By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – Troy Downing, a resident who built a home here in the late ‘90s, will attempt to unseat Democrat Jon Tester, Montana’s two-term U.S. Senator, in the 2018 mid-term election.
A California native, Downing worked as a research scientist and instructor at New York University before creating a company focused on online groupware, establishing footing in the internet commercial realm early on.
He created a company named WebCal and entered into business with Yahoo in 1998. “It was a life changer,” Downing said of the merger, which put him in a position to retire in his early 30s. “I loved it. There were a lot of smart people and we were changing the world.”
The Republican candidate purchased land to build a house in Big Sky in 1998 with the desire to “find somewhere that was still wild,” he said.
Downing, 50, said he was deeply affected by the 9/11 attacks, which he learned about after a moose hunt in a remote region of Alaska. He decided to enlist in the armed forces and entered basic training at 34 years old, one year shy of the age cut-off.
After attending SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school in Spokane, Washington, and flight school at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he served with the U.S. Air Force on a combat search and rescue squadron. He did two tours in Afghanistan, one in 2005 and another in 2007, and stayed in the Air National guard until 2009.
In 2010, Downing started AC Self Storage Solutions, a California-based real estate company that buys and manages self-storage facilities across the U.S.
Downing , a member of the private Yellowstone Club, said the seed for his Congressional bid was planted at a dinner in Big Sky at Olive B’s with Ryan Zinke, who was Montana’s sole U.S. representative at the time and is currently Interior Secretary, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents California.
This is Downing’s first official entry into the political realm, although he said he’s always been politically involved. He names tax reform, job creation, term limits for politicians, and “an over-intrusive central government,” as issues he’s particularly motivated to change.
He said two terms for U.S. senators and three terms for U.S. representatives is plenty, and term limits would curb the energy and resources politicians expend on re-election bids.
“I’m looking at these career politicians that are as much concerned about being re-elected as they are concerned about doing the work of the people, and I’m tired of that,” Downing said. “I don’t care how smart you are, how well-meaning you are—if you’ve been in Congress for 20-plus years you’ve been institutionalized, you don’t know what it means to be a normal person, a normal American.”
In reference to the role of government in creating opportunity for citizens he said, “If you have the gumption and the risk tolerance and the desire to reach for the brass ring, I want you to be able to bask in the glory of your success. And if you fall and fail, it’s up to you to pick yourself up and lick your wounds and get past it.”
Downing spoke at length about the state of health care, saying he would like to see discussion shift from politically charged rhetoric so both sides can come together to discuss what needs to happen. “‘Repeal and replace’ and ‘fix it’—you’re saying the same thing but with politically charged words,” he said.
“It’s the wrong debate,” he added. “We’re talking about building a bureaucracy to insure a broken system without talking about the broken system. …Why are we not talking about actual health care?
“The cost of actual health services is twice what it is in the [rest of the] civilized world,” Downing said, adding that hospital billing practices, tort reform and the cost of pharmaceuticals all need to be changed.
“Obviously you have to insure the most vulnerable, you have to deal with the people who cannot help themselves—you’re just not a civilized society if you don’t—but beyond that you help everybody if you fix this problem and not this big, political quagmire of how to insure it,” he said.
The security of American borders is another big issue for Downing, but he said he doesn’t buy into President Donald Trump’s idea that a physical wall on America’s southern border is the answer to the country’s immigration issues. “I agree we are a nation of immigrants, but I think it is in our national interest to know who’s coming here and why. … If we have places where people are flying here that are historically hotbeds for developing terrorists, I think we need to look at that closely.”
Downing said he likes the idea of welcoming in immigrants that want to become Americans. He said he doesn’t know how such a determination would be made.
In reference to Trump’s candidacy and performance in the White House, Downing said he’s not pleased with the way Trump communicates, but he’s approving of his impact on markets.
“Ultimately he’s going to continue to float a lot of boats,” he said. “I think most Americans are going to be better off because of his presidency, and at least half of them are going to go yelling and kicking and screaming and spitting all the way.”
During the June 5 Republican primary, Downing will face Matt Rosendale, who is currently Montana’s insurance commissioner and has been active in the state’s Republican party for at least a decade; and potentially Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg, who has set up an exploratory committee to test the campaign waters.
Rosendale is too far right to appeal to the independent voters he would need to win against Tester, Downing said: “I think that he will appeal more to the radical far right base a little too much to be effective in a general election.”
A spokesperson for the Rosendale campaign declined to comment.
Fagg has not officially declared. “Should I decide to run, I would welcome Troy to the race,” Fagg said in an Aug. 7 interview. “I actually think the more ideas that are on the table, the more discussion and the more debate we have, the better it is for our democratic system.”
In reference to a potential Fagg candidacy, Downing said, “He’s another lawyer—do we really want to send another lawyer to Washington?”
Whoever wins the GOP primary will take on Tester during the general election on Nov. 6, 2018.
“I think his voting record is going to speak for itself,” Downing said of Tester’s tenure in the Senate. “He’s 90-plus percent right along party lines on his votes.”
Montana Democratic Party Spokesman Chris Maegher supplied a statement: “No matter who emerges from what now promises to be a messy primary, Jon Tester will win in November 2018 because his life is rooted in Montana and Montanans know Jon and know he works hard for them every day.”
Tester won his Senate seat by defeating two-term Republican Conrad Burns in 2006.