Attorney General Steve Bullock confident in winning Democratic Primary for Montana Governor

Steve Bullock

Democratic candidate for Montana Governor current Attorney General Steve Bullock seems all but certain so sew up his party’s nomination on this upcoming June Primary Day.

Bullock leads all gubernatorial candidates from any party in fundraising. But he has spent very little of that cash.

His primary opponent, Heather Margolis, is seen by many to be a token primary challenger.

Bullock himself considers the campaign in full swing.

 

“We’re going full bore, I mean everybody’s workin’ real hard and keepin’ movin,” he said.

Bullock yard signs have been going up in Helena and other communities. The campaign has yet to release any Television ads yet.

He says his campaign had nothing to do with Heather Margolis’s last second gubernatorial bid, but during our interview he speaks as if he’s already won the Primary.

Meanwhile, candidates in the Republican primary are fighting hard for their party’s nomination.

Many are releasing their vision for the state, their jobs plans. Bullock really hasn’t.

“Yeah, and I don’t know I’ve seen a lot of overall plans out of the Republican side,” Bullock said, “not much of substance a lot of which is probably noise and at the end of the day I think Montana is at a crossroads and the decisions that we’re gonna make are going to define the kind of Montana we have. We’ll be focusing on jobs, doing more additional work for value added to make sure more of what we produce in Montana stays in Montana, looking at the overall economy. We’ve also been talking a lot about education and some of the things that are needed there.”
“If people are going to the polls and they vote for Steve Bullock, are they voting for a continuation of a Montana that looks very much like it did under Governor Schweitzer?” I asked.

“Well, I think in part. Look, there’s some good things going on in Montana and I want to continue pieces of that.”

He does believe there are areas for improvement. Bullock wants to work on education—investing more in early childhood education and our two year colleges. And he wants to look into how the state can better help small business and tech startups.

Republicans have attacked Bullock for some positions he’s taken on natural resource development.

They point to his vote on the state land board against leasing Eastern Montana’s Otter Creek coal tracts. Bullock says he has always supported selling Otter Creek Coal, but he thought Montana wasn’t asking for enough money.

“I’ve said from the start there’s a number of things we need to do when looking at resource development,” he said. “One, not giving our resources away. Two, make sure to follow and actually comply with environmental laws to make sure it’s done right and three on the backend of it to make sure that reclamation occurs.”

Conservative pundits also attack Bullock’s position on the Affordable Care Act. Bullock did not join a lawsuit filed by many other state Attorneys General against the national healthcare law.

“We’re in a good fiscal position and we didn’t get there by joining lawsuits where our involvement wouldn’t make any difference. So all I would have done by joining that lawsuit is cost taxpayers dollars,” I said.

He says the states need to wait for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the law. Bullock does believe the Affordable Care Act has positives, “but no one would say the affordable care act is perfect and I don’t think that would be the case from Democrats or Republicans.”

Bullock does not have a page on his website listing his stances on issues, like many candidates.

On social issues, Bullock is pro gun rights, pro-choice. He is in favor of the death penalty. His stance on gay marriage has angered some in his Democratic base.

“Do you support Gay Marriage?” I asked

“I mean, really the constitution until anybody even makes a proposal on that it’s a non-issue in Montana from that perspective. I do support legislative measures to try to change that, but the Constitution is what it is right now,” Bullock said. He does support outlawing discrimination toward same-sex couples.

Steve Bullock says there is still a long time left in this election. He says voters will learn a lot more about him and his goals for the state.

“The campaign goes on a long time and we’ll roll out a full jobs plan. Certainly not needing to do that now, I don’t think,” he said.

Perhaps not until after the primary.

Heather Margolis stresses civic engagement and collaboration in Democratic Primary for Governor

Heather Margolis poses for a photograph recently on Helena’s walking mall.

Helena Democrat Heather Margolis has been running a curious primary campaign for Governor against opponent and front-runner, Attorney General Steve Bullock. Margolis quietly announced her candidacy the weekend before the primary filing deadline. At that point, Bullock was unopposed and state law says without a challenger he would have had to refund any donations to his primary campaign. Now that he is facing Margolis, he gets to keep that primary cash to use whenever he wants on the campaign trail.

Heather Margolis meets me in Helena’s walking mall outside her husband’s office. He works at Strategies 360, a public relations company that represents many Democratic candidates. She works out of her home, raising the couple’s 3 year old son Bridger and doing some work for the Montana Education Partnership–which supports collaboration between schools and communities. Her campaign has given her the chance to get out and spread her primary message of greater civic engagement.

“I’ve had the opportunity to travel the state,” Margolis said. “I’ve had the opportunity to connect with voters and get my word out via the media.”

So far that’s about the only way voters have had the chance to learn about Heather Margolis. She does not have a campaign website or staff.There’s no phone number to call. She does have some Margolis for Governor yard signs and a Facebook page—where she only has about 70 fans. Margolis calls it a cost effective primary campaign, but latest figures show it’s about $300 in the hole. From the beginning, this has had political pundits doubting the legitimacy of her campaign, as a real alternative to Bullock.

