HELENA — Democratic state Sen. Mark Sweeney lives in Philipsburg in southwestern Montana – but, on Tuesday, announced that he’s running to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale in Montana’s new eastern district.
Sweeney, the fourth Democrat to enter the 2022 race for District 2, said his current residence in the western district shouldn’t be a problem, because he grew up in Miles City and has spent more than half his life living in eastern and central Montana.
“Anybody that knows me knows that I’m eastern Montana through and through,” he told MTN News in an interview. “I was raised there, educated, worked and played there. This is just an opportunity to go to eastern Montana, where my roots are.”
Sweeney, 62, said he plans to draw on his depth of friendships, family and associates throughout the new district, and that he’s a good fit to challenge Rosendale, whom he said wastes his time on “hot-button” issues that have nothing to do with Montana.
“Let’s talk about things that are going to improve our economy, from rural communities, to agriculture, to energy – things that are going to improve our economy here in Montana and affect employment and bottom line of businesses,” he said.
Sweeney noted that Rosendale voted against last year’s $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill, which contains hundreds of millions of dollars for projects in the district, like the Milk River Irrigation Project in north-central Montana, and expansion of high-speed Internet into rural, unserved areas.
District 2, created this year when Montana gained a congressional seat for the first time in 30 years, includes the cities of Billings, Great Falls and Helena and covers all or parts of 42 counties in central and eastern Montana.
Under state and federal law, anyone who lives in Montana can run in either District 1, which covers western Montana, or District 2.
Sweeney joins three other Democrats running for the nomination to challenge Rosendale: Jack Ballard, an outdoor writer from Red Lodge, Billings City Councilwoman Penny Ronning and Billings resident Skylar Williams. Rosendale also faces nominal competition in the Republican primary from Kyle Austin of Billings and James Boyette of Bozeman, which also is in the western district.
Sweeny, a state senator since last year, said he’s been considering for a couple of months whether to challenge Rosendale. He launched his campaign Tuesday with a news release and a three-minute campaign video, in which he criticized Rosendale for opposing the infrastructure bill and called Rosendale a “do-nothing, extremist land developer from Maryland.”
Sweeney was born in Butte but moved to Miles City with his family as an infant, graduated from high school there, and attended Miles Community College and Western Montana College, earning a degree in natural-resource management. He spent most of his career with the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as a fisheries expert, working in Glendive, Libby and Anaconda.
While District 2 leans heavily Republican, Sweeney said he’ll be relying on his lifelong connections throughout the region, and his reputation of working with people on bread-and-butter issues, regardless of political party.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to represent the people of central and eastern Montana, that I feel tied to historically, through our heritage,” he said.