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

Matt Rosendale.
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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 offices over 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 estate and 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 Poll published last week.

Premiums for health insurance decreased in Montana in the last two years, which is largely attributed to a reinsurance program passed by the state Legislature. Rosendale proposed a reinsurance program in 2017 but it failed to become law. A different version passed the 2019 legislature bipartisan support. 

However, the reinsurance program is made possible through federal funds coming into Montana from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, a health care law that Rosendale adamantly opposes.

Rosendale_3 “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.” 09 

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

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. 

as the state’s commissioner of securities and insurance. Republicans have held Montana’s House seat since 1995. 

Rosendale_5 “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.” 07

Premiums for health insurance did decrease in Montana in the last two years, which is largely attributed to a reinsurance program passed by the state Legislature. It passed the 2019 legislature bipartisan support. Rosendale supported the legislation along with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. 

However, the program is made possible through federal funds coming into Montana from the Affordable Care Act, a health care law that Rosendale adamantly opposes.

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. 

I sat down for an interview with Rosendale at his campaign headquarters in Helena a few weeks ago and I asked about his opposition to the health care law. 

Rosendale_3 “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.” 09 

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

During Rosendale’s time as auditor President Donald Trump’s administration made one of these options - short-term insurance plans - more appealing to 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.

were during his time as state auditor. He’s been criticized for one of those options — short-term insurance — which is limited and doesn’t cover 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. I asked Rosendale what he would tell Medicaid expansion recipients who might be worried about losing that coverage. 

Rosendale said there are other options and that he’s looking at how to expand them so Medicaid recipients aren’t left high and dry. He gave the example of direct primary care facilities, saying people can get consistent care through those providers and hopefully save on health care costs. 

Rosendale_7. “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 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 was a businessman and worked in real estate before entering politics. He bought a ranch 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. 

Rosendale_4 “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.” 27

This is Rosendale’s third campaign in four years. He’s competing for an open seat left vacant by Republcan Rep. Greg Gianforte, who’s running for governor. His opponent is Democrat Kathleen Williams. 

Williams has dubbed Rosendale a QUOTE political climber UNQUOTE for having run for three different offices. Rosendale rejects that claim. 

Rosendale_8 “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 back on my ranch 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.” 18

If elected to Congress, Rosendale said dealing with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic will be a top issue. He’s published an eight-point plan he says will help. 

“It’s going to be critically important to reignite our economy again and so these plans cover everything from having a predictable regulatory climate, having a predictable tax climate.”

The plan also encourages development of natural resources and pushes for legislation that shields businesses, churches, schools, and nonprofits from liability related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rosendale said the work he’s most proud of are the health care reforms he’s undertaken as auditor. For example, Rosendale authorized health care providers to open up direct primary care facilities, which allow people to negotiate payment for service directly with providers. 

Rosendale_6 “They are providing extremely high quality health care. They have dropped the cost dramatically for the folks who are utilizing them. And I’m getting feedback not only from the patients that are using those facilities — and the quality of the health care, and the savings they are experiencing, but I’m also getting regular contact from the physicians that own those facilities that are reaching out and expressing how much that they enjoy practicing medicine again instead of spending 60% of their time filing paperwork with the federal government.”

Rosendale said others around the country are trying to replicate some of the policies he’s pushed.

Rosendale_1 “As a matter of fact, the president came out with an executive order several weeks ago that takes the language from the prescription drug legislation that I was able to get passed in bipartisan fashion in 2019 and it basically applies that to the Medicare program.”

Rosendale is talking about a bill that passed the Legislature, but was later vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. 

The legislation aimed to regulate pharmacy benefit managers — middlemen who broker deals between insurance companies, manufacturers, pharmacies, and the government. Proponents of the bill said PBMs unfairly benefit from rebates from drugmakers without passing on the savings to consumers, jacking up drug prices. 

President Donald Trump announced an executive order in July that he said would put a stop to this practice and lower prices. 

The Washington Post reported that this order was largely symbolic because the policy still has to go through an official rulemaking process that could take months or years to complete.

President Trump came up early in my conversation with Rosendale. He’s been an outspoken supporter of the president. It was a key theme of his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate. He lost that race to Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester. 

During that campaign, Trump visited Montana four times stumping for Rosendale. Trump has yet to visit Montana this election cycle, although the president said it’s not off the table during a recent tele-rally he held for Rosendale and Republcan U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who’s running for re-election against Bullock. 

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

Rosendale_2 “So I’ve worked with a Democrat governor for the eight, ten 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.” 23

Rosendale and Democratic Gov. Bullock have butted heads in the past, especially over the prescription drug bill that Rosendale pushed and Bullock vetoed. 

[Butte ambi]

In a spacious warehouse south of Butte last week, 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. 

Ruppert told me he had originally voted for Republican Debra Lamm instead of Rosendale in the primary election. Lamm is a friend of his wife’s. 

However, now that Rosendale is on the ticket, the Rupperts are fully behind him. 

Ruppert_1 “We don’t believe that this nation has 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. 

Ruppert_2 “And I am really pleased with the way they take care of me and my wife.” 04

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

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 within the margin of error in the Montana State University Treasure State Poll published last week. 

Election Day is Nov. 3.

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