Democrat Steve Bullock elected next Governor of Montana

Governor-elect Steve Bullock holds press conference on Wednesday

Attorney General Steve Bullock has been selected as the next Governor of Montana.

Bullock won the tight race against former Republican Congressman Rick Hill by less than 10 thousand votes.

Cheers of “Bullock! Bullock!” filled a small conference room at Helena’s Great Northern Hotel Wednesday afternoon, shortly before an introduction by Lieutenant Governor Elect, John Walsh.

“One of the best men that I’ve ever met and have gotten the chance to know real well over the last 8 months, Montana’s next Governor, Steve Bullock,” Walsh said to cheers.

“It’s been a long process but being elected as your next governor is an incredible, incredible honor,” Bullock said.

The Associated Press called the race in Bullock’s favor around 1:30 Wednesday afternoon as final polling results were slow coming in and the race was tightening. Latest results from the Secretary of State’s office had Bullock up over Hill by less than two percent.

Hill released a statement shortly after the AP announcement thanking his supporters. Hill said both Bullock and running mate John Walsh are dedicated public servants and he said he knows the two will do their best to make the right decisions for Montana.

Bullock says he spoke with Hill on the phone.

“(He) Wished me the best as governor and said he thought I’d do a good job, offered his help and I said I certainly appreciate that. We talked a little bit about both of our families and I told him I thought he ran a great campaign,” Bullock said.

Much of the news cycle during the last weeks of the Governor’s race was dominated by a controversial half-million dollar donation Hill received from the State Republican Party. The donation was given during a short window when campaign spending limits were dropped. They were later reinstated and the Bullock campaign attacked the donation as illegal. Hill stood behind it. Bullock says he isn’t sure if that issue assisted in his narrow victory. But he says it does send a message about how Montanans feel about big money in politics.

“I mean, I think it is certainly a repudiation and it demonstrates that people still matter in elections,” Bullock said.

The win for Bullock keeps the Governor’s seat in Democratic hands after 8 years with Brian Schweitzer at the helm. Like Schweitzer often did, Bullock will be working with a Republican-dominated state Legislature. Bullock says he looks forward to finding areas of common ground—to focus on what’s best for the state.

Bullock then looked to the supporters in the conference room and offered his gratitude.

“It’s truly a humbling experience to have this many people not only here today but all across the state wishing us well. But it’s also time and it will be time to get to work. We need to present a budget to the Legislature and in the coming days John and I will be meeting with Legislators and leaders from across the state,” he said.

First though, he says he’s looking forward to a little R&R with his family.

 

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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.

MAKING CALLS

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

Candidate Profile: Rick Hill, Republican for Governor

Rick Hill tours Homestead Helicopters in Missoula

Former Montana Congressman Rick Hill has been running for governor full time for the last two years.

During that time he has honed his vision for expanding natural resource development, changing education and putting priority budgeting in place in state government.

News about Hill the last two weeks has been dominated by a contested $500 thousand donation the candidate received from the state Republican Party.

Hill argues that donation was legal because it came after a federal judge tossed out the state’s contribution limits earlier this month, but before an appeals court put the limits back in place six days later.

His opponent, Democrat Steve Bullock says the donation was illegal and just this week, a judge ordered Hill to stop spending that money while the case is under review.

Latest polls show the race is very close with a very large piece of the electorate still undecided.

We have posted profiles on the two men asking to be elected to the state’s highest office.

In this feature, Capitol reporter Dan Boyce spends a day with former Congressman Hill, a man whose vision for the state would look quite different from the Montana of today.

Candidate Profile: Steve Bullock, Democrat for Governor

Steve Bullock speaks to supporters in Bonner Park in Missoula

Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock has been running to be the state’s next Governor since September of last year. The Montana native was raised in Helena and says his campaign is looking to help define the state he passes on to his kids.

Before his one term as Attorney General, Bullock operated a private law practice in Helena and is known for being the architect of a bill which raised Montana’s minimum wage.

We will be posting profiles on the two men asking to be elected to the state’s highest office.

In this feature, Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce follows Bullock during a day on the campaign trail to find out more about his vision for the state.

