Election preview: No challengers for Montana's incumbent state executive officials

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March 13, 2012

By Ballotpedia's State Executive Project team: Greg Janetka, Maresa Strano

HELENA, Montana: Nine state executive seats are up for election in Montana this year, including three seats on the Montana Public Service Commission. Candidates interested in running had until yesterday at 5:00 pm to file with the Montana Secretary of State. The primary election will be held for June 5, 2012, giving the candidates plenty of time to campaign and get their messages out to Montana's voters.

In the state executive races, there are seven uncontested primaries. None of the five incumbents seeking re-election this year face a primary challenger, and the Republican contests for Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction and Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, State Auditor have only one candidate each. Of the remaining four incumbents, two - Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) and Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar (R) - are prevented by term from running for the same office, one is running for a different office (Attorney General Steve Bullock is running for governor) and one, Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, is retiring.

Lt. Gov. Bohlinger (left) and Gov. Brian Schewitzer (right) are not seeking re-election in 2012.
See also: Montana gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial election, 2012

In Montana, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected on a single ticket. This year, 11 sets of candidates have entered the race: two Democrats, seven Republicans, one Libertarian and one set of independent candidates. The field will be whittled down to four after the two major parties select their candidates in the June 5th primary.

Montana's current governor, Brian Schweitzer, is prevented by term limits from seeking another term in office. Schweitzer's lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger, has announced he will retire at the end of his current term, leaving both seats open.

Donkey symbol.png Democratic primary candidates

  • Steve Bullock & John E. Walsh: Bullock is the current Attorney General of Montana; Walsh is a two-star general in the Montana National Guard. They are the heavy favorites in the Democratic primary.
  • Heather Margolis & Steve Nelsen: Margolis, the current ServeNext representative for Montana, and Nelsen, a retired founder of the Montana Conservation Corps, have been dubbed a "friendly primary challenge" by the Associated Press.[1] Their entry into the race, giving Bullock a primary challenger, saved Bullock from having to return nearly $120,000 in general fund campaign money -- in Montana, campaign limits only apply to one election.[2] In an interview after filing, Margolis reassured voters that she and Nelsen are committed to the race. They have both been active in Americorps and are strong advocates of civic engagement as a tool to strengthen local communities. They plan to campaign on university and college campuses to garner support from young voters.[2]

Gop logo2.jpg Republican primary candidates

  • Rick Hill & Jon Sonju: Hill, a former Congressman, tapped state Senator Jon Sonju to be his running mate, touting Sonju's experience. The duo is leading the Republican field in the polls and boasts the largest campaign fund.[3][4]
  • Bob Fanning & Joel Boniek: Despite losing his initial running mate, Flathead Valley pastor Chuck Baldwin, due to lack of both money and a "quality organization,"[5] Fanning is still in the race. He is now joined by former state Rep. Joel Boniek.
  • Neil Livingstone & Ryan Zinke: Livingstone, the founder of an international risk management and business solutions company, is teaming up with Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and current Montana state Senator.
  • Ken Miller & Bill Gallagher: Miller is a former state Senator. In his youth, he spent time as a bull rider before beginning a construction and roofing business. He is running with Gallagher, a former public school teacher and owner of both Polson Days Inn and Lake County Farm Bureau. Gallagher currently practices law in Helena.
  • Jim O'Hara & Scott Swingley: O'Hara is a former Choteau County Commissioner. He is a third generation Montana farmer but left the trade in the mid-1990s. He worked in construction and owned the Daily Grind, a coffee shop and bakery in Great Falls. Swingley, his running mate, is a retired Montana Highway Patrol trooper who currently works as a private investigator and security specialist.
  • Corey Stapleton & Bob Keenan: Stapleton is a fourth generation Montanan, former state Senator, and a 10 year veteran of the U.S. Navy. Bob Keenan is a veteran of Montana state politics, having served in both the Montana House of Representatives and the Montana State Senate. He and his wife have owned the Bigfork Inn since 1982.
  • Jim Lynch & Al Olszewski: Lynch is the former Director of the Montana Department of Transportation and has spent his career working in construction management. His running mate, Al Olsewski, is an orthopedic surgeon, President of Flathead Orthopedics, and veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Libertarian candidates

  • Ron Vandevender & Marc Mulcahy: Vandevender prides himself on living "off the grid" - generating his own electricity, growing a lot of his own food, and building his house by hand. He lives in Craig, MT and helps raise his grandchildren.[6] His running mate is Marc Mulcahy.

