FEATURE INTERVIEW: Attorney General-Elect Tim Fox on his transition to elected office

Attorney General-Elect Tim Fox

Attorney General-Elect Tim Fox

Helena Lawyer Tim Fox is weeks away from taking office as Montana’s 21st Attorney General.

The Republican defeated Democratic challenger Pam Bucy for the AG post in the November election.

This was actually not the first time Fox ran for the office, losing his first attempt in 2008 to current Attorney-General and Montana Governor-Elect, Democrat Steve Bullock.

In this Feature Interview, Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce speaks with Fox about his transition, and his relationship with Bullock.

Fox also reflects on his position as the only Republican in state-wide elected office and the first Republican Attorney General in 20 years.

Sally Mauk talks with Governor-elect Steve Bullock about his Cabinet picks…

Steve BullockAs we reported earlier, Governor-elect Steve Bullock has named the first three members of his Cabinet, subject to approval of the state Senate. It’s the first big step of many to be made as Bullock assembles the new administration, prior to his swearing-in on January 7th. In this feature interview, News Director Sally Mauk talks with the Governor-elect about his first appointments – and his other preparation for his new job…

Campaign Beat Oct 19 – Chuck, Sally and Mike talk donations, lawsuits, and ads…

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk, Mike Dennison

On this edition of “Campaign Beat”, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about the brouhaha in the governor’s race over campaign donations, the importance of Saturday’s televised Senate debate, and the latest ads in that Senate race….

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

Shifting media landscape changing how state newspaper endorsements viewed

About this time in the election cycle newspapers traditionally start releasing their endorsements for candidates in political races.

But, in this rapidly evolving media marketplace, do those kinds of endorsements matter?

If you talk to Democratic Attorney General candidate Pam Bucy about newspaper endorsements—she’s quick to say they definitely matter. Bucy just received the nod from the state’s largest newspaper, the Billings Gazette. She is locked in a tough race against Helena attorney, Republican Tim Fox.

To get an endorsement, both candidates will go through an interview with the paper’s editorial board.

“And they ask a lot of questions,” Bucy said,  “a lot of hard questions about what you’ve done, what your background is.”

The boards generally include community stakeholders and citizens. Bucy says with the exploding number of media options available, voters are looking for that kind of insight.

“It is very hard to get the information you need to make an educated choice off of a 30 second sound bite,” Bucy said.

Of course, candidates receive all types of endorsements. Just go to any campaign website. Notable community figures, or organizations. This week, NRA National President David Keene gave his endorsement to Bucy’s challenger Tim Fox during a public event at the state capitol building.

MSU Political Science Professor David Parker says newspaper endorsements can matter, especially in a lower tier race like Attorney General. Parker says you have to think about your information environment. Comparatively, not as much information in the AGs race, so he says it’s not so much that the reputation of the editorial board matters.

“The thing that matters a lot is there’s somebody out there that’s paying attention to this race and they endorse this person. that’s a big piece of information,” Parker said.

Plus, he says other reporters may do stories on these endorsements, essentially equating to more free advertising. Yet, Parker believes newspaper endorsements matter a lot less for high-profile races like the Tester-Rehberg Senate race.

“I can’t imagine endorsements of any of the newspapers or television stations or news outlets would make a terrible amount of difference just because there’s so much information out there it doesn’t really have any added benefit,” Parker said.

The Billings Gazette has also endorsed Democrat Monica Lindeen for State Auditor, Democrat Linda McCulloch for Secretary of State and Laurie McKinnon for a spot on the Montana Supreme Court.

Other newspapers in the state are dropping the practice of endorsements. This weekend the Great Falls Tribune announced it would be stopping endorsements of any political candidates. Publisher and Editor Jim Strauss thinks it may be the first time in the paper’s 127-year history it won’t be doing so. Strauss says the paper is cutting endorsements for the same reason Pam Bucy supports them—the tidal wave of new media.

He says so many media organizations today blur the lines between news and opinion. While reporters in the Great Falls Tribune Newsroom have never been involved in the endorsements made by the editorial board, Strauss isn’t sure today’s audience is making that distinction.

“After endorsements run, people want to label us one way or another and I see that as unfortunately undermining our top priority which is to provide that thorough, credible coverage,” Strauss said.

Strauss says that certainly won’t stop his paper from bringing that coverage to the election, even if it doesn’t include the long held tradition of endorsements.

Campaign Beat Sept 21 – Sally, Chuck and Mike talk polls, ads, and debates…

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk, Mike Dennison

On this edition of “Campaign Beat”, our weekly political analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison talk about the latest poll results, the first debate in the governor’s race, a court ruling that could affect the judicial races, and new ads by outside PAC’s….

Campaign Beat June 8 – Chuck, Sally and Mike deconstruct the primary election…

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk, Mike Dennison

On this edition of “Campaign Beat”, our weekly political analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about the winners and losers in this week’s primary election – and who has the edge in the upcoming general election…

Jim Shockley emphasizes legislative, military experience in Republican run for Attorney General

Jim Shockley

State Senator Jim Shockley has been playing a role in the Montana Legislature for 14 years. He currently chairs the committee that deals with law and justice issues. He’s looking to these years in the Legislature and his over 30 years of law experience to help him stand out in the Republican Primary Race for Attorney General.

Shockley was up at 4 AM the morning of our interview. The 67 year-old drove to Helena from his home in the Bitterroot Valley town of Victor. He had another radio interview on the phone beforehand and other stops in other communities afterward. That’s a statewide campaign for you.

“It’s a lot of work,” Shockley laughed, predicting he would be getting to bed around midnight.

