On Jan. 11th of this year, I wrote a check for $15, filled out a form on the Secretary of State’s website and signed on the dotted line to become a candidate for the Montana Senate in District 14. Since that cold winter day over 290 days ago, I’ve had the unique opportunity of traveling the highways and dirt roads of this sprawling rural district, which encompasses a large section of northern Montana, from the Canadian border to neighborhoods in northern Great Falls.
In addition to putting thousands of miles on my truck, I’ve also listened to thousands of residents of this special place, as I’ve asked them about how state government should function, what their priorities are and what they expect from their legislators.
The residents of this district have been engaged, thoughtful and welcoming, and for that I am thankful. They also have great ideas about what they expect from state government — and those ideas are consistent with the key areas I’ve been discussing during the campaign on porches, front doors, driveways and during listening sessions.
Developing common-sense solutions to the challenges we face is nothing new to our area. Through necessity, rural Montanans have always come together, regardless of partisan affiliation, to invest in our communities, build our infrastructure and educate the next generation. A positive, forward-focused outlook concerning our collective future, and not worrying about who gets credit for good ideas, has sustained our region in good times and in bad. These ideas are what people in northern Montana continue to support as they look to the future.
Supporting quality schools, building community infrastructure, protecting public lands, keeping college tuition affordable, assuring rural hospitals remain open and financially viable, and helping small businesses to thrive are the key components of my campaign. They are also the issues most important to the residents of Senate District 14.
As the general election nears, I want to thank the residents of this Senate district for their thoughts, ideas and encouragement. It is only through genuine, respectful dialogue that we will be able to make this special part of Montana an even better place to live, work, raise a family and build a business.
I would be honored with your vote on Election Day, or by absentee ballot. Regardless of who you support, however, remember to vote. Our future depends on it.
“I’m still young enough to care about stuff, yet old enough to know I don’t have all the answers.” Now is the perfect time, Paul Tuss says, to run for public office. The opportunity to win a seat in the state Senate seems like a natural fit to him.
Politics have been part of life for as long as he remembers. In college he switched degrees from journalism to political science. As an adult, the itch for public service has lingered in the background, waiting to be acknowledged and engaged. In 2000, he scratched a little and unsuccessfully ran for secretary of state.
Paul believes the timing to run for office couldn’t get any better. The pieces in his life, the ones that have fallen away and the ones still standing have formed a path to, hopefully, the Senate.
Paul is running for the state Senate District 14 seat. He will try to unseat Russ Tempel of Liberty County, an Army veteran, former farmer, and former Liberty County commissioner who served three terms. In November, voters of SD 14 will decide if Tuss or Russ will represent them.
Campaigning is constant, exhausting work, he’s discovered. On Saturday, Paul walked in the Festival Days parade, with a bag of candy in tow to give to kids clamoring for sweets. During a sit-down with The Havre Herald on Sept. 18, Paul said his campaign has knocked on 5,000 doors, an air of gleeful accomplishment accompanying the news.
But campaigning is not just physical work. Even when all is quiet and the day is nearly over, he’s still on the trail, working in a different capacity. “If you’re not doing something about the campaign, you’re thinking about it.”
But he believes it’s worth it. Because it’s fun. Because this is what he wants to do. Because hard work is enjoyable when there is purpose.
The first thing one might notice about Paul is that he smiles a lot. It seems to come very naturally. He also enjoys telling anecdotes.
One of the stories he told was about the time he and the governor snuck out for a beer. The story was prompted by the governor’s visit to Havre, which happened the day of the interview. Gov. Steve Bullock stopped in Havre to talk about agricultural development and health care. The governor is a longtime friend of Paul’s, going back to when they were teenagers. The two have hunted together and Bullock, Paul said, gesturing toward the couch the reporter was sitting on, has used that exact couch as a bed more than once.
Sometime during his second year as governor, Paul said, Bullock came up to Havre and stayed at the Tuss house. After his security detail left, Paul snuck the governor to Triple Dog Brewing Co., for beer and conversation.
“We felt like teenagers,” Paul said, almost giggling.
Unsurprisingly, the patrons drinking at the popular Havre brewery made them. The governor was in the house, people recognized.
Bullock made it back safely that night.