Hill stands behind $500K GOP donation as Bullock files lawsuit

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock’s campaign has filed a lawsuit against the campaign of Bullock’s Republican opponent, Rick Hill.

Bullock accuses Hill’s campaign of illegally accepting more than $500 thousand in contributions from the state Republican Party, well over the prescribed limit.

Hill counters the donation was completely legal, given during a short window when limits on campaign contributions were dropped.

Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor John Walsh held a late afternoon press conference Thursday inside the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse.

“We are asking the court to stop Congressman Hill from spending or continuing to spend these illegal contributions and secondly to force the Congressman to return illegal contributions,” Walsh said.

During a phone interview earlier in the day, Bullock justified his campaign’s decision to file a district court lawsuit over a half million dollar donation made to Republican Rick Hill’s gubernatorial bid from the state GOP.

“I think it underscores here’s a guy who will say anything and do anything to get elected and I think Montanans deserve a lot better,” Bullock said.

The half-million dollar donation is well above the about $20 thousand a political party can legally give a candidate. But earlier this month District Judge Charles Lovell struck Montana’s law regarding campaign contribution limits. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals has put a stay on Lovell’s ruling since then. Rick Hill’s campaign says between Lovell’s order and the stay from the 9th circuit, unlimited donations were legal.

Montana State University Political Science Professor David Parker agrees.

“Essentially for that six day window, you did have no limits and the Republicans took advantage of that,” Parker said.

Steve Bullock says his campaign did not take advantage of that window, adding anything received over the legal amount was refunded. Bullock has been on record many times supporting Montana’s campaign contribution limits, and fighting court decisions striking them down in his role as Attorney General. Maintaining those limits has been a major theme of his run for Governor. MSU’s David Parker says that would have put the Bullock campaign in a tough spot when unlimited donations were legal.

“They couldn’t have done the same thing, they couldn’t have gone out and gotten a big contribution,” Parker said. “So what they’re trying to do is highlight it within their narrative and say hey this is a consequence of not having these limits is people can come in, slap down a ton of money and they can own this election and they can own that particular candidate, so this fits completely within their narrative.”

Republican Candidate Rick Hill sees nothing wrong with taking the money from the Montana GOP. He says Judge Lovell’s ruling striking down the contribution limits allowed his campaign to make the race a little more fair after he has been the subject of withering negative ads from outside groups.

“If there’s anything unethical going out there it’s the Democrat Governor’s Association attacking my reputation dishonestly, that’s where the unethical conduct has been,” Hill said.

Bullock has also faced negative advertising from outside groups. Yet, Hill correctly points out Bullock has received more of his campaign money from outside Montana than the Hill campaign.

“Lawyers and lobbyists from California and Maryland and Virginia and that really has distored the campaign,” Hill said. “What Lovell is really trying to say is Montanans really ought to have an equal voice in who should be come their next governor and this will come close at least. I don’t think this will level the playing field.”

The state GOP gave Republican Attorney General Candidate Tim Fox $32 thousand in addition to the half million dollars given to Hill during the  window of Lovell’s ruling. Executive Director Bowen Greenwood would not disclose where that money came from, but said a report later in the month will provide more detail.

“We will disclose our donors exactly the way the law tells us to,” Greenwood said.

Back to the legality of the donation, the Bullock campaign says that even if receiving the donation during the window was legal, keeping it after the 9th Circuit’s stay is not legal. Again, MSU Political Science Professor David Parker thinks the donation looks ok, but he doesn’t think he would have made that move if he was the state Republican Party, because of the appearance of it all.

“It may have been legal, but it looks like there’s this activity that is kind of not above board. It looks like they’re trying to purchase the election. Whether it’s legal or not, it still doesn’t look good,” Parker said.

The Montana GOP says this money will help spread Rick Hill’s message to voters, and that’s a good thing.

Attorney general candidate Pam Bucy is disclosing she also accepted — and then refunded — a large campaign contribution during the brief time a judge said they were allowed. Bucy said she returned a $35,000 donation to the Montana Democratic Party on Tuesday when an appeals court made it clear that reinstated limits would be in place through the election. The Democratic Party said Thursday its only abnormally large donation was to Bucy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Schweitzer justifies trips in final months in office

Governor Brian Schweitzer is returning to Montana tonight after a few days of meetings in Washington D.C.

