The top Democrat in the Montana House, Rep. Jenny Eck of Helena, said Tuesday she won’t run for re-election this year, because of the obligations of a new job.
Eck, who had no opposition this year for a fourth term representing House District 79, said she’s taking over next month as executive director of the Friendship Center, a Helena nonprofit organization that aids victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“I’m excited to be able to put all of my energy into that, and see what we can accomplish in that arena in the years to come,” she told MTN News.
Eck, 39, said she’ll serve out the remainder of her term as House minority leader, through the end of the year.
The Lewis and Clark County Democratic Central Committee will choose a replacement for Eck on the general election ballot. No other candidate is in the race, so the Democratic replacement for Eck will become HD79’s representative next year.
Eck first won election in the district that covers Helena’s west side in 2012 and was re-elected in 2014 and 2016. Fellow Democrats elected her as House minority leader for the 2017 Legislature. Democrats have a 41-member minority in the 100-member House.
Eck said she considered staying in the Legislature, but that she didn’t feel she could do her new job and be an effective minority leader at the same time.
“If I didn’t have a family, I could probably do both things well, but that would mean just not being home at all, and that’s not an option,” she said. “If I don’t think I can give (the House leadership job) what it deserves, I should let someone else step up.”
Still, Eck said she plans to continue as Democratic House minority leader through the rest of this year, including work to campaign to elect fellow Democrats to the Legislature.
“I do think this is a year for us to pick up seats,” she said. “I do think we’re seeing a blue wave across the country, and Montana is part of that, so I anticipate (Democrats) will have a strong showing this session.”
Eck said she’s most proud of her work to enact Medicaid expansion, which now covers nearly 100,000 low-income Montanans. The bill approving the program passed in 2015, with the support of all House Democrats and some moderate Republicans.
She said she regrets being unable to pass a major infrastructure bill, which was defeated in the final days of both the 2015 and 2017 legislatures.
“We came so close, so that’s a hard one to let go of,” Eck told MTN News. “But, you know, when you’re in the minority, you just have to fight to good fight and we absolutely have done that.”