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2020 Candidate Profile: Matt Rosendale For U.S. House

Republican U.S. House Candidate Matt Rosendale.
Republican U.S. House Candidate Matt Rosendale.

This week we're publishing profiles of the candidates running for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat. Today, we look at Matt Rosendale, a Republican who serves as state auditor. MTPR’s Shaylee Ragar spent some time on the road and sat down for an interview with Rosendale earlier this month. 

Rosendale went on the road with other GOP candidates earlier this month to ask people to get out and vote. Republicans have held Montana’s House seat since 1995 and Rosendale is looking to continue the GOP’s hold on the office.

Rosendale was animated during one of the campaign stops, pacing back and forth in front of a small crowd that gathered. He stood in front of all of the Republican candidates running for statewide office, each waiting their turn to speak, and warmed up the audience. 

“Did you get your coffee? What a fabulous fall day here in the state of Montana.”

His message to voters is simple: He’s done what he said he’d do when elected to public office. 

Matt Rosendale isn’t a new name on Montana ballots. He’s run seven times for federal, statewide or district officesover the past decade. This is his second bid for the U.S. House.

"I’ve always said that all I want to do is serve where I can be most effective for the people of Montana. I was very content on my ranch back in Glendive and my community came to me, recruited me, and asked me to represent them in the Legislature because they felt they were having ineffective representation."

Rosendale was a businessman and worked in real estate before entering politics. He bought land near Glendive, Montana in 2002, which is where he and his wife raised their three kids. They recently decided to sell the property and move to Great Falls to be closer to family.

Rosendale has served as a state representative, state senator, state senate majority leader and now as state auditor. He says that experience has prepared him to be a U.S. representative.

"I have demonstrated over the last several years in working in the Legislature, or as a state auditor, I have the ability to listen to people, to take input from a very diverse group of folks, that are located across our state to identify the problems that they bring to me and then to generate a consensus to solve those problems."

In his three terms in the statehouse, Rosendale sponsored policy on county zoning, real estateand property laws and changes to how sacramental wine and law enforcement drones are regulated. He’s also proposed allowing people to carry concealed weapons in prohibited places like the state capitol building.

During his time as majority leader of the state Senate, proposed changes to health care policy started appearing under his name.

But in his campaign for Congress, Rosendale focuses on his time as state auditor.

"We’ve had results. I came out and told you we were going to lower the cost of health care and by golly we did it.”

Health care costs and coverage are key issues for Rosendale’s campaign. 

"And I have said many times over, we need to wipe the slate clean so that we can begin to make sure that there are options out there for folks to accommodate their health care needs.”

Rosendale’s campaign website says “we can’t give up on repealing and replacing Obamacare.” 

Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, is the nation’s health care law. The law creates minimum coverage requirements for many insurance plans and makes it so health insurance companies can’t refuse to cover patients just because they have pre-existing conditions. 

The ACA is what pays for most of the state’s Medicaid expansion program, which provides health coverage for more than 86,000 low-income adults in Montana. Another 50,000 Montanans buy health coverage through the ACA marketplace.

Premiums in the marketplace were steadily increasing in price until last year. A decline in prices for the first time is in part attributed to a reinsurance program passed by the state Legislature in 2019. Rosendale backed the program that passed with bipartisan support.

Rosendale says he’s provided Montanans with other health insurance options as premiums under ACA plans have grown.

One of his TV ads talks about this:

[Narrator]: "While Washington fights, Matt Rosendale goes to work. He expanded access to health care, lowered premiums, protected pre-existing conditions …"

During Rosendale’s time as auditor, President Donald Trump’s administration made new health coverage options - like short-term insurance plans - more appealing to some consumers. These low cost plans are a lot cheaper and offer a lot less health coverage, which includes no guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Rosendale opened the door in Montana to more direct primary care facilities. He says people can get consistent care through those providers and hopefully save on health care costs. He also said this could be an option for recipients of Medicaid expansion if they lose coverage with the repeal of the ACA.

"If we can make sure that we have early intervention and consistent following of their diseases, whatever disease someone may have, that the likelihood of them having a major, catastrophic event is dramatically reduced."

Not every disease or medical condition is preventable through regular care, and direct primary care still requires patients to pay out-of-pocket costs.

Rosendale’s campaign website and TV ads say he’s worked hard to protect Montanans with pre-existing conditions.

A report from Kaiser Health News and Politifact Health Check rated one of those claims, that “Matt fights for everyone with a preexisting condition,” mostly false.

The analysis reported that the reinsurance program Rosendale champions wouldn’t exist without the Affordable Care Act, which he wants to repeal. It also said there’s no plan in Congress to keep the reinsurance program running if the ACA was removed.

At an event in Butte, Rosendale chatted with voters after giving his pitch to be their next representative. 

Dave Ruppert, 80, was one who stayed behind to talk. I caught up with him afterwards. His voice may sound muffled behind the red bandana he wore as a mask.

"We don’t believe that this nation was done well under some of the liberal ideas of some of the Democrats and we’d like to see a whole lot more conservative outlook on things."

Ruppert takes issue specifically with the Affordable Care Act. He said he’s worried the health care law that provides for subsidized health insurance will eventually become a single-payer system in which every citizen receives health coverage through the government.

Ruppert has insurance through BlueCross BlueShield, a private company, and wants to keep it. 

"And I am really pleased with the way they take care of me and my wife."

He’s glad Rosendale supports repealing the Affordable Care Act. Rosendale’s opponent, Democrat Kathleen Williams, supports keeping the ACA intact, but not a single payer system. 

While health care policy has been center stage in Rosendale’s campaign, he’s also highlighted his stance on other issues.

Rosendale says a priority, if elected, would be to speed up economic recovery in the state amid the coronavirus pandemic. He says he’d do this by supporting the removal of regulations on businesses and shielding businesses that are following CDC public health guidelines from liability if someone catches COVID-19 after they've been in contact with the business. 

Rosendale supports constitutional amendments to put in place Congressional term limits and a balanced federal budget. He told MTPR the national deficit is unsustainable but did not point to areas of federal spending that should be cut. 

In ads and along the campaign trail, Rosendale also champions his support for the Second Amendment and says he does not support changes to federal gun laws. 

A throughline of Rosendale’s recent bids for federal office is his support for President Donald Trump. Rosendale says he looks forward to helping Trump advance his agenda. 

I asked Rosendale how he plans to be an effective representative if Trump loses in November. 

"So I’ve worked with a Democrat governor for the eight, 10 years, that I’ve been involved in public service and I’ve always been able to accomplish good work for the people of the state of Montana. And regardless of who is sitting in the White House, I assure you, I will be able to get good, productive issues through for the people of the state of Montana."

According to the Cook Political Report, the race for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat leans Republican. Rosendale was two percentage points ahead of Williams, well within the margin of error, in the Montana State University Treasure State Pollpublished last week.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.