“How do you convince those people that you’re taking your candidacy as seriously as possible and if they vote for you they’re voting for someone who really wants to see this through to the end?” I asked. She responded, “I think it’s become clear there are certain distinctions between Steve Bullock’s campaign and my own around certain values.”

She mainly means Bullock’s opposition to gay marriage, which she strongly supports. She is also against the Death Penalty, which Bullock supports. Margolis says this presents a moral compass for Democrats.

“People can send a message to the Democratic party about the values that represent our party,” Margolis said.

The economy and jobs have become a central issue in this year’s Gubernatorial race. Margolis says her jobs plan first and foremost calls for restructuring and investing in our public education sector. She says resources at K-12 schools and the state’s two year colleges need to be reorganized to create a more prepared workforce.

“In doing so,” she said, “we need to figure out what are we doing to tap into new, emerging energy markets, i.e. wind and solar.”

Margolis also thinks a job market exists in retrofitting buildings around the state to be more energy efficient. As for natural resource development, she wants it done in the most responsible way possible—minimizing environmental degradation. And she wants industry to shoulder a greater share of the cost of damage that is caused in and around communities.

“We can’t always be in a place where we are socializing risk and privatizing gains. We need to have a more balanced approach,” she said.

If elected, she says her first priority would be to bring down barriers between state agencies and local governments. Ultimately, though, she does not seem convinced she will have that opportunity.

“Do you see yourself making it past this primary?” I asked.

“I see the message that I’m trying to convey that service and civic engagement can play a vital role in supporting better collaboration between government and communities as moving past this primary,” she replied.

Democratic Attorney General Candidate Jesse Laslovich looking to be seen as passionate, family man

Attorney General candidate Jesse Laslovich plays with his son Cooper Wednesday afternoon

Anaconda native Jesse Laslovich started making a political name for himself at a young age. At 20 years old, he was the second youngest person ever elected to the State Legislature. He served two terms in the state House of Representatives before moving on to the State Senate. Laslovich has since served as an Assistant Attorney General, a special assistant U.S. Attorney and the Chief Legal Counsel at the State Auditor’s Office.

He’s now running in the Democratic Primary for State Attorney General.

“Hey! Wanna go again,” Laslovich asked his 3 year old son Cooper on Wednesday. Cooper loves this new slide at the small playground a block from their Helena home.

“With the nice weather we’re here probably if not every night then every other night,” Laslovich said.

This is the Jesse Laslovich the candidate himself wants voters to get to know–not only as a young guy who’s gotten stuff done, but as a family man. Cooper and his wife Jill feature prominently in his first campaign ad: In that ad, Laslovich also touts legislation he drafted creating stricter penalties for sexual predators and DUI offenders. Those continue to be priorities in his bid to be Montana’s top lawyer.

Here’s Laslovich speaking in a recent primary debate with his democratic opponent, Pam Bucy.

LASLOVICH: “What we have is simply not working when it comes to DUI’s, we continually read about 5th, 6th, 7th, I saw 11 DUIs,” Laslovich said during a recent primary debate with his Democratic opponent, Pam Bucy.

The Attorney General cannot enact new policies. But Laslovich says he would push on the Legislature to tighten DUI penalties. He calls consumer protection his top priority if elected–helping people who get scammed. Laslovich served as the head consumer protection attorney under Attorney General Mike McGrath.

“I still don’t think we have enough resources in the consumer protection office. It’s about education in addition to going after these companies I did it–I was on the ground doing it full time,” he said. He calls the Attorney General’s post a unique, multi-faceted position, from heading the Department of Justice to a seat on the State Land Board. And on that board, which sets policy for the state’s public lands and natural resources, he says the buzz words for candidates are responsible development.

“That’s a no-brainer, I say that too,” Laslovich said in the debate. “But it’s personal to me. You see what Anaconda’s like and what we’re dealing with. They are extraordinary people fighting through it, you see the Berkeley Pit in Butte. It’s really important that we do it right.”

He uses this phrase, it’s personal several times in this debate. This is also how Jesse Laslovich wants to be seen, as a passionate—hard worker.

“It’s about judgement,” he said at the debate, pounding on his podium. “It’s about the values you bring to the Attorney General’s Office, it’s about the work ethic you bring to the Attorney General’s Office and I’m here to tell ya there’s no one who has a better work ethic than me, I’m biased—I know.”

But when it comes to the values, the types of change Laslovich wants to affect, it more often than not sounds very much like what his opponent advocates. They both support stances taken by current Attorney General Steve Bullock on recent high profile issues like corporate campaign spending. Answers between Bucy and Laslovich during the 90 minute democratic debate almost mirrored each other many times. He doesn’t shy from that.

“We agree on a lot of things…a lot of times it’s been hard to find major differences, really,” he said.

He says their differences go to their backgrounds; Bucy has not served in the legislature and flatly says the Attorney General is not a legislative position. Laslovich says knowing the ins and outs of that lawmaking process is crucial.

“Hitting the ground running, working with the legislature, moving agenda, trying to get funding is really important. So I don’t want to be dismissive about the legislative experience,” he said.

Laslovich is hoping Democratic voters will also not dismiss that experience in this June’s primary election.