"Ryan and I are good friends. I identify very closely with him politically," Buttrey says. "We have to protect this seat. We've got to ultimately win the special election and then we've got to have someone that really wants to hold on to this seat long term and is willing to work with anyone and everyone to make these changes that we’re going to see at the federal level."
Ryan Zinke defeated Democrat Denise Juneau last month to win a second term.
Governor Steve Bullock has roughly three months to call a special election once Zinke resigns.
Buttrey says he’s interested in creating meaningful change for Montana and the United States:
"Well honestly, I'd like to see some big changes in healthcare law. I think there's some neat, innovative things that we've done as a state and that we can continue to do, but it ultimately means that we need to have control over how we run our healthcare programs -- our government-sponsored healthcare programs. Ultimately I'd like to see us have full control as a state.
"I think there's going to be lots of changes implementing natural resource policy, public lands policy. We need to be able to extract our resources in a responsible and environmentally-friendly way. We've got to protect the public lands, but these are lands that are ours and we need to be able to put them to good use."
Edward O'Brien: Do you see instances where you would support the potential sale or transfer of public lands?
Ed Buttrey: Taking control of our public lands is something the state of Montana cannot afford to do. And I'm not gonna say there aren't cases where there are tiny bubbles of public land that could best be served being put into private use. And I'm all for running some sort of pilot project or something where we can figure out what the actual cost would be of maintaining and actually taking control over those public lands, but we can't jump into it with both feet.
EO: Senator Buttrey, you've been described as being part of a cadre of so called maverick Republicans who on occasion partnered with Democrats on certain issue: campaign finance reform, tribal water compact, Medicaid expansion -- or Montana's version of Medicaid expansion. Is that label fair, and do you see it as a liability or a strength?
EB: I would see it as a strength. I think the group that you referred to as myself being a part of is a group of business folks who say look, the solution is not, legislatively to sit and point the finger at the other party and say they're always wrong and we're always right. You have to be able to hear all sides of a discussion. When you sit down and talk with people who have varying opinions you actually come up with a better solution.
EO: Democrats may see this as a second chance, and show out in force to support their candidate, whoever it may be. Do you think whoever is selected to run may have a more difficult, more challengeing race than Congressman Zinke did?
EB: Oh I do. I've heard a lot of people say this will be a very low turnout election, and I think that with the defeats at the federal level and across the state -- with the exception of the governor's race -- I think the Democrats will view this as an incredible opportunity to gain momentum going into the elections two years from now, and I expect they'll turn out in great numbers. Why did Ryan beat Denise Juneau so bad? Well I think it's because Ryan took the right, he took the middle, he took the Independents, and I think he took a pretty good number of people on the left. I think for us to win this special election, we're gonna have to have a very Ryan Zinke-like candidate."
Montana’s incoming state auditor, meanwhile, says he’s also thinking about seeking the nomination to replace Congressman Zinke next year.
Republican State Senator Matt Rosendale tells Montana Public Radio he’s been approached by many Montanans who are encouraging him to run:
"From all four corners. Whether it’s from central committee members or just private citizens. I’ve got a lot of folks who are contacting me and that’s who I want to hear from," Rosendale says.
Rosendale, from Glendive, says he’ll announce his decision sometime after the holidays.
Part-time Whitefish resident, Richard Spencer is also reportedly thinking about campaigning for the seat. Spencer is a leader in the so-called alt-right movement, which espouses white nationalism. State senator Ed Buttrey says he would not like to see that happen:
"I don’t think that’s good for anybody. I think that people who exclude demographics or types of people, I just don’t think that’s what we want in politics."
No Democrats have so far announced their intention to run for the seat.