Independent candidates

  • Bill Coate & Joni Oja: Coate is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, running as an independent because "the two-party system is broken" and "party politics and career politicians care more about maintaining power than finding common sense solutions to our nation's problems."[7] He is running with Joni Oja.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch is seeking a second term in office.
See also: Montana secretary of state election, 2012

Incumbent Democrat Linda McCulloch was first elected in 2008 as Montana's first female secretary of state. She filed for re-election to a second term on March 1, 2012, after which she reminded the press about her favorable spending record, and pledged to continue her efforts to simplify the voting process. Even against a swelling tide of conservatives targeting illegal immigrant voters, she stated that, “Onerous ID requirements, arcane restrictions on voter registration and limited access to absentee ballots are nothing more than deliberate efforts to disenfranchise voters.”[8]

McCulloch is unopposed in her party's primary, but may find a serious general election challenger in her predecessor, Republican candidate Brad Johnson, whom she narrowly defeated for the seat in 2008.

Johnson served one term as secretary, before McCulloch, the former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, took office in 2009. He has since run unsuccessfully for Public Service Commission in 2010, worked as a consultant, and on an alternative-energy development venture.[9] Upon announcing his candidacy last October, Johnson said his campaign would not be concentrating heavily on criticizing McCulloch's administration, but instead "it's going to be about the successes we had in the first term and continuing to realize the vision I had for the future of the office."[9]

Johnson will have to overcome Helena-based engineer Scott Aspenlieder, Drew Turiano, a real estate investor and science fiction author, and Missoula accountant Patty Lovaas in the Republican primary to get a rematch with McCulloch.[10]

There is one Libertarian candidate in the race: criminologist and civil liberties activist Roger Roots. Roots filed to run just in time to make the March 12 deadline.[11]

See also: Montana attorney general election, 2012

Current Attorney General of Montana Steve Bullock (D) is vacating his seat to run for the Governor's office in 2012. His absence leaves Montana Department of Labor attorney Pam Bucy and former Congressman Jesse Laslovich to face-off for the chance to represent the Democratic party on the general election ballot in November.[12]

Two Republican candidates have filed for their party's primary. The first is State Senator and former Montana Rep. Jim Shockley of Victor who is campaigning on his record fighting illegal immigration and the legalization of medical marijuana as a congressman, as well as his fierce opposition to Obamacare.

The second, Helena lawyer Tim Fox, ran for the AG's office in the 2008 election, winning the Republican primary but ultimately losing the general election to Bullock by a narrow margin, with about 47.4% of the vote. Fox aims to block "federal intrusion into Montana state sovereignty," by defending gun rights and joining with other states in battles to prevent the implementation of health care reform law that mandates individuals’ purchase of health coverage.[13]

Monica Lindeen is seeking a second term as state auditor
See also: Montana down ballot state executive elections, 2012

There will be no primaries in the race for Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, State Auditor. Democratic incumbent Monica Lindeen is seeking re-election to a second term in office. Her only challenger is freshman Republican state Rep. Derek Skees.[14]

Denise Juneau will not face a primary as she seeks re-election
See also: Montana down ballot state executive elections, 2012

When Democratic incumbent Denise Juneau first won election as Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008, she became the first American Indian woman elected to a statewide position.[15] In her bid for a second term Juneau will not have to face a primary, but can look forward to November when she will meet Republican Sandy Welch in the general election. Welch, a business consultant, former school administrator, and former teacher,[16] has not held public office.

