Schweitzer stepping up support for Democratic candidates in final days of election

Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) makes calls for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock on Tuesday

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer enjoys a 60 percent approval rating, but has not been spending much of that political capital to help democratic candidates locked in tight races across the state.

A Friday Press Conference in Great Falls shows that’s all changing here in the last few weeks before voting day.

Schweitzer says the state may be facing a constitutional crisis if Republican Rick Hill is elected to replace him. He accuses former Congressman Hill of risky, reckless behavior for his acceptance of a contested half-million dollar donation from the State GOP.

That donation is well over the $20 thousand limit the state has in place.

The Hill campaign says the donation was given during a short window when those contribution limits were temporarily tossed out by a Judge. The case involving the donation is still before the courts right now.

Schweitzer says he will be handing over the Governor’s office in January. If the court’s find Hill guilty of this violation, Schweitzer says the law is clear.

“If you have received these funds in violation of the campaign law, then you are not eligible for the office in which you’re running and if you’ve already been elected then you will be removed from office,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer says this happened to a Cascade County Sheriff in the 1940s. He also says Montana law is unclear who would be appointed Governor if Hill were removed.

Schweitzer says Hill could rectify this issue by returning the half million dollars to the State GOP. The Hill Campaign says it’s keeping the money as of now.

Montana GOP Executive Director Bowen Greenwood calls this showboating by Governor Schweitzer that’s distracting voters from the issues.

“There’s one thing that’s at the center of this race for Governor and that’s that Rick Hill is the candidate to create more jobs at better wages for Montanans and that’s the message we’re trying to get out. I think the people of Montana are probably pretty disappointed that the democrats have nothing but political process stories to talk about,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood also correctly points out the only candidate for Governor who has been found guilty of campaign finance violations at this point is Democrat Steve Bullock. The state deputy commissioner for political practices says the Bullock campaign violated election rules by writing 11 checks that were signed by someone other than the campaign’s treasurer or deputy treasurer. Bullock campaign officials say staff members signed the checks when the treasurer was out sick and they didn’t know then it was against the rules.


Earlier this week, Schweitzer helped out making calls for Bullock.

“April, this is Brian Schweitzer, I’m here in campaign headquarters and I’m supporting Steve Bullock,” Schweitzer said into his cell phone Tuesday.

“Well, here’s what I need you to do, I need you to spend that night with your mother in law and make sure she’s voting for Steve Bullock too,” Schweitzer said. “Thanks cowgirl, love ya. Bye.”

Schweitzer was actually sitting right by Democratic Candidate Steve Bullock. Bullock’s campaign office in Helena is headquartered downtown in a space still retaining the multicolored walls from its previous status as a Taco del sol restaurant.

Campaign staff and volunteers sit at plastic folding tables with their cell phones and scanning lists.

“To call folks we already know have received ballots, and they haven’t sent their ballots in,” Schweitzer said.

Governor Schweitzer has been stepping up his support of Democratic candidates in the closing days of the 2012 election.

Putting out ads and campaigning for statewide Democratic candidates and some legislative candidates too.

Schweitzer has also been vocal in his support for Initiative 166, but that actually goes back to the Spring.

But again, a lot of the focus now seems to be on the Governor’s office  .

“We have a lot invested, all of us in Montana, and me maybe even more than some and I want to make sure Montana continues in the same direction and Steve Bullock is the guy to get it done,” Schweitzer said.

“Is it also important for your legacy?” I asked “To see that voters put Steve Bullock in your place when you leave, is that sort of a vindication of your record?”

“We’re not looking for any kind of vindication,” Schweitzer said. “What I’m concerned about is I’ve got children and my kids are gonna want to stay in Montana and they’re gonna want good paying jobs. Nancy and I want to make sure that this Montana we love continues going in the right direction.”

As for the direction of the state’s highest profile race, the Tester-Rehberg Senate matchup–Schweitzer is staying out of that one. This despite being a very vocal supporter of Tester’s when he was first elected in 2006.

