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2022 candidate interview: Monica Tranel for U.S. House District 1


This week we're hearing from primary candidates running for Montana's 1st Congressional District that represents western Montana. We'll hear from the Democratic candidates this week and the Republicans next week. Today, we'll learn about Monica Tranel. Tranel is a longtime attorney and a former Olympian. In the Democratic primary, she faces Tom Winter and Cora Neumann. Tranel sat down with MTPR's Shaylee Rager.

Shaylee Ragar Monica, thanks so much for joining me today.

Monica Tranel Thank you, Shaylee, and thank you for all the work that you do.

Shaylee Ragar The first question I want to ask you is, what's your elevator pitch for Montanans who don't know you?

Monica Tranel So for Montanans who don't know me, I grew up on a ranch in eastern Montana with my nine siblings. I went to kindergarten in Miles City and grade school at the St. Labre In Ashland. I am a lifelong Montana and I spent my career as an attorney here in Montana. I went to two Olympics and have been working here as an attorney in Montana for 25 years. I have been here for Montanans and have represented Montanans across the state. I do water rights. I've worked for ranchers. I've worked on a lot of issues, small businesses. And I have kept $10 million in Montanans' pockets because I was there standing up for you against NorthWestern when they failed to plan. And this is my home, this is my only home. And I am not ceding our ground to the people who came here to use Montana for their own personal, political and economic ends. I will not let that happen. And I'm all in for my home.

Shaylee Ragar You have two Democratic candidates, where do you guys differ?

Monica Tranel I'm the most qualified candidate in this race, period. I have been practicing law across Montana. Like I said, I've been serving Montanans for 25 years as an advocate. I know Montana. I can find my way around this state without a GPS.

So I am qualified, really, for two reasons. In the primary, I'm the most electable in a general. And in the general I will be the candidate who will be most able to serve Montana. And I think of that, a lot of people think of, you know, a congressional seat as, 'well, which legislation will you pass.' I mean, that's often the first question I get. But I think that what we have forgotten is congressional representative who is truly serving Montana, is first and foremost about constituent services. And I think Pat Williams was such a great example of that. You know, serving Montana, being present for Montanans and showing up for Montanans. So I am qualified to do that in a way no other candidate is because I've been here with my feet on the ground, in the trenches, working for Montanans across the state.

Shaylee Ragar You talked about being most electable in this primary; For people who aren't really in the political sphere, what does that mean to you?

Monica Tranel I think it means in Montana, if you look at the number of votes and you followed the redistricting process and this district is made up of 15 and a half counties, largely in the western part of Montana. So I think if we kind of just look at that from the from the numbers and not just a narrative and speculation, and don't take my word for it, take Montanans word for it. So I ran in the PSC in 2020 and that was in seven of the counties, seven of the 16 counties that make up this new congressional district. And I had 48% of the vote. And so that was a larger vote share than any other Democrat across Montana. So there the path to victory in Montana is reaching out and connecting to the exhausted majority.

Shaylee Ragar And I do I want to talk about your, your run for PSC. And for listeners, that's the Public Service Commission, our state's utility oversight board. You ran for PSC a first time in 2005 as a Republican. So I want to talk about when you decided and why you decided to to change parties 24.

Monica Tranel Yeah, so I was a staff attorney at the commission at the time and it was actually, so the commission's work is really nonpartisan, it's really about protecting the ratepayers of Montana and being the regulatory body that sets the rates for utilities in the absence of a competitive market. So, I was a staff attorney at the commission and term limits had just kicked in. And so there were a couple of things happening at the same time. So the whole deregulation process was kind of kicking in and the rules and the implementation of that was happening at the commission, and the term limits were also happening and kicking in. And so we were losing commissioners who had been there for a long time and really understood the regulatory process. It looked like an opportunity. I filed and didn't get out of the primary. But again, it was, you know, it's nonpartisan work.

Shaylee Ragar And I guess I would just ask for, especially since we're still in primary season for Democratic voters who might see that past Republican next your name. If that gives any Democratic voters some pause in voting for you for this primary, what would you tell them?

Monica Tranel I would say, look at my track record from last year running as a Democrat in Montana and outperforming every other Democrat across Montana. And look at my endorsements. I'm endorsed by Governor Schweitzer, Nancy Keenan, Dorothy Bradley, Diane Sands. You know, these are paragons of progressive values, and that speaks for itself.

Shaylee Ragar In thinking about the benefit to Montanans, I've heard a lot about how adding a second congressional seat in Montana just adds to the power of Montana's delegation as a whole in Congress. So I do wonder if, if you think you can find common ground with, with other Montana delegates, even Republicans. What would that look like?

