Hill picks Sonju as running mate

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill and his running mate Jon Sonju talk with Larry Viano of Kalispell on Wednesday morning at the Sassafras Ballroom in Kalispell.

Rick Hill, former Montana congressman and current Republican gubernatorial candidate, has tapped into the Flathead Valley, naming state Sen. Jon Sonju of Kalispell as his running mate Wednesday.

Hill, widely regarded as a frontrunner among eight candidates in the Republican primary race, told a gathering of supporters in Kalispell that he envisions Sonju playing a substantive role as lieutenant governor.

He later acknowledged the importance of having a running mate from the Flathead’s Republican bastion.

“Obviously, politically, this is an important area,” Hill said. But he added that Sonju was the pick because “he brings a lot of important qualities to the job. I need someone to do heavy lifting.”

Hill cited Sonju’s experience in business and working with the Legislature, as well as Sonju’s efforts as chairman of an interim committee that is exploring ways to improve efficiencies in government.

Sonju, a 36-year-old business development manager for his family’s business, Sonju Industrial, said he intends to make a mark with government reform and selling the state.

“Basically, I want to be Montana’s salesman,” said Sonju, who has served in the Legislature since 2004. “I want to sell Montana’s business not only nationally but worldwide.”

Sonju and Hill said they expect the work of the bipartisan Committee on Government Efficiency to yield improvements and efficiencies in state government.

“Rick and I know that the economic problems faced by our state won’t be solved by more government mandates coming from Helena — the real problem-solvers are the thousands of small business owners that are the true economic engine of the state,” Sonju said. “We need to manage a state government we can afford. It’s time Helena understands it’s not their money — it’s your money.”

State Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, was among several Republican legislators on hand for the announcement with praise for Sonju’s selection.

“Jon’s our homegrown boy, our homegrown senator,” Tutvedt said. “I think he’ll bring a lot of energy to this.”

Sonju is the third person from the Flathead to be picked as a lieutenant governor candidate for the 2012 elections.

State Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, is the running mate for Republican Neil Livingstone of Helena. Republican Bob Fanning of Pray selected Flathead resident Chuck Baldwin as his running mate.

Sonju and Hill were scheduled to travel to Helena and Bozeman this week for more campaign events.

“I’m going to be a constant campaigner. I’m all in,” said Sonju, who lives in Kalispell with his wife, Tania, and their two young sons.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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