Whitefish native enters U.S. House election

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Whitefish Democrat JARED PETTINATO recently announced his candidacy for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House.

Last year, Montana Democrats took a bruising loss in the race for Montana’s lone House of Representatives seat. But that hasn’t deterred them from trying to unseat Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Bozeman, in 2018.

So far, six Democrats have announced their candidacy in the primaries. One of those, Jared Pettinato, hails from Whitefish and sat down with the Daily Inter Lake on Friday.

The attorney says that his experience in environmental issues will make him an effective voice for the region and state in Washington.

“I think I can deliver more for Northwest Montana than the other Democrats, and more than Gianforte as well,” he said. “My experience with natural resources, with forest management, that’s what Northwest Montana needs.”

Pettinato, 38, grew up in Whitefish before attending the University of Montana and Stanford Law School, then litigating a wide range of environmental and infrastructure cases with the U.S. Department of Justice. He currently lives in Bozeman.

On his website and in person, Pettinato puts the lessons from that experience front and center. He predicts that with the right policies, wind energy could become Montana’s next big export.

“We’ve got a lot of potential wind energy in Eastern Montana,” he said. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this region has “some of the best wind potential in the nation.”

And Pettinato sees a likely market in the West.

“Oregon has a 50 percent renewable-energy target,” aiming to generate half its power from renewables by 2040. “We can supply that,” he said.

To that end, “I would look for some incentives to taking the wind energy and moving it to the coasts” via transmission lines, and making sure that “the tax burdens and all the other subsidies are even among all the energy producers.”

It’s not clear how much one representative could do to start a Montana wind boom. The American Wind Energy Association credits the federal wind-energy production tax credit, repeatedly renewed by Congress since 1992, with nurturing the nation’s wind-power industry. But with that industry maturing in many places, it’s now scheduled to sunset in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says that interstate transmission lines are generally approved by the states.

Before Pettinato can secure support and resources for wind in Washington, he’ll need to sell voters on the idea. In his Daily Inter Lake interview, he voiced confidence that Eastern Montana farmers will be eager to rent their land for wind turbines. He hasn’t yet discussed this prospect with them, but said that “they’re business people, so I have faith that they are gonna see the opportunities here.”

His campaign also stresses a much-discussed policy in Western Montana: forest management, the selective logging and thinning of forests to improve their health and feed the timber industry. “They can make money based on removing some of the trees. That’s healthy for the forest as well, and it can be good for the wildlife,”

Montana’s current Congressional delegation is also keen on the practice. As the Daily Inter Lake has reported this fall, Gianforte and Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester are all backing legislation that would remove barriers that recent lawsuits have set in front of forest-management projects.

Pettinato doesn’t agree with that approach. “I think everyone deserves to have their day in court, that’s a right we have. I think that process is very important to make sure that the Forest Service is doing the right thing, and to make sure that people have an opportunity to bring forward their ideas, their perspectives.”

If elected, he said he could craft forest management policies that the courts would accept.

“That is the value increment that I would add ... I also have this experience in the Department of Justice doing this litigation, so when it comes to writing the laws and working them out with people, I have some expertise that I could bring to bear on that, and I think that that’s going to have some weight with the colleagues that I would have in the House of Representatives.”

That experience is also why Pettinato thinks he can triumph in a crowded primary field that includes three former state legislators, then win a seat that Republicans have held for two decades.

Discussing his work with the Department of Justice, and, before that, a federal grand jury and as a clerk for former Montana Supreme Court Justice Bill Leapheart, he added, “all of those pieces, I can bring them together, in a way that tells me I can more effectively move Montana forward.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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