Last week, Schweitzer spent a few days in China meeting with companies about exporting Montana products.

Meanwhile, the latest round of attacks flying around the U.S. Senate Race between Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg concern accusations of unwarranted trips on the government dime.

In D.C., Governor Brian Schweitzer has been meeting with the departments of Interior and Energy, another meeting regarding a pork processing plant he’s trying to help facilitate in Shelby. Of course, he didn’t miss his opportunity to stop in at CNN.

Schweitzer says regular meetings with Federal Agencies are a part of the job.

“For better or for worse, it’s a partnership of the states and the federal government. 25 percent of the land in Montana is owned by the federal government and we’ve got to build this partnership,” Schweitzer said.

The Governor is leaving office at the end of the year due to term limits, to be replaced by either Democrat Attorney General Steve Bullock or former Republican Congressman Rick Hill. The rumor mill has been running wild with questions about what Schweitzer may do next—maybe a 2016 Presidential bid or perhaps a cabinet post.

“Any of those meetings include talks of plans for your future sir?” I asked Schweitzer.

“No (laughs) no. I think most people know that I love Montana and my future is in Montana.”

Schweitzer’s recent trip to China was spurred by him being invited to speak at an international energy conference.

“Shared the panel with a couple of Nobel Prize Laureates so I was a little intimidated.”

He also used the opportunity to visit companies where he’s trying to work out export deals. He says the emerging markets for Montana commodities are immense.

“100 percent of the copper ore produced in Montana currently goes to China, has for years. They have an active interest in increasing their purchases of meat in the United States and that’s why we’re working on this pork processing plant.”

The Governor also pursued opportunities for exporting platinum, palladium, wheat, barley and coal.

“This being again, your final months in office, do you feel you have to change your conversations, do you have to change your approach since you won’t be the man you’re dealing with in a few months?” I asked.

“Everybody understands that we have a democracy in this country and whoever is elected to an office at some point in the not too distant future that personality will no longer be in that office. You represent the office and you represent the state of Montana, that’s my mission… I don’t represent myself as a personality, that’s what I do as a private businessman and that’s what I’ll be doing in the future.”

Until then, Schweitzer stands behind his final trips around the country and around the world as the Governor of Montana.

“Well, I don’t think there’s anybody in Montana that thinks Brian Schweitzer just loves going to Washington D.C. I’ve made that abundantly obvious in the past. And there are a lot of destinations around the world, almost all destinations around the world are far superior to going to China if you want to be a tourist.”

Bullock, Hill attend Montana Healthcare Forum

Montana’s candidates for governor each held a forum with professionals in the state’s healthcare industry this week.

Democrat Steve Bullock and Republican Rick Hill each needed to respond to pretty specific questions from the Montana Healthcare Forum.

The Montana Healthcare Forum has been going on for years. Groups like the AARP and the Montana Chamber of Commerce and insurance companies like Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Montana come together with medical professionals and state lawmakers to talk about problems in state healthcare and potential solutions.

Bullock and Hill each spent an hour separately fielding questions on what they would do to improve healthcare from the Governor’s seat.

The questions ranged from Medicaid expansion to budgeting to community based healthcare. Bullock was more receptive of changes coming under the federal health care law.Hill would rather see Republicans in Washington D.C. overturn it. But, Hill says he would work within the law if that does not happen.

The candidates differed in how they want to address rising healthcare costs. Bullock says it’s through more effective preventive care—getting people to see a primary care physician more often.

“Most of the costs end up dealing with chronic issues and end of life issues,” Bullock said. “Let’s address is through prevention, through screening and through regular screening beforehand so it never gets to be chronic.”

A different position from former Congressman Hill. He says it’s more important to treat chronic conditions before they reach the acute stage.

“Well, preventive care sort of has a mixed bag in terms of what it’s actually accomplished and that’s why I think most people today are focusing rather on chronic disease management and chronic condition management as opposed to preventative medicine,” Hill said.

As for what each man would do first to address health concerns once in office, Bullock says it’s bringing the stakeholders from the Healthcare Forum together again to plot the best course.

Hill says the Department of Health and Human Services would be the first place he would look to cut costs.