State Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, the Hill County Democratic chair, shocked Hill County Democrats Sunday night when he announced he was not going to seek re-election and that he would resign his party’s chairmanship.
Bachmeier — the youngest serving state official in the country after winning his seat in 2016 — said his duties with Big Sky 55 Plus, with whom he holds a full-time job, conflicted “time-wise, ethically and legally” with serving simultaneously in the Montana Legislature. He said he is concerned with the ethical implications of working with the PAC while serving as a lawmaker. Big Sky 55 Plus is an advocacy group that focuses on health care, Social Security and other issues of concern to older Montanans.
He also works with a political action committee, Big Sky 55 Plus PAC, which shares similar goals.
Those jobs, combined with his status as a Montana State University-Northern student, made it impossible for Bachmeier to work the required time the state representative job deserves, he said.
The party has already lined up a candidate to succeed him in his House seat, he said.
Krystal Steinmetz, Havre civic activist, filed following Bachmeier’s announcement to run for the Democratic nomination for House District 28 seat.
“I think she will do incredibly well,” Bachmeier said. “I wholeheartedly endorse her campaign for House District 28.”
Applications for the chair position must be filed by March 15, he said.
His resignation as chair is effective upon the election of a new chair. The county Democratic committee had already decided to meet on March 15 to adopt new bylaws.
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Bachmeier said he is not leaving politics altogether and looks forward to serving in House District 28 again. He said he is simply removing himself from the 2020 cycle.
He said he will remain available to the new chair and the new representative and help out “as much or as little as they want.”
His decision may have statewide implications.
District 28, the city of Havre and its immediate surroundings, is considered a toss-up district. Many believed Bachmeier a favorite to win re-election.
Bachmeier gained national attention in 2016, when he declared his candidacy before his 18th birthday. He filed his declaration of candidacy while still a student at Havre High School.
Although Donald Trump carried Bachmeier’s district in the 2016 election, Bachmeier defeated incumbent Republican Stephanie Hess after beating Will Rawn in the Democratic primary. The Montana Democratic Party helped Bachmeier wage a vigorous campaign.
For two years, Bachmeier was the youngest elected state official in the United States.
Over the years, Democrats dominated in Hill County’s state legislature delegation. However, immediately prior to Bachmeier’s election, the county, except for the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, had elected only Republicans.
Bachmeier usually sided with his party’s caucus in the Legislature. He especially prided himself on constituent service.
When the Montana Department of Agriculture ordered Keeley Wilson, who has Williams Syndrome, to pay high license fees to operate her homemade dog treat business, Bachmeier shepherded a reform bill through the Legislature. Wilson and Bachmeier were HHS classmates.
He also worked to change regulations so Havre area veterans who needed dialysis treatment could get it at Northern Montana Hospital instead of traveling to Great Falls.
But his effort to name the “Hippy, Hippy Shake” as the Treasure State’s official rock-and-roll song, was defeated in a partisan donnybrook. Billings resident Chan Romero wrote the song in the 1950s.
Still, Bachmeier has a passion for knocking on doors while campaigning, seeking votes, enrolling new voters and hearing ideas about how state government can help Havre people.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the part about Steinmetz filing to run for HD 28.
Email John Kelleher at [email protected]