Lindeen Challenges Rehberg For Seat In U.S. House
By MIKE DENNISON
Tribune Capitol Bureau
HELENA Democrat Monica Lindeen on Wednesday kicked off her campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, saying she wants to put aside partisan politics in Congress and do what's best for average Montanans.
However, the four-term state representative from Huntley said she won't hesitate to critique Rehberg's voting record.
"I'm a strong competitor and I will talk about Rep. Rehberg's voting record and I will hold him accountable," she told reporters at a campaign stop in Helena. "And I'll do it in a respectful way."
At news conferences in Great Falls, Billings and Helena, Lindeen was good to her word, criticizing Rehberg's vote last month against an amendment that would have increased funding for veterans' programs.
The amendment failed by a single vote.
"Dennis Rehberg wasn't there for the health care of our veterans," she said. "I will be there for the health care of our veterans. They deserve it."
Erik Iverson, Rehberg's chief of staff, said the amendment would have taken money from another military program the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and shifted it to veteran's programs.
"It was really just robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "The facts don't match the rhetoric here."
The full bill, which ultimately passed with the support of all but one House member, increased veteran's health benefits by $1 billion in the next year, Iverson said.
"Denny is clearly and firmly and solidly in the corner for Montana's veterans and will continue to do everything to make sure veterans receive the funding and the access to health care that they deserve," he said.
While Lindeen came out firing on that issue, she talked mostly Wednesday about her ability to work with others to get things done regardless of party affiliation.
"That's exactly what I did in the Legislature, and that's exactly what I will do in Congress," she said.
Lindeen, 43, is the first Democrat to launch a campaign against Rehberg, who is up for re-election next year to a fourth consecutive two-year term.
State Rep. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, is considering a run, but has made no formal announcement.
Lindeen represents House District 43, which starts east of Billings and runs up the Yellowstone River Valley, including the towns of Colstrip, Hysham and Forsyth.
She'll finish her fourth term next year. Term limits prevent her from running for re-election to her state House seat.
During the 2005 session, Lindeen chaired the House Select Committee on Education, which was able to agree unanimously on a key bill defining a "quality education" in Montana schools. The bill is part of the state's effort to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that said funding of public schools is inadequate and unconstitutional.
She now chairs the Quality Schools Interim Committee, which is working on the next step to comply with the court order: Revamping state funding of public schools.
The committee's work will form the basis for decisions made by the Legislature during a special session scheduled for later this year.
Lindeen's stop in Helena Wednesday hit a brief glitch, as an afternoon thunderstorm opened up just as her news conference began outside the Capitol.
Once the conference was relocated inside, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch joked Lindeen had shown yet another talent: Rainmaker.
"The important thing today to remember is that Monica Lindeen brought the moisture," she said.
About 50 supporters were on hand to welcome Lindeen to Helena, her last campaign stop of the day. She's planning stops today in Missoula, Butte and Bozeman.
Rehberg, who's been a stalwart of Montana politics since the early 1980s, has won by wide margins in his last two elections. He had $225,000 in his campaign account as of Dec. 31.
Rehberg, 49, usually votes with the Republican majority in Congress, but sometimes bucks the party and President Bush.
He has supported funding for Amtrak and mandatory country-of-origin labeling for ag products, and opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement all in opposition to President Bush.
Lindeen is known outside politics as the founder of Montana Communications Network, the state's first widescale Internet provider. It began in 1995 with about 500 customers in the Billings area and eventually expanded to serve 13,000 people. Lindeen sold the company in 1999.
She ran three times for the Legislature before finally defeating Republican Don Holland in 1999, and has won re-election three times since.