A New Weird Reality
Since Nov. 1, 2000, Paul has been the executive director for Bear Paw Development Corp. in Havre. Originally from Anaconda, he came to Havre –but not before he stopped in a few other Montana places along the way –for that job.
When he moved to Havre, Paul not only took over the former executive director of Bear Paw Development’s position, but he took his old house. The old director had already moved out and moved on. The Tusses, new to town, needed a home. So, at first the new executive director stayed in the former executive director’s house, sleeping on a blowup mattress, thinking his stay there would be temporary. Eventually, concluding there was no other house in Havre they liked better, Paul and his family moved in.
A lot has changed since Paul first moved to Havre. The house is once again empty. But not like it was during those first days. The furniture and knick knacks and pictures and all the inanimate items are still there. So is the couch on which Bullock sleeps. But the Tuss children are gone. His daughter, who left for college a month ago, was the last to go, leaving Paul alone in the house to confront the new “surreal” reality of an empty nest.
“It’s super weird,” he says.
Two years ago, Paul’s wife of 27 years, Pam Hilery died. The anniversary of her death was last Friday.
Paul and Pam met at University of Montana, she from Virginia, he a catholic Montanan born to and raised by blue collar parents of five. They married in 1989 and then had two children.
Paul and Pam agreed that public life was important. Pam served two four-year terms on Havre City Council, and after she came down with ALS, she was appointed to fill a council vacancy. Over the years, she was active in a host of youth, educational, cultural, musical and political activities in Havre. Pam publicly shared her battle with the deteriorating disease on Facebook, in newspaper columns and at community lectures. Even as her death neared, she was a strong advocate of the proposal to spend millions of dollars to rehabilitate Havre’s crumbling streets.
Had Pam not died, Paul says he doesn’t know if he would be running for office. But public life is certainly something they had discussed. Paul says Pam would have been encouraging in his run.
“I can honestly say I can feel the gentle push of Pam at my back to do this,” he said. “If she was here, she’d be in the thick of things.”
Pam’s death activated enormous changes to his life, no question about it. Life was altered forever. Running for office is Paul filling a void.
“When Pam passed, I knew there’d be a new chapter for me. I knew that something would be different,” he said. “I knew that something would come along to fill the void.”
When it comes to issues, reasons he wants to represent people as a legislator, Paul has a list he’s passionate about.
“The umbrella that all those issues fit under is the utility of rural Montana.”
As someone who has been involved in rural development for so long, it’s in his DNA to care about the issues, he says. It all ties together into why he’s running for office. “All those things are part of who I am and part of why I ran, making sure rural Montana has a seat at the table.”
Infrastructure, one of the issues dear to his heart, is the “foundation of our economy,” and without proper investments in bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, and broadband, among others, a community cannot thrive, he begins.
“For us to grow, we need to be serious about investing in infrastructure,” Paul said.
One of the subtopics of the infrastructure conversation is bonding, a topic the two major parties don’t usually agree on, he said. One way or another, roads and bridges will need money for upkeep and repairs, projects that would serve their purpose for many years. Bonding is a way for those types of projects to be paid for over a long period of time using state and local resources. Bonding would also defer some of the cost from local taxpayers. And to combat the argument that bonding would just create more debt, Paul said that if repairs aren’t made via bonding, the entire cost of an urgent project would end up in the laps of local taxpayers, when a great deal could have been absorbed by the state.
“It’s affordable. You get it done. You’re improving your communities, and you’re creating jobs.”
He is also an ardent advocate for Medicaid expansion. Without it, there would be 90,000 Montanans without health care, he says. If Medicaid expansion goes away, “we’ll go back to the old way,” he adds, to the days when people without insurance walked into the emergency room, received care, and ended up with a very large bill that may or may not be paid.
Without Medicaid expansion, Paul says, rural hospitals are the ones most in danger of closing. And when a hospital goes, schools follow. And once that happens, the domino effect of a disintegrating community begins, Paul says.
There are more issues: Public lands access, taxes, funding for Montana State University-Northern – all those are topics he’d like to discuss at length.
Paul used those issues to segue into another problem he sees when it comes to politics: How legislators are, or aren’t, working together on Montanan’s concerns.
