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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Campaigning for 2nd District seat, Democrat Ronning works to ‘keep the party together’

 Candidate Penny Ronning speaks to members of the Dawson County Democratic party at its annual picnic in Glendive.
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Candidate Penny Ronning speaks to members of the Dawson County Democratic party at its annual picnic in Glendive.

On a Sunday in September, the Dawson County Democratic party held its Annual Picnic in Glendive.

Located by the North Dakota border, Glendive accounts for a little more than half of Dawson County’s roughly 9,000 residents. About 30 Democrats have gathered under a pavilion here for the local party’s picnic and to hear Penny Ronning speak.

"I could not be more proud of that grassroot efforts that’s happening with community like yours," Ronning told the crowd.

Retired mental health counselor Al Height said it’s important to him that Montanans have good jobs, fair pay and robust health insurance.

“The medical system should be meeting the needs of poor and middle class people,” Height said.

Ronning has been on the road in the weeks and months before the Nov. 8 election to meet constituents like these and campaign for their votes — and she'll need all the votes she can get in a crowded race.

The 2nd Congressional District stretches from eastern Montana west to Park County, skirts around Bozeman and then slants vertically upward to include Helena, Great Falls and Shelby. Ronning is competing for votes in conservative-leaning, rural eastern Montana against independent Gary Buchanan, Libertarian Sam Rankin and Republican incumbent Matt Rosendale.

Ronning grew up in Billings, the largest population center within the second district. She served four years on the city council and co-founded the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force.

She touts the state legislation she’s helped to get passed, like two 2019 bills that revised human trafficking laws in Montana.

“I’ve been executive directors of different nonprofit organizations in which we’ve also lobbied for different issues and gotten different issues passed at different levels of government,” she said. “Currently, within the human trafficking work I do, I also work on federal legislation.”

She’s a supporter of public land access and responsible gun ownership. When it comes to agriculture — a rural issue she says is tied intimately to both the economy and health care — Ronning says she wants to see small ranching operations be able to compete in the same market as monopolies.

“Our family farms, the food product they produce, they understand that they’re beholden to the end consumer," Ronning said, "so they’re producing a food product that is healthy, is beneficial to the person that’s going to eat that food product."

Ronning is also campaigning on the health of the environment and combating climate change — for instance, by introducing more renewables, but in coordination with traditional fuels.

“The reality is that we don’t have renewables in place, so we still need to be addressing coal and oil and gas as that’s the type of energy that we’re using," she said. "And I do think that both of those industries have systems in place and they’re constantly improving the systems.”

A recent change at the national level Ronning says she does not agree with is the Supreme Court's repeal of Roe v. Wade, which overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

“My position is and always has been that government does not have the right and should not have the right to make medical choices over someone’s own personal body," Ronning said. "That that type of a choice is the individual right."

Ronning has made it clear in her congressional campaign that she wants to unseat Rosendale — not an easy feat in an area of the state he carried by a large margin in 2020. And, she’ll have to contend with Buchanan, who’s after some of the same Democratic voters she is.

In Glendive, Ronning urged the Dawson County Democrats to vote Democrat: “Keep the party together.”

Copyright 2022 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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