Democratic attorney and PSC candidate launches Congressional bid

Monica Tranel, a two-time Olympian, widens the Democratic field in the race for the state’s new U.S. House seat

By: - July 7, 2021 4:48 pm

Monica Tranel is one of three Democrats racing for her party’s nomination for U.S. House in Montana’s new western district. (Courtesy Monica Tranel for Montana)

The Democratic primary for Montana’s newly created U.S. House seat is now competitive.

Monica Tranel, an attorney based in Missoula and former Olympic rower who mounted a run for the Montana Public Service Commission in 2020, announced Wednesday that she’s entering the race for the seat, joining state Rep. Laurie Bishop on the Democratic side. Former U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and former lawmaker Dr. Al Olszewski, both Republicans, have already launched their campaigns for the district.

“Montana has a strong, proud tradition of fighting for democratic values,” said Tranel, pointing to figures like Mike Mansfield and Lee Metcalf. “Our working people…have always found a voice here in Montana. But that voice has been missing in the House for close to 30 years.”

The state discovered it would regain its second congressional seat following a favorable census count earlier in the year. Republicans have represented the state’s R+11 at-large district since 1997.  The prospect of having two districts after decades of sole GOP representation in Congress has aroused the interest of Democrats across Montana — even though the state Districting and Apportionment Commission has yet to draw the line that will divide the two seats.

We need our Democratic voice heard at the national level — and the national level needs to hear from people like us,” said Tranel, who was raised in eastern Montana. 

Tranel, like Bishop before her, hopes to foreground problems of livability and economic inequity in Montana in her campaign.

She said Montana’s middle class has shrunk, blaming GOP-backed tax cuts and trickle-down economics. Tranel called for strengthening unions, fighting back right-to-work legislation and bolstering home-grown talent through the university system. And she said state leaders need to stop looking to outmoded natural resources like coal to support the economy.

Tranel, whose rowing prowess twice brought her to the Olympics, has a law degree from Rutgers.

Her legal practice has focused on energy issues, anti-trust and consumer advocacy, she said. Her litigation history includes fighting Northwestern Energy’s attempt to have consumers foot the cost of buying replacement power following a series of unexpected generating station outages in 2012 and advocating for Park County ranchers who sought to enter a contract to build a wind farm on their land when moneyed interests that owned neighboring land sued to scuttle their plans.

“I’ve been in the trenches being the voice for Montanans. I’m from Montana and for Montana in a way that no other candidate in this race can say,” she said. 

In a statement announcing her candidacy, Tranel’s team said she’s “best positioned” to win the primary and general election thanks to name recognition and a donor network from her 2020 bid for PSC District 4, which contains Missoula County and the state’s western frontier. In that race, she lost to Republican Jennifer Fielder, but still outperformed other Democrats in the region, including Joe Biden.

“This district will be that PSC footprint plus something else,” she said, illustrating her electability pitch. 

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.