Oct. 14--HELENA -- John Lewis, a former top aide to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, said Monday he is running for Montana's lone U.S. House seat in 2014 because Congress isn't doing the job for working families in the state.
"Montana deserves more from Congress," Lewis, the first Democrat to jump into the House race, told a crowd of about 50 people at the Helena Labor Temple. He was accompanied by his wife, Melissa, and their two young children.
He said he's running for the seat held now by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican, because he's concerned about the future of Montana and the future of his children. He described himself as someone who will work with congressmen from both parties to find solutions.
"We need to focus more on solutions and less on partisan politics," said Lewis, a Billings native raised in Missoula.
Lewis, 35, who worked for Baucus a dozen years, has been laying the groundwork for several months to enter what could be an open race for the U.S. House, while five Republicans say they will run for the seat.
Daines, the incumbent, is expected to run for the Senate seat being vacated in 2014 by Baucus, a Democrat, and not seek re-election to the House. However, Daines hasn't officially announced his plans.
Lewis on Monday told how the latest Honor Flight of World War II veterans from Montana is in Washington, D.C., to see the monuments and memorials, only to find some of them barricaded because of the government shutdown.
"It's outrageous and we can do better," he said. "It's absolutely disgusting. Across Montana, veterans are hurting, their families are hurting, small businesses are hurting, farmers and ranchers are hurting, all because of the irresponsible actions of a small handful, and they're a handful in Congress. It's got to change, and it will."
Lewis didn't offer specific solutions, but said he would travel to all parts of the state to meet with constituents, if elected. As state director for Baucus, he traveled to more than 120 cities to visit with mayors about local issues and needs.
Lewis hopes to be the first Democrat to hold Montana's House seat since Pat Williams, who retired in early 1997. Since then, three Republicans -- Rick Hill, Denny Rehberg and Steve Daines -- have held the seat.
"No question for the last 17 years, this seat been part of the problem, not the solution," Lewis said.
He has been raising money for the race for six weeks, and said he'll report Tuesday he has raised about $189,000 during that time and has $182,000 left in his campaign account as of Sept. 30. Lewis has not donated any personal funds to his campaign.
In an interview, Lewis praised Baucus' work in the Senate, but said he's his own candidate.
"Me running is about me, and running for Congress, not about Max and his great service to the state," Lewis said. "It's about the future. That's what I'm going to be focused on and how we get a Congress that works together to help for working families in Montana, living within our means and making responsible decisions."
He was asked about Baucus' signature 2010 law, the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," which still remains highly controversial today.
"What I know is it's not perfect," Lewis said. "It needs to be looked at."
But he said congressional Republicans want only to repeal it, rather than improve it.
"Repeal is not an option," Lewis said. Thousands of Montanans already are benefiting because they can now get insurance despite having pre-existing medical conditions that previously blocked them from getting insurance, he said.
Lewis also endorsed the proposed Forest Jobs and Recreation Act sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., which would set aside 667,000 acres of new wilderness and designate at least 100,000 acres of national forest land for logging on three national forests.
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