Big Sky Contest Lighting “Blue”—Democratic Governor Steve Bullock v. Trump/”Team Red” Senator Steve Daines May 17, 2020
Montana, Big Sky Country. In the home of open spaces, running cattle, and galloping cowboys, a political contest is brewing that may tip control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats. It’s the race between the two Steves—Democratic Governor Steve Bullock v. GOP Senator Steve Daines. Let’s focus on this Rocky Mountain brawl.
Second-term Democratic Governor Steve Bullock (54) has thrown his “ginormous” political hat into the ring aiming to defeat first-term GOP Senator Steve Daines (57). Missoula, MT native Bullock was raised in Helena where his newspaper route included the governor’s mansion. Bullock received his 1988 undergraduate degree from Claremont McKenna College and a 1994 law degree from Columbia University. After law school graduation, he briefly practiced at a law firm. In 1996, Bullock returned to MT to become chief legal counsel to Democratic Secretary of State Mike Cooney. From 1997-2001, Bullock worked at the MT Department of Justice as executive assistant attorney general, and later as acting chief deputy. During this time, Bullock also served as legislative director, coordinating the Atty. General’s legislative efforts. As Assistant Atty. General, Bullock wrote the landmark opinion that guaranteed public access to streams and rivers (Cohen & Cook 2020, doj.mt.gov/, 8/01/2014, tsl.news/steve-bullock, 4/30/2019, doj.mt.gov/our-attorney-general, 7/30/12).
In 2000, Bullock ran for Atty. General of MT, but lost the Democratic primary. He moved to D.C. to practice law and was an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School. After returning to MT in 2004, he practiced law in Helena. He represented individuals, consumer groups, labor unions, peace officers, associations of political subdivisions, and small and large businesses (Cohen & Cook 2020, doj.mt.gov/our-attorney-general, 7/30/12).
In 2008, Bullock successfully ran for MT Atty. General, capturing 53% of the vote in the general election. As Atty. General, Bullock created a state prescription drug registry and a 24/7 sobriety program, which held repeat DUI offenders accountable by requiring them to submit to and pay for regular blood alcohol tests. Bullock developed a Children’s Justice Center to improve law enforcement’s ability to track down and prosecute child predators. He gained national attention by defending MT’s campaign finance law successfully in that state’s Supreme Court and challenging the U.S. Supreme Ct.’s Citizens United decision that allowed nearly unchecked campaign spending. The Supreme Ct., however, struck down MT’s campaign law in a 5-4 decision, relying on Citizens United (Cohen & Cook, 2020, latimes.com, 6/15/12, nytimes.com, 6/26/12).
In 2012, Bullock ran to succeed Dem. Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Bullock called his candidacy “a continuation of Schweitzer’s work.” Bullock told the “Missoulian” newspaper that the race is about “what sort of progressive Montana we want this to be.” The GOP hoped to win this race with Cong. Rick Hill. However, while Romney won MT by 13 points, Bullock beat Hill by 7,571 votes, a 1.6% margin in this usually “Red”-tilting state (Cohen & Cook 2020).
Bullock appealed for co-operation with the legislature to make progress. However, Gov. Bullock ended up playing “hardball” and used his veto “branding irons” almost as much as Schweitzer had. The GOP state legislature initially blocked many of Bullock’s plans, including trying to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Bullock courageously stood for overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and opposed a transfer of federal lands to the state (Cohen & Cook, 2020). In his first term, Bullock had three Lieutenant Governors. When Democratic Senator Max Baucus resigned in 2014, Bullock appointed Lt. Gov. John Walsh to his seat. Walsh’s successor, Angela McLean, left her post to head an office dealing with Native American and minority achievement. Bullock then appointed Mike Cooney, his former boss in MT’s Dept. of State (Cohen & Cook 2020, Dennison, krtv.com, 11/30/15, Holly Michels, helenair.com, 3/03/16). Bullock ultimately drafted a compromise expansion plan that allowed tens of thousands of Montanans to sign up for Medicaid under Obamacare. After the U.S. Supreme Ct. overthrew MT’s campaign finance law, Gov. Bullock worked with both parties to craft a bill that required disclosure by certain non-profit groups spending on state races. He signed the bill in 2015 and the courts upheld it in 2016. Bullock negotiated a water-rights bill with the Native American Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. In 2016, Bullock was chair of the Democratic Governors Association (Cohen & Cook 2020).
Although extremely popular, with a 66%-19% approval/disapproval rating in 9/2016, (“Morning Consult” survey), winning re-election in normally “Red” MT was no “cakewalk.” Greg Gianforte, a Bozeman tech entrepreneur, and later MT’s sole Congressman, spent more than $6 million of his own fortune against Bullock. Although Trump trounced Hillary in MT by 20 points, Bullock won a second term by 4 points and just under 19,000 votes (Cohen & Cook 2020). In his second term, Bullock used his veto “irons” again. He vetoed a bill as useless and anti-Muslim that banned sharia and other foreign laws. He vetoed bills to allow guns in post offices and to allow gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without government permission. Gov. Bullock signed bipartisan bills to update the state’s sexual assault laws. He became the first Governor to protect net neutrality (Cohen & Cook 2020).
