Without any Democrats in the race for Senate District 5, which includes Bigfork, Evergreen, Creston, and Swan Lake, voters who cast ballots in the June 7 Republican primary will determine who they send to Helena to represent them in the Montana Legislature — longtime GOP lawmaker Mark Noland or Rob Tracy, the former transportation director of the Bigfork School District.
The open seat is currently held by Bob Keenan, a longtime legislator who cannot run again for the state Senate due to term limits and is instead running for a seat in House District 10 occupied by Noland, who likewise is termed out of the state House and hopes to swap seats with Keenan.
That cannot happen without a fight, however, as Tracy looks to infuse fresh blood into a legislative district he says has become stagnant.
“I was urged to run by friends, neighbors, business leaders, and school associates, which I take very seriously,” Tracy said in an interview. “When you have been in the public sector for 12 years, six of those with the transportation department moving 500 kids a day, you get to know the members of the local community and they said we need some fresh blood. They feel it’s time to elect a leader with whom they can communicate, time for a leader who will listen and time for a leader who will be responsive.”
Having served as the transportation director for Bigfork School District 38 for the past six years, during which time he helped improve school bus safety by lengthening the stop sign arms on school buses to curb incidents of drivers illegally passing, Tracy said he was looking to continue serving his community in retirement.
“After finding a new person to replace me, and bringing them up to the level, I thought that’s what legislators should do after they term out — after eight years, it’s time to cultivate new leaders to take the baton,” Tracy said. “I’ve got a business background and I’ve shown that I’m a proven leader in the public sector, and I want to keep pursuing that kind of service.”
According to Noland, who was first elected in 2014 and has represented his district through four legislative sessions, his experience and familiarity with the legislative process is precisely what will make him an effective leader in the state Senate.
“It’s important to have those associations so when you go to the capital you can get things done,” Noland said in an interview. “It’s important to build relationships within the governor’s office, which I’ve done with Governor Gianforte. Same with the lobbyists. I’ve built the relationships and the trust to get the right bills through the process.”
Having chaired the House Business and Labor Committee since 2017, Noland said he’s helped bring more efficiency to state government by encouraging industry lobbyists to work together and cooperate on legislative efforts that are mutually agreeable to various segments of the Montana economy.
“In one session I had 90 different liquor bills come through my committee. Liquor is obviously important to the economy, but that’s too many bills. So I encouraged the liquor coalition [Montana Alcohol Coalition] to work some of these out ahead of time,” Noland said. “Getting bills through the Legislature isn’t easy. And it isn’t supposed to be. When you make a law that affects all of Montana it needs to be well thought out and well planned before it’s incorporated.”
If elected, Noland pledged to continue fighting to drive down residential property taxes by removing “bureaucratic red tape” on extractive industries, including timber, oil and gas, so that tax collections from those industries can help provide greater property tax relief.
For Tracy, public school education will remain a top priority if he’s elected. Tracy said he’d encourage employers to take advantage of Montana’s existing Trades Education and Training Tax Credit to help incentivize students to pursue a trade profession, which also helps Montana businesses meet workforce requirements. He also said improving affordable housing and mental health resources would figure into his legislative agenda, which he outlines on his website at www.tracyformt.com.
Tracy said his fiscal responsibility was evident during his tenure as transportation director for the Bigfork School District, where he maintained a budget 20% below the allotted levels.
“If one were to take the necessary time and look hard, there are reasonable ways in which to trim a budget without jeopardizing our health, safety and welfare,” Tracy said.
On whether they support the U.S. Supreme Court’s possible decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade case establishing a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, Noland said he hopes the landmark case is overturned and that the framework for regulating abortion will be returned to the states. Tracy said that, while he personally supports the “right of life,” he would like to see better framework for providing counseling and other family planning decisions.
For a map of Montana’s legislative districts, visit sosmt.gov.