Commissioner Brad Molar is term-limited and cannot seek re-election.
See also: Montana down ballot state executive elections, 2012

District 2

Due to term limits, Republican incumbent Brad Molnar is unable to seek re-election. Four candidates have filed for the seat, leading to primaries for both parties.

On the Democratic side, term-limited state Senator Lynda Moss will face former Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley.[17] For the Republicans, Al Garver, the Executive Director for the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States,[18] will face Yellowstone County Republican Chair Kirk Bushman.[19]

District 3

Incumbent John Vincent will face Mark Sweeney in the primary.

Five challengers will be vying for the District 3 seat as Democratic incumbent John Vincent seeks to defend his seat and win a second term.

Vincent, a former Bozeman Public Schools teacher, was first elected to the Public Service Commission in 2008. He has a long history in politics, including serving in the Montana House of Representatives from 1975-1990 and on the Gallatin County Commission from 2001-2006.[20] He faces a primary challenge from Chairman of the Anaconda Deer Lodge County Commission Mark Sweeney.[21]

The Republican contest will be a crowded affair with Attorney James Brown, 2004 PSC candidate Edward McCrone, state Rep. Michael More and former state legislator and president of the Montana Conservative Alliance Roger Koopman all running for the seat.[22]

Commissioner Gail Gutsche is unopposed in the June primary

District 4

Democratic incumbent Gail Gutsche will not face a primary challenge as she seeks her second term in office. When she was elected in 2008 she became only the second woman to serve on the Public Service Commission. Prior to that she served in the Montana House of Representatives from 1999-2005.[23]

Gutsche will have to wait till the Republican primary to find out who she is facing - state Sen. Bob Lake, Jim Pearson and Chris Greil are all seeking the nomination.

See also


Ballotpedia News
  1. NBC Montana, "Associated Press: Bullock tops list of last-day filers," March 12, 2012
  2. 2.0 2.1 KXLH.com, "Democrats Margolis & Nelsen enter race for MT governor," Mar 11, 2012
  3. Flathead Beacon, "Rick Hill announces Jon Sonju as gubernatorial running mate," January 18, 2012
  4. Flathead Beacon, "Field for governor's race expands to 13," October 10, 2011
  5. KRTV.com, "MT gubernatorial candidate Fanning loses running mate," February 13, 2012
  6. Belgrade News, "The dark horse of Yazoo City," January 8, 2012
  7. VoteCoate.com, "About Bill," accessed March 13, 2012
  8. The Missoulian, "McCulloch files for re-election as secretary of state," March 1, 2012
  9. 9.0 9.1 The Missoulian, "Brad Johnson announces bid to regain secretary of state's office," October 13, 2011
  10. [https://app.mt.gov/cgi-bin/filing/index.cgi?ACTION=LIST_NON_LEG Office of the Secretary of State, "2012 candidate listing," accessed March 2, 2012)
  11. Montana Secretary of State, "Candidate filing," accessed March 13, 2012
  12. The Missoulian, "Tim Fox announces bid for Montana GOP nomination as AG," March 9, 2012
  13. Ravalli Republic, "Helena lawyer Fox files to run for Montana attorney general as Republican," March 9, 2012
  14. Great Falls Tribune, "Montana primary election ballots set; record number file," March 13, 2012
  15. Montana Office of Public Instruction, "Biography of the Denise Juneau," accessed March 13, 2012
  16. Politics 1, "Montana," accessed March 13, 2012
  17. KULR 8, "Chuck Tooley Runs For Montana Public Service Commission," March 12, 2012
  18. Billings Gazette, "Ex-mayoral candidate Garver to run for PSC," January 9, 2012
  19. Yellowstone County Republicans, "Meet the Chairman, Kirk Bushman," accessed March 13, 2012 (dead link)
  20. Project Vote Smart, "John Vincent biography," accessed March 13, 2012
  21. Mark Sweeney for Public Service Commission, "Biography," accessed March 13, 2012
  22. Helena Independent Record, "Five candidates seeking PSC seat held by John Vincent," March 7, 2012
  23. Montana Public Service Commission, "Gail Gutsche," accessed March 13, 2012