It wasn't much of a contest in House District 99 the last go-round. Betsy Hands, a Democrat, trounced Republican challenger Brian Barnett by nearly 800 votes, confirming the district's liberal tilt. But Republican Gary Marbut, Montana's top gun-rights advocate, thinks he's got a shot at the seat now. "The political spectrum ends up being something like a circle," he says, "and the people who are very serious conservatives and people who are very serious liberals tend to have a lot in common."
On one issue, at least, Marbut, the director of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, stands in the center of that political Venn diagram: medical marijuana. He first found himself there last fall, in the wake of the federal medical marijuana raids, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declared that firearms dealers can't sell to state-licensed medical marijuana patients—an "edict depriving 30,000 Montanans of a constitutional right," Marbut says. He's equally perturbed that several gun-owning Montanans snared in the raids are facing federal drug-related gun charges. These Montanans, he wrote last month in a letter to the Missoulian, "have been forced through the knothole of a process powerfully rigged by zealous federal prosecutors and complicit ... judges."
In a linear political spectrum, Marbut stands well to the right of Kimberly Dudik, an assistant attorney general, and Jonathan Dunbar, who will square of in the Democratic primary. Marbut has aggressively lobbied the legislature as director of the MSSA. Last session, he sought, unsuccessfully, to legalize the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit in cities and to nullify a 20-year-old list of locations, including government buildings and banks, where concealed weapons are forbidden. Outside the legislature, the MSSA joined the Western Tradition Partnership in challenging Montana's century-old ban on corporate campaign spending.
Marbut says he won't hide from his reputation as a "fire-breathing political activist" in order to win in HD 99. But, he says, he's eager to "show other parts of Gary Marbut than what people generally know from reading the headlines. I want people to know that I'm an organic gardener, that I'm an amateur musician, that I'm a dog lover, that I have earned 'guru' credentials in energy conservation—that there are other aspects that may well appeal to the people of the district if they just know about them."