Monica Tranel Well, I would say some of the work that Senator Daines has done, for example, in Yellowstone National Park and in getting some of the funding going there, that's good work. And so I think we need to find the things that are happening that we can agree on and figure out how we're all serving Montana in a way that's productive and and helpful and helps our rural communities. But I don't see that happening in Congress right now. Montana's representative in Congress is not serving Montana. Period.

Shaylee Ragar Yeah. That was going to be my follow up question. We have incumbent Republican Representative Matt Rosendale again running in the Eastern District. So he could be your counterpart if elected to Congress again. I mean, what would that working relationship look like to you?

Monica Tranel I you know, I've spent my life as a sixth of 10 children. I grew up learning how to navigate dissention and figuring out how you can still get a team together and have a basketball game or a baseball game in the summer or whatever, right? You always want to have a group of people that you're going to be able to do something with and and get something done with. So I've grown up doing that. I rowed in the middle of our Olympic eight. I know the value and the power of the middle and figuring out how to come together to get things done. It's what I've done my whole life.

Shaylee Ragar I want to talk about and kind of pivot to, to Congress right now and the state of Congress. What do you think is the most pressing issue there right now?

Monica Tranel I think that we are facing two really existential threats, one to our democracy and one to our, our climate and our planet and the livability of our planet. So we're entering year three of, you know, a severe drought. And you can see that driving across Montana. I mean, you see the snowpack in the Crazy Mountains. It's really, really bad. And, you know, the drought, I was in Phillips County in in February and it was 60 degrees. I mean, that is crazy. So I think we have to figure that piece out. But I also feel that in Congress, we have to be able to talk about how to be productive together. We need two sane, functioning parties. And I think the incredible disinformation and just outright lies that are happening, that needs to be confronted. But if you look at a map of the United States Congress from Minneapolis to Seattle and Canada down to Denver, that map is completely red. There are no rural Democrats in Congress. And I think bringing our voice, bringing the voice of the working people of Montana to Congress will in itself be an incredible change and, and something to be proud of as Montanans.

Shaylee Ragar I think one of the most tangible ways we're seeing that division play out that you're talking about is Congress trying to address the January 6th attack. And, so there's a congressional investigation right now into that. I'm curious if you support that investigation and, and what you think Congress should be doing there.

Monica Tranel The January 6th insurrection? Yes. So importantly, Montana's history gives us an important window into what's happening and the power of Congress to act. So, Montanans might remember Thomas Walsh and and Burton Wheeler, some of our early Democratic senators. And they investigated the Teapot Dome scandal. And out of that came the right to subpoena tax records and to compel witness testimony. And those are the authoritative pieces that are behind the January 6th Commission's work right now that's really underpinning that. So doing an investigation, finding information and getting the facts and what really happened is, it's important, it's important to know. And as an attorney, as an advocate, I know how important it is to get to the truth and the power of cross-examination. And that is something that's unique in America. And that's why our democracy is so amazing and so powerful, because we do ascertain the truth through cross-examination. So this process will bring out the truth and then people can look at that and decide for themselves, right.

Shaylee Ragar I want to go back to talking about climate change. Congress has had a hard time finding consensus on climate legislation and how they want to address climate. What do you think is, is feasible to find enough support to pass?

Monica Tranel Well, I think we need to, again, talk to the people of Montana, across Montana, which I've been doing. I went to a bar in Dewey. I am on a campaign trail. It's, you know, Montana, so we go to bars and that's where we talk to folks. And, you know, the people on the Big Hole River are concerned about the fact that the Big Hole is warm, the water is low and the trout are dying. And NorthWestern has just issued a statement this week saying they're going to hold water in the Hebgen Damn due to the drought. We are facing really unprecedented issues in Montana that, I mean, the fires here are a severe issue for everyone. So, we need to solve those problems. We don't need to, you know, talk about, well, you know, what do you want to call this? What name do you want to give it? It's a problem. We know how to solve it. It's a math problem. It's an engineering problem. We can solve it. And part of that requires us to follow the money of whose interests are served by status quo. Whose interests are served by continuing to rely on on last century's technology?

Shaylee Ragar So what what kind of climate solution specifically are you interested in looking at?

Monica Tranel I mean, I think that we need to really talk about how we are going to deploy resources that generate electricity at the local level, and how we are going to distribute electricity that can be generated in a in a way where we can make sure that there is redundancy and reliability. So what does a grid look like? What do our transmission systems look like? How do we get solar on every rooftop? We are in the middle right now, Montana, of an unprecedented growth, you know, spurred or whatever you want to call it. And that creates opportunity, right? There, there is a huge issue in affordable housing. So what are we going to do about housing? And if we're building more housing, what is that housing going to look like and how is that going to create opportunities to generate electricity and to see customers, not just as a load that has to be served by a central plant, but also as supply. So if you have solar on your rooftop, if you have an electric vehicle that you can plug in, that grid can be interactive in a dynamic way. And that's where we are going.