There are issues that shouldn’t be partisan. Yet, that’s exactly what has happened, Paul believes.
There’s a problem in the political realm. It’s become more about the parties. Legislators want more to make sure the opposing party looks bad than they want to address people’s concerns. This is something he says he hears often when talking to people on the campaign trail. People want government to do their job.
“People want the crazy dysfunction to end,” he excitedly says.
And that’s where he comes in. A man in his professional position has had to learn how to work with people of differing political persuasions. Among the evidence, he mentions former Havre mayor Bob Rice, a Republican, who’s written a public letter of endorsement of Paul. And Mr. Rice is not the only one, Paul continues, tacking more local names onto the list.
“At the end of the day, we’re Montanans before we’re Republicans or Democrats.[KM5]
“People want government to function.”
As a Montanan, Paul participates in some quintessential Big Sky traditions.
Paul owns firearms and he is an avid hunter. He likes to say he has more firearms than he needs but not more than he wants. He has a group of friends he hunts with, many of whom come from the western part of the state to bag some of the best venison around.
The thing about deer in the western part of the state is they eat sage, twigs, grass, bark. Their diet is inferior to what Hi-Line deer eat, Paul says. Deer in north-central Montana eat grain, good northern Montana prairie grain, the kind that is world renowned. So, no wonder those on the Rocky Mountain front come to the Hi-Line to hunt.
And that is why venison, it turns out, is the exclusive meat of the Tuss household.
“That’s all we eat.”
Like a hunter stalking his prey, this November Paul hopes to get the Senate District 14 seat. He’s studied the task before him, he’s placed himself in the field, and he’s putting in the work. In November, Paul may catch himself more than good, grain-fed, Hi-Line deer.
Democrat Paul Tuss of Havre is challenging Montana Sen. Russ Tempel, R-Chester, for a seat in the Legislature in Senate District 14.
Tuss said he has been executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. for 18 year this fall and has been involved in economic development in north-central Montana for 23 years.
“I have a lot of experience in working both in the private sector as well as the public sector,” Tuss said, “and to make the economy of rural northern Montana succeed and flourish you really need both of those worlds to be successful.”
Tuss, 53, said he was born in Anaconda, the youngest of five children, and grew up in Opportunity. He graduated from Anaconda Senior High School in 1983, then attended the University of Montana, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1988.
At the University of Montana he met Pam Hillery, his wife of 27 years before she died in 2016. Tuss has two children, son Dolan, 25, who lives in Havre, and daughter Caroline, 18, who is a freshman at the University of Montana in Missoula.
Tuss has served on a variety of boards, such as the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education, which he has been on since 2011 and was also the chair of for three years; Montana Economic Developers Association, where he also served as chair; the Board of Directors for the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce; Board of Trustees for Northern Montana Hospital; Board of Directors for the Montana Cooperative Development Center, and Board of Directors for the Evergreen Chapter of the ALS Association.
Tuss has never held an elected office.
Tuss said that throughout his life he has worked for Montana’s rural communities, to improve local economies, and skills he learned in the process would be a great asset in the Montana Senate.
“One of the things that I want to bring to the state Senate, should I be elected in November, is this notion that we can have great communities and a great economy at the same time,” he said. “The two are not mutually exclusive. And, frankly, doing just that has been the work of my life for almost a quarter of a century. I want to take that experience with me to the state Senate.”
Education is another focus point, Tuss said. With his being the longest serving member on the current Board of Regents for Montana, he has been deeply involved in the university system. He added that, throughout the years, he has grown to fundamentally understand the importance higher education has for Montana youth.
It is vital that higher education remains accessible and affordable to the younger generation, Tuss said, adding that education is what drives workforce development and economic development.
“I feel very fortunate that I am a product of Montana’s public education system, K-12 and also higher education,” Tuss said. “Generations before ours made the investment to make my education possible and made me a more productive citizen, made me a more productive worker, made me a more productive Montanan.
“The least that we can do for our kids and grandkids is to give them the same type of attention,” Tuss added, ” … the same opportunity that we’ve been given to be productive citizens, to be tomorrow’s workforce. Investing in education has got to be a priority and should not be partisan.”
He said his unique experience and perspective on the subject would be a great asset if elected, adding that education is one of the biggest things facing legislation, for him, in the future.