In one respect, the Republican primary race between Shockley and attorney Tim Fox mirrors the Democratic AG primary between Jesse Laslovich and Pam Bucy. One candidate has extensive legislative experience—the other does not. The question is whether or not that’s important for the Attorney General’s seat. Not surprisingly, Senator Shockley says it is.

“If you’re in the legislature and you learn how the law is made, it’s easier to implement it and there will be certain times when the Attorney General is gonna want to lobby for legislation he thinks is needed by law enforcement, if you’ve been in the Legislature and know how the system works,” Shockley said. “You know the people in the Legislature, you can be much more effective.”

Shockley spent 20 some years in the Marine Corps. He received a purple heart for injuries received in Vietnam. And before opening his private law practice in Victor he worked as a military lawyer. When it comes to managing something, like the Attorney General manages the Department of Justice, he says Marines make things work.

“You’re oriented towards the mission–let’s call it a job. Second consideration is your people, let’s call that H.R. I’d take that approach to the Attorney General’s Office and I think I’d make it a better place to work and a more efficient place,” he said.

Shockley supports Attorney General Steve Bullock’s defense of Montana’s ban on Corporate Campaign Spending—the century-old Corrupt Practices Act. He also commends the Attorney General’s office for defending the most recent medical marijuana reform law passed by the state legislature.

He says that’s the Attorney General’s job regardless, though—to defend Montana’s laws—no matter how they came to be.

“I would represent the Legislature if they pass it by initiative or referendum regardless of how I might think about it,” he said.

He disagrees with Bullock not joining a lawsuit with other Attorney’s General against the Affordable Care Act. He calls the federal healthcare reform unconstitutional.

And he says Bullock made the wrong move in his state Land Board vote against leasing the Otter Creek Coal tracts. Bullock says he supported mining Otter Creek coal, but didn’t think the state was being offered enough money for the leases. The sale did end up going through anyway. But Shockley says that vote against Otter Creek is a risk he would not have taken.

He says with his seat on the land board he would be a strong advocate for responsible natural resource development. Shockley says people who worry about CO-2 emissions should look to China—which is building new coal-fired power plants every month.

“Us digging our coal in Montana is not going to make a difference in the big picture. They ought to have scrubbers to take out the sulfur and they do–there’s ways to take out the mercury,” Shockley said.

When asked about policy priorities he would pursue, Shockley does not list laws he wants to see enacted. He says Montana has enough law for the most part.

“I know a lot of politicians running for office saying I’m gonna do this that or the other with the law. Well I think enforcing what we got is probably the place to start and if we need more we can discuss it with the legislature.”

Shockley says he is being outspent two to one by his primary opponent, Tim Fox. But he says he’s trying to spend his money wisely meeting as many different people in as many different venues as he can—all across the state.

“I think the retail politics will pay off. People like to see the person who’s running for office, see what he looks like,” Shockley said.

He leaves my office shortly afterward to give more voters that opportunity.

Pam Bucy touts courtroom experience in Democratic Primary for Attorney General

Pam Bucy

Democratic Attorney General Candidate Pam Bucy says she knows a lot about the seat she is looking to win. She served as the Executive Assistant Attorney General under former Attorney General Mike McGrath for seven years. Bucy wants voters to focus on that experience when choosing between her and primary challenger, Jesse Laslovich.

Pam Bucy asked to meet me in the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse across from the County jail. She got her start down the hall in Justice Court and would have been pretty busy this time of day.

“One o’clock…that’s when the prisoners appear from across the street. That’s when we as county attorneys would go in and that’s when you do all your bond hearings and all of that,” she said.

Bucy says she learned so much about the criminal justice system from that job. She moved from the County Attorney’s Office to working for District Court, then over to the Supreme Court. Bucy wants Democrats to look at that legal experience, that courtroom experience when marking their primary ballots. Her opponent, Jesse Laslovich, points to his long experience as a State Legislator, in both the House and the Senate.

That’s something Bucy does not have. She says working with the Legislature is not an enormous part of the Attorney General’s job, though.

“The daily work of the Attorney General’s Office…is making legal decisions, making administrative decisions and in all deference to my good friend Jesse, this is not a legislative job, at all,” she said in a recent primary debate with Laslovich.

The A.G. does interact with the Legislature in pushing for funding and advocating for certain policies. She says she has as much experience as Laslovich as far as that interaction is concerned. She says she was doing it from the side of the Attorney General’s office since Laslovich’s first term as a young representative.

“I’ve been carrying the department’s legislation in the legislature for as long –you know, since he was 19 years old I’ve been doing that kind of work,” she said.

Jesse Laslovich also does have his fair share of legal experience as an attorney. He even worked in the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s office for a year.

“I was there for 7 and a half years doing a wide variety of work,” Bucy countered.

Both candidates are asking to be considered on their different types of experience because on substantive policy, they’re very similar. Bucy admits that.

“On some of the more major issues I really do think we probably agree and I think that’s why we’re both democrats and that’s what led us both to this place,” she said.

She says social justice issues would be one of her key priorities if elected.

“One of the things I’m very passionate about is ensuring that our insurance industry does not reintroduce gender discrimination into the purchase of insurance products,” she said.

She wants to better protect children from online predators. She says the Attorney General’s position on the state land board is key to getting fair market value for leases on school trust lands. And Bucy applauds current Attorney General Steve Bullock, especially when it comes to his defense of Montana’s ban on corporate campaign spending. That law now waits for judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court and Bucy says she would very much like to carry on Bullock’s work.

“I would absolutely be thrilled to make the argument at the United State’s Supreme Court that Montana’s people want to control their elections and not corporations,” she said.

Before she gets there, she would have to get through the November election. But she has to pass the primary first of all. Despite her resume, Bucy says running a statewide campaign is a whole different kind of challenge.

“I find this to be the toughest job that I’ve ever had to do,” Bucy said.


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.