Replacing Rosendale


John Driscoll, Democratic candidate for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat

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Posted at 9:00 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-02 13:58:51-04

HELENA — It's been 30 years since John Driscoll served in the Montana Legislature and the Public Service Commission, but he's run for office a number of times since then. This year, he says he again felt a responsibility to get involved as a Democratic candidate for U.S. House in the Eastern District.

(Watch: MTN's profile on John Driscoll)

John Driscoll, Democratic candidate for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat

“People are asking me why I'm doing this,” Driscoll said. “Well, I'm doing it because I'm trying to protect the constitutional democracy that I have enjoyed my whole life.”

MTN spoke to Driscoll outside the Montana State Capitol, in front of the statue of Irish patriot, Civil War general and Montana territorial secretary Thomas Francis Meagher.

Driscoll said he’s inspired by Meagher and other Irish immigrants to the U.S., who he said understood and demonstrated the value of freedom.

“It's one thing to swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, but there comes a time when it really is threatened, and I believe it's threatened now by the whole Trump phenomenon,” he said.

Driscoll, 77, was born in California and grew up in several cities around Montana. After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to Hamilton. In 1972, he was elected to the Montana House of Representatives. He served three terms, becoming speaker of the House during the 1977 legislative session. In 1980, he was elected to the PSC, where he served 12 years.

There will be one clear difference between Driscoll and the other candidates in the Democratic and Republican primaries – he says he’s refusing to raise money for campaigning.

“People think I’m crazy, but I’m not,” he said.

Since leaving public office, Driscoll has spent time working for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and as a writer, but he’s also run multiple times for U.S. Senate and U.S. House – always pledging not to raise or spend campaign funds. He says that’s a deliberate statement.

“People are giving their power to money – both the people that are running for office, instead of just trusting their own ability to speak and give their ideas, and then people that are voters,” he said. “As long as you give power to money, you don't have any power.”

In one case – the 2008 campaign for U.S. House – Driscoll successfully won a statewide Democratic primary without spending money. His political runs have almost all been as a Democrat, though he challenged U.S. Sen. Steve Daines in the 2020 Republican primary, saying he wanted to provide an alternative for “Abraham Lincoln Republicans.”

John Driscoll
Democrat John Driscoll stands outside the Montana State Capitol, in front of the statue of Thomas Francis Meagher. He says he sees Meagher as an inspiration.

If elected, Driscoll says he would support legislation to reinstitute the Roe v. Wade decision and protect abortion rights at the federal level.

“I'm a Catholic and I take that pretty seriously,” he said. “But the whole way this has been presented, the whole way the Supreme Court decided – it's shameful, really, and so it needs to be reversed.”

He says the biggest economic concern in the district remains availability of housing. He wants the federal government to look into making land available for limited equity housing cooperatives – multifamily developments in which residents would lease shares of to gain equity.

Driscoll, along with two other Democratic candidates, signed on to a letter in March, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

“I think Netanyahu is a war criminal,” he said. “We not only have to stop supplying him until the Israelis get rid of him, we have to maybe even do more.”

He says he’s not afraid to make the case for positions that might be unpopular. He’s expressed opposition to the massive Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or Sentinel, project to upgrade nuclear missiles in Montana, saying the economic benefit wouldn’t be worth the cost or maintaining Montana as a nuclear target. At the same time, he says nuclear energy will be a part of the state’s future and leaders should look at creating an underground waste repository.

Driscoll believes he’s to the left of the other Democrats running in this race.

“All the Democrats are great – I mean, I’ll support any of them,” he said. “I'm not the only one that can do the stuff that needs to be done in Congress, but I know I can do it.”

Still, he says he thinks he can make the case to voters across the political spectrum.

“Once I'm through the primary and people are presented with whoever of the nine Republicans across from me, then they'll start looking at me more closely,” he said. “And then I'll tell them what I think – and I think what I think, unless the person across from me is identical to me, is what needs to be done.”

Driscoll is one of 12 candidates, including four Democrats, seeking nomination for the eastern district U.S. House seat. You can find interviews with all of them here.