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Elsie Arntzen, Republican candidate for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat

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Posted at 9:00 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 23:37:21-04

TOWNSEND — Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen says Montana's eastern congressional district is one of the most conservative in the country, and she believes Republican primary voters there are looking for a candidate who's conservative not only on fiscal issues, but cultural ones as well.

“There is a war on our families,” she said. “There is a war because of the challenges of agendas that have infiltrated into our communities, into our schools, and I have fought that and stood up to that my entire time being the state superintendent.”

(Watch: MTN's profile on Elsie Arntzen)

Elsie Arntzen, Republican candidate for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat

MTN spoke to Arntzen at the Broadwater County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner, near Townsend.

Arntzen, 67, is a native of Billings. After working in business and nonprofits and getting involved with schools through her children, she went back to college and got an education degree. She then spent 23 years as a public school teacher. In 2004, she was elected to the Montana House, where she served eight years before winning a seat in the state Senate. In 2016, she was elected state superintendent, and she won a second term in 2020. Because of term limits, she could not run for reelection.

“I had four buildings when I got onto campus, I'm down to one right now,” she said. “I believe in choice – school choice, family choice, putting our children, our future forward – and also our employees, so I've given them great choice in where to work, disassembling centralized government and bringing it back to their communities.”

Arntzen says, in her role as superintendent, she’s pushed back against the federal government where she believes it’s overstepped onto states’ rights, most recently on the Biden administration’s proposed update to Title IX rules to cover discrimination based on gender identity. She has sent a letter to school districts, telling them the changes go against state law and individual rights.

“Anything that the federal government doesn't have in that constitution, that needs to go back to the states’ rights – and the Department of Education, I would like to have that thing removed,” she said.

Elsie Arntzen
Elsie Arntzen, Republican candidate for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat, at the Tri-County Republican Candidate Roundup at the Kleffner, near East Helena.

Arntzen made one previous run for U.S. House, in the 2014 Republican primary. In this race, she’s promised to follow the example of incumbent U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, who isn’t seeking another term. She’s been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-Virginia, who chairs the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus – which Rosendale is a prominent member of and which Arntzen says she hopes to join.

“I'm not going to be able to fill Matt Rosendale’s shoes exactly, but I am that American First candidate, and so excited that the Eastern Congressional District will be represented by Elsie Arntzen, who I believe is the most conservative in this race,” she said.

Rosendale became known for pushing back strongly against GOP leaders in Congress and for supporting procedural motions to raise concerns about the budgeting process and what he saw as excessive spending. Arntzen said she saw what Rosendale did as simply following the rules.

“When I was a legislator for 12 years, we had single subject bills,” she said. “We did not have omnibus or minibuses or anything else like that, that earmarked things into that budget. So what he has done is just templated what we do in Montana, and done that in Congress. I'm going to follow that very same place. I firmly believe that the rules that are there, that are available, should be used.”

Asked if Congress should consider additional abortion regulations at the federal level, Arntzen said it’s also a states’ rights issue.

“That is something that the Supreme Court has already shared that with,” she said. “I recognize as a female where we need to be with that health care decision, and it's a family decision. That is something that needs to be open and transparent in our state capitals with a very vibrant discussion.”

In a district where agriculture is a main industry, Arntzen says she’s concerned about the federal farm bill being tied to other policies that aren’t directly helping farmers and ranchers. She says energy development, including coal and oil, remain important priorities for eastern Montana. She believes it was a mistake for Congress to approve aid for Ukraine without tying it to funding for constructing the wall on the southern border.

Arntzen says she wants to offer voters principled leadership, and to show them she won’t back down.

“I'm not afraid of a challenge or a battle,” she said. “I understand what's right.”

Arntzen is just one of 12 candidates, including eight Republicans, running for the eastern district House seat. You can find interviews with all of them here.