Montana primary packed with consequential races up and down ballot
(CN) — Montana voters have a lengthy ballot to work with this year as the ballot in the June 2 primary is the governor’s position, a U.S. Senate seat and a U.S. House seat, among others.
In the governor’s election, there’s a three-way race for a spot on the Republican ticket to the November general election, while two Democrats are vying for a place on the November ballot.
On the Democrat side, Missoula businesswoman Whitney Williams and Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney face off while on the Republican ticket, U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte faces Tim Fox, the Montana attorney general, and Kalispell orthopedic surgeon Al Olszewski.
In that three-way race, there seems to be contention from within the ranks against Gianforte, an out of state businessman who is the wealthiest member of Congress. He has poured $1.5 million of his own money into his campaign.
Gianforte lost to Democratic Governor Steve Bullock in the 2016 gubernatorial election, and when Ryan Zinke resigned to become Secretary of the Interior under Trump in 2016, Gianforte in May 2017 defeated musician Rob Quist to win Montana’s single House seat. Gianforte was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges on the night of the election after he assaulted a reporter for The Guardian.
Fox, Gianforte and Olszewski shared their views of politics during an online debate May 2. Olszewski has been an outspoken opponent of Montana’s water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
The compact would give water rights on several million acres of land in Montana to the tribes, who claim the land was their aboriginal hunting and fishing territory. The compact passed the Legislature in 2015 and the bill is sitting in Congress, awaiting ratification.
“If we’re going to give a property right to somebody else it should be because we’re being reimbursed for it,” Olszewski said, “or we forfeited it in a court of law. Let’s create a new compact that’s fair to everyone.”
Montana — which overwhelmingly supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election — has not elected a Republican governor since 2001, when the state chose Judy Martz, its first female governor.
Gianforte has said he will work to streamline and improve state agencies in Montana.
“I hear over and over that our state agencies are not run well,” Gianforte said. “We need new leadership … to bring a culture of customer service back to state government to get it working for people again.”
Fox said he wants to fight Montana’s meth problem, and in order to do so, America must have a secure southern border. But, he said, in reference to Gianforte leaving his House seat after two years, “We can’t abandon our Congressional seats if we’re going to get the secured border.”
On the Democratic side, Williams is a sixth-generation Montana who once served as Hillary Clinton’s trip director. Cooney is a fixture in Montana politics, having served in the Legislature, as secretary of state and deputy commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
In a May 2 debate, Cooney said he knows how to accomplish goals in state government.
“Crossing party lines, bringing people together is how you get things done,” he said.
Montana does not have a sales tax, and Montanans contribute to the government through property taxes. Williams said Montanans are overburdened with property taxes, and the state should look at Hawaii, which gives generous tax breaks to residents. She also advocates legalizing marijuana, which could provide up to $100 million per biennium.
“I think it’s time to get on with that, which would give relief for property taxes,” she said.
In the U.S. Senate race, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat who is termed-out, is challenging Republican U.S. Senator Steve Daines in what could be a pivotal November election.
Democrats need four seats to flip the Senate into their control, and it appears Bullock has a fair chance of defeating Daines, according to early polls.
Soon after he abandoned his bid for president and announced his candidacy for the Senate, Bullock was shown in a tie with Daines, according to a Public Policy Polling survey.
Just two weeks after announcing his run for the Senate, the poll from Public Policy Polling showed that Bullock and Daines were tied at 47-47 with six percent of voters undecided.
Now Bullock has extended that lead by up to six points, according to a recent poll by Montana State University, although that is a “statistical tie,” as Bullock’s lead is within the margin of error.
Bullock has been a fund-raising machine.
Daines is pushing a pro-America jobs platform, although he himself was a Procter-Gamble executive who lived in China for six years. In a recent op-ed, Daines said he’s pushing to bring back jobs from China.
“China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak is a stark reminder that we cannot rely on foreign nations for our medical supplies and drug manufacturing needs,” Daines said. “The Chinese Communist Party’s reckless actions to downplay and lie about the severity of this virus has changed the lives of every American.
Being dependent on China is a threat to our national health and national security. I’ve taken swift action to put America first and lead the efforts in Congress to support Made in America manufacturing and jobs.”
Elected to the House in 2012, Daines was the 2017 keynote speaker at the U.S. China Business Council, a private nonprofit organization of about 200 American companies that do business with the country’s largest trading partner.
According to the USCBC’s website, the goal of the organization is to “expand the US-China commercial relationship. It favors constructive, results-oriented engagement with China to eliminate trade and investment barriers.”
In a May 4 Facebook post, Daines said, “China’s cover up of COVID-19 made this pandemic worse. Our economy shut down & American lives have been lost. Drug / PPE manufacturing jobs must be brought back to the U.S. We can’t continue to depend on China.”
Bullock’s popularity has been steady during the Covid-19 pandemic, as he’s been slow and cautious to reopen Montana. Bullock issued a stay-home order in March, but the state is tied with Hawaii for the lowest-number of Covid-19 cases.
Montana’s death toll from the pandemic is at 17, with 487 total cases, according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.
In the race for Montana’s single House seat, which Gianforte forfeited, Democrat Kathleen Williams is up against Thomas Winter, while Republican Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton faces Matt Rosendale, Joe Dooling and Debra Lamm.
Rosendale lost in the 2018 Senate race to Jon Tester.
Rosendale and Williams are the leaders in finance in this race, with Williams taking in $1.83 million so far, while Rosendale has garnered $1.472 million. Stapleton has taken in just under $200,000 through May 13.
Montana’s general election is Nov. 3.