Shaylee Ragar Another big issue at Congress has been the push and opposition to President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan. Democrats have been pushing for this part of the bill that would fund social infrastructure, like paid family leave and child care and some climate investments. I'm curious what your thoughts are on that bill, if you were if you would support it if you were in Congress.

Monica Tranel I think the important pieces of what our communities need right now are things that we have seen work. So, one example of that is the child tax credit. So that, demonstrably, lifted children and families out of poverty and it has now been allowed to lapse. But that was a good bill that provided real help to families who needed it. And if we want to address the shortage of workers, then we need to be able to get our families, you know, in a position where they can go to work, which requires child care. I mean, these are just real issues, and they all come together and they're all interrelated. And you can't, you know, isolate for a problem and have this Balkanized approach to helping our communities. So there are specific examples like that, that have given real support and relief to our families that, you know, they they worked, they've been there, and I would support those.

Shaylee Ragar I want to ask about another current event that's top of mind for everyone, Ukraine. President Joe Biden has said no troops will enter Ukraine. To what extent do you think the U.S. should support that country?

Monica Tranel My rowing coach was from Kiev. And I'm watching what's happening there every day. And they are war crimes. And this is, this is not a time to back down from supporting democracy. What Ukraine stands for is democracy. And what we are doing, even by having this interview, is we are conducting democracy. It's an incredible privilege that we fought for and we won in our country and they're fighting for. And if we want democracy in this world, we must support Ukraine.

Shaylee Ragar I do think there, there is the possibility that Congress could ask to to make some decisions on that and what the U.S. should do. So do you have any, maybe, specific ideas of where the U.S. should limit itself or what support should look like if it's asked to step in further?

Monica Tranel I, Ukraine is fighting for its life against a communist country, and we cannot lose sight of the fact that this is a democracy fighting for democracy. And I think the United States needs to be 100% behind that.

Shaylee Ragar I want to also talk about inflation right now. So, we're seeing rising gas prices, rising grocery prices. What should Congress do to address inflation, or should it? Should we wait it out?

Monica Tranel Well, I mean, I think one of the things we could do about inflation right now at the gas, with the gas prices — I sent a letter to Ryan Zinke, well, to Conoco Phillips and Ryan Zinke. They can take him off the payroll, to start. I mean, he's gotten $500,000 from Conoco Phillips in the last two years in a position that he actually didn't even disclose. He was on the board of Conoco Phillips and he didn't disclose that on his government papers. So that, I mean, that's a start right there. But in terms of, you know, where we are with prices, inflation, I think the Federal Reserve is doing a good job of, you know, trying to put its foot on the gas, foot on the brake, kind of figuring that stuff out. And I trust that the levers that it has to push and pull will address this. And some of the yo-yo supply issues and you know, worker availability issues will smooth out as we pull out of the pandemic.

Shaylee Ragar I am thinking about Conoco Phillips as a private company who is going to make its decision one way or the other if, you know, there's no regulation over it. So I am wondering if Congress should be taking active steps? Or what I'm hearing you say is to ride it out?

Monica Tranel Well, I think that the steps that are going to be taken between now and when I get to Congress will smooth out a lot of the, you know, sort of the yo-yo effects that we're just seeing right now that I see is driven largely by the pandemic. The, you know, on and off and sort of the stop and start issues that have happened, I think those will smooth out.

Shaylee Ragar I've heard Democrats propose a couple of things to address inflation, like maybe repealing some gas taxes or taxing some utility companies to try to provide some relief money to consumers. But is there any specific or action in Congress that you were speaking of?

Monica Tranel I mean, I think at this point, really, the action that has to happen is really more immediate and in the short term. So we need to see things happen right now. And I would like to see where those lead before, you know, getting into anything in terms of, you know, legislation.

If elected, what do you hope to come back and tell Montana voters in a year about your record in Congress? What will your major accomplishments be?

Monica Tranel Showing up for our communities. Having people say, 'she was here, she listened to me, I felt heard and those concerns got taken to our federal government and they were heard.' And you can ask any of my nine siblings, I have the heart and the lungs to make our voice heard in Congress.

Shaylee Ragar Monica, thank you so much for taking the time today.

Monica Tranel Thank you.

Copyright 2022 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.