Independent Gary Buchanan seeks middle ground in run for Congress

GENTRY HALE Community News Service UM School of Journalism

Gary Buchanan smiled all evening as he warmly welcomed guests to a recent fundraiser in Helena. Buchanan’s friends and supporters giggled as former governor Marc Racicot stood in front of the crowd and commented on the sea of ​​gray hair before him.

Racicot also introduced Buchanan as an “incredibly decent, shrewd, and astute man” whose election to Congress would “create tremors across the country.”

Buchanan is running as an independent this fall against Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale, Democrat Penny Ronning and Libertarian Sam Rankin. He said he hopes to bridge the gap between two extremes he sees in Montana’s eastern congressional district.

With the left and right constantly at each other’s throats, Buchanan said he sees himself as a middleman who can mediate divisive politics and challenge voters to think differently about their elected officials.

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“Think independently, choose independently” is Buchanan’s slogan. The 73-year-old, who has long run a Billings-based financial advisory firm, told listeners he’s split his vote between left-wing and right-wing candidates for years, serving a half-dozen governors from both parties.

Born in Iowa, Buchanan moved to Montana in 1975 with his wife and two children. He spent most of his career in finance and started his own finance company. But he was also the first director of the state Department of Commerce and helped Racicot reorganize the state government in the 1990s.

He has also served on several state boards, including the Montana Banking Board, the Board of Investments, and the Board of Crime Control. In private, he has also served on the board of directors of the Montana Chamber of Commerce and as chairman of the Nature Conservancy of Montana.

In 1986, Buchanan pushed for the successful passage of a ballot measure that froze property taxes on most homes and businesses in hopes that the Legislature would either cut them permanently or find other sources of revenue such as a sales tax.

But he never ran for elective office. He said he decided to run when Rosendale voted against supporting Ukraine after the Russian invasion. That’s when his embarrassment turned to shame, he said, adding that he couldn’t sit by and watch. He made the vote by collecting 15,000 signatures in two and a half months.

His opinions vary between liberal and conservative. For example, he said he was both pro-choice and pro-gun.

If elected, he said his top priority would be fighting inflation. His expertise in finance, investing and banking gives him a solid knowledge of how to go about it, he added.

Its constitutional priorities at the federal and state levels include upholding the right to privacy and protecting public lands. “I think we have the best constitution in Montana in the country, and I’m really concerned that people are attacking the right to privacy and the right to a clean and healthy environment,” Buchanan said.

But he runs without party support. By the end of September, his campaign had raised $127,125, about two-thirds of which came from Montanans. In comparison, Rosendale has raised $1.7 million, with most of the donations coming from out of state.

Given the cash imbalance, it’s fair to ask if Buchanan is in the running for victory or news. Both, he said. Though voters in eastern Montana are overwhelmingly Republican, Buchanan said he believes there are enough moderate Republicans to give him a chance.

He is not alone in this opinion. The Montana Federation of Public Employees, the state’s largest union, and the Montana AFL-CIO both support Buchanan. His endorsements also include Dorothy Bradley, former Democratic nominee for governor and former Bozeman Assemblyman.

Bradley said that when she found out Buchanan was running, she called former governor Racicot, who narrowly defeated Bradley when they competed in 1992.

“I thought if we want people to behave differently these days, maybe it should start with us. After all these years of being on different sides, we came together to support him,” Bradley said.

For younger voters who may not remember Bradley and Racicot, Buchanan may not have as wide a reach. This feeling was confirmed at his fundraiser, where the majority of participants were over 50 years old.

With a tiny social media following compared to Rosendale’s, Buchanan’s campaigning methods consist primarily of meeting people in person and posting signs.

He’s better known among older voters, said Carroll College political scientist and analyst Jeremy Johnson, and his traditionalist campaigning methods are designed to appeal to pre-Trump Republicans and Democrats.

Reaching rural voters is another hurdle Buchanan faces, Johnson said. The candidate said he plans to address this by visiting rural towns in the vast district and doing TV commercials featuring his prominent non-partisan supporters.

The Montana Sportsman Alliance has also endorsed Buchanan, a response to Rosendale’s support for repealing the federal Pittman-Robertson Act taxing guns and ammunition to aid wildlife conservation and habitat. This could drain millions from conservation and public land funding annually, angering many of Montana’s wildlife lovers, Buchanan said.

But the annulment’s sponsors say they would replace the money with federal revenues from onshore and offshore drilling, capping it at $800 million a year.

He said Rosendale was only appealing to the extreme Republican fringe, to the detriment of moderate Republicans and its Democratic constituents. “Rosendale takes several issues to such extremes that he gives an independent a heck of a lot of leeway,” Buchanan said.

Johnson said Democratic voters who believe Ronning has no chance of winning may back Buchanan, but he’s not sure that’s enough to overcome the incumbent’s advantage.

When campaigning, Buchanan is often asked which party he would run with. Neither, he tells them.

“There are a number of caucuses alongside the Republican and Democratic caucuses,” he said. “I will do what I think is best for the state.”

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