A Champion for Agriculture Remembered
Montana Senator Mark Sweeney was a man dedicated to Montanans who good naturedly went about his work, Montana Farmers Union members and staffers remember.
“He was serious in his work, and he understood how to work with people well,” said Rachel Prevost, who worked with Sweeney on a bill pertaining to right to repair during the 2021 legislative session.
Sweeney was born in Miles City and called Phillipsburg home. He was elected to the state Legislature as a representative in 2018 and then as a senator in 2020 before entering this year’s race for Montana’s Eastern District U.S. House seat. He carried the state senate version of a bill focused on giving farmers and ranchers the right to repair their own equipment in 2021.
He died unexpectedly in May.
“I think it’s really rare that people are so genuine like Mark was,” Prevost said, adding that he always had a smile and kind word outside of the session as well.
Like Prevost, MFU President Walter Schweitzer worked with Sweeney on the right to repair bill, and Schweitzer said Sweeney was a quick study who talked with those impacted and did his own research.
“He did what I would call a spectacular job of recruiting people to testify from around the state on his right to repair bill,” Schweitzer said.
Ultimately the bill was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, Sweeney advocated for it until the end.
“He kept pushing hard and kept his colleagues’ feet to the fire,” Schweitzer said.
“It was just no nonsense and let’s get this done,” remembered Sarah Degn, an MFU board member who testified on the right to repair bill.
Degn had crossed paths with Sweeney several times, but it wasn’t until she testified during the legislative session that the two worked together.
“I hope that we’re all lucky enough to have someone like Mark Sweeney on our side, to really take the time to understand the issues facing agriculture and really help to educate everyone around him,” she said.
The bill’s passage out of committee was due in no small part to Sweeney’s willingness to listen and learn, but also because of how well he was respected on both sides of the aisle, Degn said.
“I have a lot of faith that because of the work that he did with Montana Farmers Union we’ll be able to try again in the future and maybe have more success,” she said.
Although Sweeney’s legislative efforts weren’t limited to agriculture, he remained a friend to family farmers and ranchers.
“His heart and soul was Montana, and he was clearly an Eastern Montana guy. He got farmers and ranchers and our rural communities and was a great advocate for us. Montana is better off because of Mark Sweeney,” Schweitzer said. “We lost a champion for rural Montana.”