Former Dem lawmaker Tom Winter is running for Congress

Western Montana progressive makes second U.S. House bid

By: - November 3, 2021 5:12 pm

Former Democratic state lawmaker Tom Winter is running for U.S. House (Courtesy Tom Winter for Congress)

Former state lawmaker Tom Winter announced his bid for Montana’s new congressional seat on Wednesday, confirming suspicions that an already three-way Democratic primary was slated to get even more complicated.

Winter, 35, is the fourth Democrat to throw his hat in the ring for what will likely be a newly-created district in the western portion of the state — the exact boundaries won’t be clear until Montana redistricters take a vote later this month. Winter said he was waiting for the district lines to become more or less set before he announced his candidacy.

“Politicians in Montana need to understand that things are not going well,” he said, pointing to a housing affordability crisis, climate change and a political institution he feels is undermined by wealthy interests. “Nobody thinks they are.”

Winter, who left the Legislature after one term as a representative to run in the 2020 Democratic primary for what was then Montana’s only congressional district — a primary he lost, and a decision that angered some in the party — said he’s taking a populist, progressive approach, centering on issues of economic justice and worker rights.

His list of platforms includes boosting taxes on the super-wealthy and large corporations, reducing the tax burden on earned-income by the middle and lower class, universal healthcare, childcare and paid family leave, and supporting organized labor.

Actively speaking to a populist, economic message is not a campaign ploy, it’s the right thing to do,” he said, adding later: “Any party that just serves the rich and corporations is gonna lose.”

He said it’s a message he’s proven can transcend party lines, pointing to his win in a Republican-controlled Missoula legislative district in 2018. No matter the shape of the congressional district that the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission draws, it’s likely to pose an uphill battle for Democrats, though how steep is hard to say.

Winter is now based in the Flathead, at least for the time being. He’s a director at WorldCell, a broadband and telecommunications company.

“Many of the people we were able to activate were first-time voters who felt they were not part of the process,” Winter said of that race. “Suspicion of government and institutions runs deep.”

Although he said he feels voters are in search of a “unifying” politics, he acknowledged that some of that suspicion of government has manifested in violent ideologies and threats to state and local officials.

That’s a problem that we need to work through,” he said. “But that is not the vast majority of people. It is the fault of people in government when the population doesn’t trust us.”

Several Democrats have already declared their candidacy, most before the shape of the district they’re running for was even remotely clear. These are: current state representative Laurie Bishop, of Livingston; Monica Tranel, an attorney and former Olympic rower who in 2020 ran for the Public Service Commission; and Cora Neumann, a public health professional who briefly ran for the U.S. Senate. The DAC must submit its final congressional map by November 14.

Neumann has so far raised the most money, with $470,000 in receipts as of October 1. Tranel has raised $244,000 and Bishop around $117,000. On the Republican side, former Congressman and Trump-era Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is the frontrunner at least in fundraising, with $794,000 raised by the end of September, followed by former lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Dr. Al Olszewski with some $300,000.

In what will likely be the more conservative eastern district, incumbent Congressman Matt Rosendale is fending off a challenge from Jack Ballard, a writer and Democrat from Red Lodge.

Winter is originally from around Kansas City, and said he moved to Montana in his early 20s, followed soon by his family. Together, they opened a home healthcare business, which Winter said he quit upon his entrance to politics.

“The idea that Montana has not only accepted us but that we have been able to be a part of this community and be a meaningful part of it is not something that every place would act like,” he said. 

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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.