment on his own possible run from the Missoulian on Friday. In March, he wrote a column in Medium arguing that Democrats must unite their own party if they hope to beat Republican President Donald Trump.

“Democrats now control the House because a sufficient number of moderate Democrats beat Republicans to flip districts that actually were in play,” Punke wrote. “The 2020 presidential election will be decided on similar ground.”

Beyond "The Revenant," his novel about frontier fur trapper Hugh Glass, and other books, Punke's resume also includes seven years as ambassador to the World Trade Organization under the Obama administration. He then moved to Missoula, where he leads global public policy for Amazon Web Services. He also briefly served as an adjunct professor at the University of Montana. He has not held elected office before.

Carroll College associate professor of political science Jeremy Johnson said he had not heard rumors of Punke’s ambitions before the Politico story broke.

“It’s no secret that national and state Democrats are hoping (term-limited Gov. Steve) Bullock would run for the Senate seat, but he’s focused on the presidency,” Johnson said on Friday. “There’s more base Republicans than base Democrats for statewide office Montana. Democrats have to get all Democratic voters on the side of a candidate and then a few more.”

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Johnson said that means binding together liberal voters who strongly oppose Trump and push progressive causes like health care for all with more moderate and conservative voters who seek a return to more stable government.

“Trump remains very popular, and that’s central to how a Republican runs in Montana,” Johnson said. “(U.S. Sen. Steve) Daines can tout legislation he sponsors on the floor as well. It will be hard for a Democrat who doesn’t have name recognition. Punke is best known for a Hollywood movie. You have transition to different world.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Bullock has long been the subject of discussion for a potential run at the U.S. Senate or the presidency, though Bullock told Montana Free Press in March that he is not interested in a Senate campaign.

Two Democrats have already announced campaigns for Rep. Greg Gianforte’s seat in the U.S. House: state Rep. Tom Winter, D-Missoula, and former state representative Kathleen Williams, who unsuccessfully sought to oust Gianforte last year.

The 2019 legislative session was Winter’s first, while Williams spent three terms in the state House prior to an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. House last fall.

It’s still unknown whether Gianforte will seek re-election in the House or the governorship, for which he secured the Republican nomination in 2016 before being defeated by Bullock.


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Local and State Government Reporter

State and local government reporter for the Independent Record.

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