“Jon Tester is a well-known commodity, people know and trust Jon Tester and of course unlike Steve Bullock or some of these other candidates in Montana, They’re basically talking to us about seven times every 30 minutes on our televisions at home and they’re talking to us on the radio,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer hopes his popularity will translate into some more Democratic votes for candidates who aren’t getting quite so much airtime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

What can statewide Republican candidates do to ‘dismantle Obamacare?’

‘Dismantling Obamacare’ has become a major plank in the campaigns of several republican candidates for statewide office in Montana.

Gubernatorial Candidate Rick Hill firmly opposes the Affordable Care Act.And go to the websites of State Auditor Candidate Derek Skees and Attorney General Candidate Tim Fox—Fighting Obamacare is listed as a top priority. A regular mention of gutting Obamacare seems almost required this election season if you’re a republican candidate.

Well, Executive Director of the Montana Republican Party, Bowen Greenwood says elections are supposed to be about issues.

“We bring those things up in every opportunity because that is the point of an election. When the government has gone wrong, it needs to be changed,” Greenwood said.

And he says the Affordable Care Act is a major issue for voters. A recent poll by Lee Newspapers shows 53 percent of Montanans don’t support the law, while 40 percent do.

Dr. Michael Sparer is the Health Policy and Management Department Chair at the Columbia University school of Public Health. He focuses on the politics of healthcare, ,primarily in the United States.

He says the nation is seeing this kind of focus on the Affordable Care act in states across the country. He says it’s a debate not only about the specifics of the healthcare law, but also more broadly about the wider role of government in the U.S.

“I think there’s no doubt that the healthcare issue and the politics of the affordable Care Act are far more intense and are a far more significant part of this campagin than we typically see,” Sparer said.

So what could state Republican Candidates do to fight this federal law if elected?

Sparer says states do have a series of decisions to make, and he points mainly to two. The first is the reform’s health insurance exchange provision.

“Each state under the affordable care act is encouraged but not required but is encouraged to create what’s known as a health insurance exchange,” Sparer said.

It’s basically a government-facilitated insurance pool to get better prices for the uninsured. If the state decides not to create the health insurance exchange, the federal government will create one for the state and run it.

“Unless Governor Romney becomes President and unless the Affordable Care Act is repealed, the state of Montana is going to have a health insurance. the only question is going to be who’s running it, the state or the federal government,” he said.

Republican majorities in the 2011 Legislature turned down proposals by current state auditor Democrat Monica Lindeen to create a Montana exchange. Montana GOP executive Director Bowen Greenwood says whether or not the exchange is made at the state or federal level, some things remain the same.

“We don’t get a real say in the exchanges,” Greenwood said, “about what kinds of insurance companies are going to be allowed to compete or what kinds of insurance our people are going to have. The law does not allow us to have any real say in the fate of our people and that’s why we oppose it.”

Columbia University’s Michael Sparer says that statement is not true, states would have a significant amount of discretion over the form and substance of their exchange.

“Are these Republican Candidates in an effort to sound as if they are refuting the federal government, are they giving the federal government more control?” I asked Sparer.

“I think clearly one thing they’ll argue, those who say they are not going to set up the exchange, one thing they’ll argue is by refusing to do so will save the state money even though most of the cost of setting up an exchange will be set up by the federal government has said they will bear. But state’s will say hey listen we’re not going to use our state employees, we’re not going to use directly state tax dollars. We’re not going to be involved so we’re going to try to save some money here,” he said.

The other major part of the Affordable Care Act up to state leaders that Sparer mentions is the optional Medicaid expansion provision.

Republican candidates are saying they would not expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured, even though the Federal government would pick up most of the tab. Sparer says there’s no doubt that means a state that does not expand Medicaid will have more people that are uninsured.

Some charge that will put some of the poor out of reach of the individual mandate in place in the Affordable Care Act.

But Sparer says the ACA has some exceptions.

“If you don’t have access to affordable insurance in your community, the mandate doesn’t apply to you. Someone who is uninsured who would be eligible for medicaid but the state chooses not to expand the program. Odds are the mandate won’t apply to them and they will simply remain uninsured,” Sparer said.