In 5/2019, Bullock announced he was running for President in 2020. He emphasized his opposition to the Citizens United Supreme Ct. case and spoke of his ability to win Democratic votes in rural “Red” areas. However, he entered the race late and was in a field of far better- known candidates, including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. He never rose above 1% in national polls and ended his campaign in 12/2019 (cbsnews.com, washingtonpost.com). On 3/09/2020, after talks with Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Barack Obama, Bullock filed to run for the MT seat presently held by GOPer Steve Daines, one that was formerly held for six terms by Dem. Max Baucus (nytimes.com, 3/04/2020, Martin, latimes.com, 3/09/20). The non-partisan organization “On The Issues” calls Bullock a “Moderate Liberal.” Bullock is pro-choice and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. He vetoed bills restricting late-term abortions (aclumontana.org, flatheadbeacon.com, 5/02/17, plannedparenthood.org, Stahl, 5/16/18). He believes climate change is real. Initially against gun control, Bullock now supports universal background checks, and temporary removal of firearms from potentially violent people. He opposes anti-labor right-to-work laws and has been endorsed by labor’s AFL-CIO. Bullock opposed a voter-passed law that would have required state agencies to verify whether individuals receiving certain services were U.S. citizens. This law was later ruled unconstitutional (Hegyi, mtpr.org, 5/14/19, washingtontimes.com, Astor, nytimes.com, 5/14/19, usatoday.com, Adams, J.S., 5/04/18).
Here’s Bullock’s GOP opponent, first-term Senator Steve Daines. Daines grew up in Bozeman, MT where his father started a home construction business. He received a 1984 BS degree in chemical engineering from Montana State University (MSU). During his senior year in college, he became one of the youngest delegates at the 1984 GOP Convention that re-nominated President Reagan for a second term. Daines was president of the MSU College Republicans (Cohen & Cook 2020, nationaljournal.com). Daines spent 19 years with Proctor & Gamble (P&G), including a 6-year stint with P&G in Hong Kong and China. In 1997, Daines left P&G and rejoined his family’s business in Bozeman. In 1990, Greg Gianforte, the founder of RightNow Technologies asked Daines to join him as vice-president of customer service. Daines later supported Gianforte in his unsuccessful 2016 gubernatorial run against Bullock and backed him in his controversial but successful House special-election victory in 2017 (Cohen & Cook 2020).
From 2007-2008, Daines served as MT state GOP chair and as a national surrogate for Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential run (Cohen & Cook 2020, helenair.com, 5/06/14). In 2008, Daines ran as Lt. Gov. on the GOP ticket with gubernatorial nominee Roy Brown. Brown and Daines were clobbered by Gov. Schweitzer and his running mate by a 32% margin (Cohen & Cook 2020, ourcampaigns.com, 11/04/08 MT Gov. Race). In 2012, Daines ran for GOP Cong. Denny Rehberg’s open House seat when Rehberg unsuccessfully ran against Dem. Senator Jon Tester. Daines won his race for MT’s sole House seat with 53% of the vote (Cohen & Cook). In his one House term, right-winger Daines supported Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) anti-middle- class budget. Daines voted for a measure to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He pushed provisions in bills that emphasized MT’s energy production (Cohen & Cook).
Just 14 months after his House election, Cong. Daines jumped into the 2014 Senate race to fight for the seat from which Dem. Senator Max Baucus had resigned. When former Dem. Gov. Schweitzer declined to run, Gov. Bullock, as was previously mentioned, appointed his Lt. Gov., retired Army general John Walsh to this seat. Luck helped Daines in what might have been a tough race. In 6/2014, the New York Times published a story that Walsh had plagiarized large portions of his thesis at the Army War College. In 8/2014, Walsh left the race to succeed Baucus. The well-funded Daines trampled Walsh’s unknown Democratic replacement by 18 points (Cohen & Cook 2020).
In the Senate, Daines is known as a reliable ally of Demagogue Donald. Daines, however, threatened to vote against Trump’s top 1% tax cut unless “smaller businesses” got better breaks. He voted for it only after it was changed in a manner that cut his own taxes significantly (Cohen & Cook 2020). Daines’ first Senate bill was to make Congress balance the budget in 10 years or have its members lose their pay (AP). He opposes MT’s Medicaid expansion under Obamacare unless it defunds Planned Parenthood. He is anti-choice (factcheck.org, Kiely). He wants Obamacare repealed (ontheissues.org). He is for authorizing funding for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall (Cohen & Cook, 2020). He opposes comprehensive immigration reform and creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (ontheissues.org). Sen. Daines rejects the scientifically-accepted consensus on climate change. He stated that climate change is not “human-caused (bozemandailychronicle.com, Stein).” He opposes any restrictions on gun purchases and called expanding background checks “the wrong approach.” He wants teachers to be allowed to carry guns in schools and is against temporarily removing firearms from people presenting a danger to themselves or others (on theissues.org, house.gov). He is against net neutrality (mtpr.org, Cates-Carney). Daines opposes marriage equality. He was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision establishing a constitutional right to marry (ontheissues.org).
When Gov. Bullock announced he was running against Sen. Daines, political pundits immediately called this a “real race” that can help Democrats put control of the Senate in play for them (cnn.com, Cillizza, 4/27/20). Gov. Bullock’s profile has been heightened by his being in charge of the coronavirus response in MT (latimes.com, Hook 5/08/20). The latest poll from MSU (MT State University) gives Bullock a 7-point lead over Daines (MSU 4/10/4/27/20, dailykos.com, hpg, 5/05/20). However, remember, in national elections MT, usually votes “Red” for President. In 1992, Bill Clinton was the last Democratic presidential nominee to carry MT, and then by just 3 points (Cohen & Cook 2020). And bet on GOP and GOP-leaning groups to shower Daines with oodles of money. From 2009-2020, Koch Industries has given Daines at least $63,200 (opensecrets.org). Again, the Bullock-Daines race looks promising, but “Team Blue” can take nothing for granted. We must liberally fund Gov. Bullock’s race, and there must be a “y uu ge” turnout by mail or at the polls this 11/2020 to send Daines home.