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.

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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

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.

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.