At the end of last year when the special legislative session took place, Tuss said, the Legislature was forced to cut some programs due to a budget shortfall. He said these cuts were a result of the Legislature not taking some of the options that were presented to them.
“(The Legislature) didn’t take advantage of some of the revenue-enhancing options that they had the opportunity to,” Tuss said, adding that because of this it created a budget crisis.
“A great example,” Tuss said, “of where hyper-partisanship, even at the state level, is getting in the way of what is a very fundamental constitutional responsibility of the Montana Legislature, and that’s to create a balanced budget.”
Tuss said it is imperative that these well-intentioned, smart people who hold these offices come together and create a budget which both sides can agree on.
He said he understands that, if elected, he will be only one of 150 legislators but hopes to bring with him a real understanding of working together.
“Compromise is not a dirty word,” he said, adding that he has “a real understanding that someone other than me might have a good idea.”
“If I can have even a small impact on illuminating some of that intense partisanship and trying to get people to work together to solve difficult problems in our state, I will consider my time in the Senate to be successful,” Tuss said.
Tuss said another concern which needs to be addressed in future legislative sessions is to adequately fund Montana’s infrastructure. He said the state has a crumbling infrastructure and needs to have people willing to invest in it. The problem is not going to fix itself, Tuss said, adding that to postpone improvements would be a disservice to the people.
“The state needs to keep its commitment to communities to keep a solid infrastructure,” he said.
In addition to infrastructure, Tuss said, it is vital to do everything possible tomaintain local hospitals, adding that many in the state are hanging by a thread. People need medical attention in emergencies, he said. If local hospitals vanish in a community, the community will follow soon after, the same applying to schools, he said.
“Rural areas need to be adequately covered with proper health care and hospitals to remain open,” Tuss said.
A subject which is also significant to him, he said, is assuring public access to lands, nothing being more fundamental to Montanans than the freedom to enjoyteh beauty of their state. He added that this will be a high priority if elected.
“These public lands should be cherished and really should be passed down to the next generation in the same condition that we’ve been given them, and assuring that people continue to have – citizens of the state continue to have – access to our public lands to hunt, and to fish, and to hike. I just think that is just so important,” Tuss said.
Now that the dog days of summer are upon us, campaign season is kicking into high gear. While it seems like November is a long way off, it will be here in the blink of an eye.
Montana’s federal races will garner an understandable and significant amount of attention. However, as has always been the case, the decisions made at the state level through the Montana Legislature are at least as important, and perhaps more so, than those being made in Washington, D.C.
It’s why I want to serve as your next state senator.
The impact of our Legislature on the everyday lives of all of us — and the communities in which we live and work — is significant. From K-12 public education to critical infrastructure to rural health care to economic development to preserving our outdoor heritage, the work of the Legislature is critical in continuing to make Montana a great place to raise a family and grow a business.
The priorities of my campaign for Senate District 14 are the priorities in which I have been involved throughout my career in economic development. Rural Montana needs a strong advocate in the state Senate who has the knowledge, the passion, the energy and the tenacity to make a difference.
Whether it’s keeping our rural hospitals open, supporting proper funding for our schools, assuring the future viability of Montana State University-Northern, funding local infrastructure projects or fighting for the public’s right to access public lands, my commitment is to work tirelessly for this very special part of Big Sky Country.
My career has allowed me to help small businesses get started or expand, and to assist local governments with their infrastructure needs, including securing grant funds for water and sewer systems, bridges, senior citizen centers and other important community needs.
I now want to take this know-how and put it to work in the state Senate. I would be honored with your support.
Paul Tuss, Democratic candidate for Montana Senate District 14, said Tuesday that there are important issues that are unable to be resolved due to the polarized parties in Montana Legislature and he wants to work to change that.
“We need to talk to each other,” Tuss, the executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said during
his Birthday Barbecue Fundraiser hosted by Jay and Dana Pyette. ” … Before we are Democrats or before we are Republicans, we are Montanans.”
I am running for the Montana Legislature in Senate District 14, which includes a large portion of northern Montana, including Chouteau and Liberty Counties, and parts of Hill and Cascade Counties, including Havre and communities along Highway 2 to Chester. I would be honored with your support!