Rep. Denny Rehberg (R)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: Oct. 5, 1955, Billings .
Education: WA St. U., B.A. 1977.
Family: Married (Jan); 3 children.
Elected office: MT House of Reps., 1984-90; MT lt. gov., 1991-96
Professional Career: Leg. asst., U.S. Rep. Ron Marlenee, 1979-82; Rancher, 1982-present.
Denny Rehberg, a Republican first elected in 2000, is a fifth-generation Montanan and a rancher from Billings who raises cattle and cashmere goats on the same ranch that his great-grandfather homesteaded at the turn of the 20th century. A helicopter owner and pilot, he frequently flies to appointments around the state. Rehberg has been involved in politics most of his life: His father was a state legislator who ran against Democratic Rep. John Melcher in 1970.
|Denny Rehberg (R)||308,470||(64%)||($897,187)|
|John Driscoll (D)||155,930||(32%)|
|Mike Fellows (Lib)||16,500||(3%)|
|Denny Rehberg (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (59%), 2004 (64%), 2002 (65%), 2000 (51%)
After college, Rehberg (REE-berg) worked in real estate before moving to Washington so his wife could attend law school. While there, he worked for Republican Rep. Ron Marlenee of Montana. He returned to his home state in 1982 to rebuild and run the family ranch, a third of which—including the house in which Rehberg grew up—had been sold to help pay the inheritance tax levied after his great-grandmother passed away. At 29, Rehberg was elected to the state House. He managed Republican Conrad Burns’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1988, and then served as Burns’s state director for two years. He was appointed lieutenant governor by Republican Gov. Stan Stephens and was elected to that post on the ticket headed by Marc Racicot in 1992. Four years later, Rehberg ran against Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. Rehberg backed term limits, promised to forgo pay increases, and attacked Baucus for backing the 1993 tax increase and the assault-weapons ban. Baucus called Rehberg a “special interest” candidate who would cut taxes for the rich. Rehberg was outspent $4.3 million to $1.4 million, but he made it a serious contest, holding Baucus to 50% of the vote to his 45%.
Rehberg returned to ranching. In 2000, he annexed part of his ranch into the Billings city limits, divided the land into salable lots, and founded Rehberg Ranch Estates. Today, his wife, Jan, manages the company, which contributes significantly to the couple’s wealth. In 2006, the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, listed Rehberg as the 24th richest member of Congress, with an estimated worth of $6 million to $55 million.
The opportunity to again run for Congress came in September 1999, when Republican Rep. Rick Hill, re-elected with only 53% of the vote the previous year and facing vigorous opposition from Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Nancy Keenan, announced he would not run again because of complications from eye surgery. Rehberg was unopposed for the GOP nomination, and then faced Keenan in the general election, which turned into a classic contest between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat. Rehberg and Keenan agreed on several issues: They both favored gun rights, repeal of the so-called marriage-tax penalty, and letting patients sue health maintenance organizations. The race turned on their disagreements—on abortion rights, inheritance taxes, and a prescription drug benefit. (Rehberg favored giving the drug benefit to the needy; Keenan favored it for all.) The tone got testy as outside groups—the AFL-CIO, the NEA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business spent more than $100,000 each. Rehberg ran ads with strong endorsements from Gov. Racicot and often depicting his family, especially his 2-year-old daughter, an implicit contrast with Keenan, a former copper smelter worker and special education teacher who had never married. Rehberg won 51%-46%, almost precisely the same ratio as in the races for governor and senator that year. He was surely helped by George W. Bush’s 58%-33% victory over Al Gore in the presidential contest.
As a freshman, Rehberg concentrated on Montana issues. He worked with Sen. Burns in 2002 to put $752 million in drought relief for farmers into the farm bill. He successfully sought repeal of Clinton-era restrictions on snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park, although it continues to be regulated. In his second term, Rehberg took up the cause of preserving mandatory country-of-origin labeling of meat, a regional issue that pitted Texas cattlemen, who import much of their livestock from Mexico, against their northern counterparts. Rehberg framed country-of-origin labeling as a way to assure consumers that meat products sold under the USDA label came from animals that were born, raised, and processed in the United States. In 2008, Rehberg backed a provision in that year’s farm bill requiring country-of-origin labeling, which became law after the House and Senate overrode President Bush’s veto by comfortable margins.
Rehberg has strongly supported Bush on the Iraq war but has disagreed on other issues. He joined Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee in criticizing the level of funding in Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget for “No Child Left Behind” education mandates. He specifically attacked the amount of money allocated for Impact Aid, a program important to Montana’s seven American Indian reservations. He supported the FutureGen clean-coal project, partly because Montana has the largest coal reserves in the United States. FutureGen was a partnership between government and private industry aimed at building a coal-fueled, near-zero-emissions power plant. It was later canceled by the Energy Department. During the debate over immigration, Rehberg opposed guest worker and legalization provisions. And he has harshly criticized the Endangered Species Act for leading farmers and ranchers to “shoot, shovel, and shut up”—killing endangered animals living on their property rather than report the animals’ presence and risk having their land confiscated by the government.
Rehberg was re-elected with 65% of the vote in 2002 and 64% in 2004. In 2005, he secured a seat on the Appropriations Committee, a sign that he might be settling in for a long career in the House. Then, in 2006, he was opposed by Billings-area state Rep. Monica Lindeen, whose family started Montana’s largest Internet service provider. Rehberg was more vulnerable than usual that year. He had received about $17,000 in contributions from Indian tribes represented by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, plus $2,000 from Abramoff himself. He returned the tribes’ money and donated Abramoff’s $2,000 to domestic violence centers on Montana reservations. Lindeen raised $518,000, with notable contributions from Baucus and former Baucus staffers. Rehberg raised $1.2 million. He prevailed 59%-39%, his worst re-election showing since he won the seat.
In July 2007, Rehberg announced he would seek re-election to the House, declining a repeat run against Baucus for the Senate, although polls suggested that he would be competitive. He won a fifth House term easily in 2008.