HELENA — State Sen. Al Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon from Kalispell, officially kicked off his 2020 campaign for governor Wednesday, becoming the third prominent Republican to openly campaign for what will be an open seat next year.
Olszewski, 56, said he’d make affordable health care a priority for his campaign, promoting a mix of government and free-market policies that would lower health-care costs and make it more accessible to all citizens.
“What we have done with health care so far … is that health care is profitable for some, free for others and it’s very, very burdensome for most,” he said at a news conference in front of the Capitol. “And that’s got to stop, and we’re going to fix that.”
MTN News reported two weeks ago that Olszewski was running for governor, as part of a crowded field vying to succeed Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who can’t run again because of term limits.
Two other Republican officeholders, Attorney General Tim Fox and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, announced earlier this year that they’re running for the seat. And U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, also a Republican, is said to be considering the race, although he hasn’t indicated publicly what he plans to do.
A Democratic candidate for governor in 2020 has yet to emerge.
Olszewski has been in the Legislature since 2015 and won his state Senate seat in 2016. He ran last year for the U.S. Senate, but came in fourth in a four-way Republican primary to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
At his announcement Wednesday, Olszewski stood in front of two dozen state legislators from the party’s conservative wing, including Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas of Stevensville and House Majority Leader Brad Tschida of Missoula.
“We can do better and we should do better,” Olszewski said. “So, with the encouragement and endorsement of everybody behind me … I am willing to announce I am your next candidate for governor of this great state of Montana.”
When asked how he would distinguish himself from the other Republicans in the race, Olszewski said he would run a positive campaign that staked out his positions.
“We’re not going to run against anybody and we’re … going to make sure this is a positive, constructive campaign,” he said. “We are here because we don’t believe that you can be anointed governor; you have to be elected governor.”
In the Legislature, Olszewski is known for his sponsorship of bills on health-care policy and, occasionally, regulating abortion. However, he’s been a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion, the $750 million-a-year program that provides government-funded health care to about 96,000 low-income adults in the state.