Veteran state lawmaker Mike Halligan of Missoula confirms he’s weighing a run for the U.S. House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg.
“We’re still in the assessment stage,” Halligan says. “It still boils down to family issues and my job.”
Halligan, the current Democratic dean of the Montana Senate, has served in the Legislature since 1980. Voter-imposed term limits will end his state legislative tenure this year. He says he won’t run for reelection even if a recently filed legal challenge against term limits is successful.
“I’ve decided it’s time to pass the torch in the Legislature to someone else,” he explains.
Halligan, 52, currently heads up the state’s Child Protection Unit, a Department of Justice program aimed at reducing the time Montana youths spend in foster care. He’s been an Army officer and Green Beret, a deputy Missoula County prosecutor, and regional economic development coordinator. He also had a private legal practice in Missoula for 10 years before taking his current job in late 1999.
Born in Jamestown, N.D., Halligan grew up in Billings. He holds undergraduate degrees in history and political science, a master’s degree in public administration, and a law degree—all from the University of Montana.
Well-known and respected for his statesmanship and integrity, Halligan has sponsored a mosaic of legislation over the years. While much of his work has been tailored to reform the state’s juvenile justice system and beef up child abuse laws, he’s also had a hand in crafting agricultural policy and working with other topics of rural concern.
“I’ve tried to broaden my base in a lot of different areas,” says Halligan, who served as Senate minority leader in the 1995 and 1997 sessions. He was also Dorothy Bradley’s pick for lieutenant governor in 1992, when the pair barely lost to Republican Marc Racicot and his running mate, Rehberg.
Halligan says he’s been meeting with various civic leaders and others “to try and reassess things and see if someone of my legislative background and profile would be acceptable to the public” if he enters the race. Rehberg, who beat Democrat Nancy Keenan in the 2000 general election, is in the last year of his first term in Congress.
If Halligan runs, he’ll face at least one opponent in the primary. Bozeman environmental activist Steve Kelly, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House seat as an Independent in 1994, filed as a Democratic contender last week.
“I’m not going to rush into something that I know is a life-changing decision,” Halligan says, adding that he expects to make a final decision in the next few weeks.