Election preview: No primary challengers for Montana's incumbent state executives
HELENA, Montana: Nine state executive seats are up for election in Montana this year: governor and lieutenant governor (elected on a single ticket), secretary of state, attorney general, insurance commissioner/state auditor, superintendent of public instruction, and three seats on the public service commission.
Incumbents are seeking election in five of tomorrow's races, and none face a primary challenger. Of the other 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.
There are three Libertarian candidates (governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state) and two independent candidates (governor and lieutenant governor) seeking a state executive office this year. In Montana, four parties are entitled to nominate candidates via primary election: Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Americans Elect. On March 20, 2012, however, Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch ruled that the Libertarian Party may not have a primary this year. Her decision cited section 13-10-209(2) of Montana state code, which states "an election administrator does not need to prepare a primary ballot for a political party if (a) the party does not have candidates for more than half of the offices to appear on the ballot; or (b) no more than one candidate filed for nomination by that party for any of the offices to appear on the ballot" As none of the state executive races has more than one Libertarian candidate, all third party and independent candidates will advance to the general election in November.
- Governor/Lt. Governor
- Attorney General
- Secretary of State
- Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, State Auditor
- Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Public Service Commission (3 seats)
In Montana, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected on a single ticket. Incumbent Brian Schweitzer (D) is prevented by term limits from seeking another term in office. His lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger, has announced he will retire at the end of his current term, leaving both seats open.
Only two pairs of Democratic candidates have entered the race, with Steve Bullock, the state's current attorney general and his running mate John E. Walsh, the heavy favorites. Their primary opponents, Heather Margolis and Steve Nelsen, have been dubbed a "friendly primary challenge" by the Associated Press. Their entry into the race gave Bullock a primary challenger and saved him from having to return nearly $120,000 in general fund campaign money. Under state law, unopposed candidates must return any donations they received for their primary campaigns. Margolis has assured reporters she and Nelsen are serious about their candidacy. She has used the campaign as an opportunity to travel across the state and talk to encourage greater civic engagement - particularly among younger voters.
The most likely Republican candidates to face Bullock and Walsh are former Congressman Rick Hill and his running mate Jon Sonju. In a May 3 poll, Hill garnered 33% of the Republican vote, with his closest competitor, Ken Miller, boasting only 12%. The poll showed 35% of Republican voters still undecided, but with the other lesser-known candidates unable, at this juncture, to bring in larger support, Hill will likely win the GOP nomination. The poll also showed Hill and Bullock deadlocked in a hypothetical general election match-up, each with 39% of the vote, and Bullock with a 6 point lead over Miller in a similar pairing.
Socially, Bullock and Hill are somewhat similar. On abortion, Bullock believes the current laws that have made abortions legal in certain circumstances should not be repealed. He noted "complication, difficult and incredibly personal decisions like this should not be made by the government." Hill believes abortion "represents the destruction of an innocent human life" and supports "measures that discourage or limit abortions such as parental notification (when minors are seeking abortions), informed consent, waiting periods and the ban on partial-birth abortions." Both support the death penalty, though Bullock explained his support is only in "limited circumstances." When asked whether they favored changing the state constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, Hill replied "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman." Though Bullock does not favor changing the constitution, he is supportive of "legislative measures giving committed same-sex couples the opportunity to be together, free from discrimination."
- 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 against one another for the chance to represent the Democratic party on the general election ballot in November.
Pam Bucy is a former deputy chief attorney general and current Administrative Council for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. She is running on her record of representing the state before the Supreme Court on cases dealing with issues like cybercrime and elder abuse. Bucy is also appealing to women voters as an advocate of abortion rights and ensuring women's access to contraception and basic healthcare services under threat by legislative efforts like the mandatory ultrasound bill.
Former State Senator and State House Rep Jesse Laslovich's campaign focuses on his commitment to responsibly develop the state's natural resources to create job opportunities without harming the environment, and using his congressional experience to ask for additional resources to address the growing need for more law enforcement officers in eastern Montana. Laslovich also wants to create an embezzlement registry to enable employers to check prospective hires for a history of illicit business practices.
Two Republican candidates are vying for their party's nomination. The first is State Senator and former Montana Rep. Jim Shockley of Victor. The second, Helena lawyer Tim Fox, ran for the same office in the 2008 election, winning the Republican primary but ultimately losing the general election - to Bullock - by a narrow margin.
State Senator and former State Rep. Jim Shockley 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.
Helena lawyer Tim Fox was the 2008 Republican nominee for attorney general. In his second bid for the office, Fox's goals include blocking "federal intrusion into Montana state sovereignty," by defending gun rights and joining with other states in battles to strike down the federal healthcare reform law which mandates individuals’ purchase of health coverage.
Incumbent Democrat Linda McCulloch was elected in 2008 as Montana's first female secretary of state. She filed for re-election to a second term on March 1, 2012, at which time she reminded the press about her favorable spending record, and announced her pledge to continue efforts to simplify the voting process; Against a swelling tide of conservative-driven voter-ID legislation aimed at curbing voter fraud, she stated, “Onerous ID requirements, arcane restrictions on voter registration and limited access to absentee ballots are nothing more than deliberate efforts to disenfranchise voters.”
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. 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."
Johnson's main campaign platform is to improve the integrity of Montana's voting system. He wants to impede voter fraud through increased voter-ID requirements, eliminate Montana's - almost unique - election-day registration, and seek out available technologies for automatic signature verification to help identify impersonators at the polls. He also proposes expanding the secretary's authority to help prosecute those suspected of voter fraud, which he says would "involve a cooperative arrangement with the attorney general’s Justice Department." Currently, the secretary can only pass on reports to the department, a system which, according to Johnson, has proven ineffectual at treating the issue. Despite trailing his fellow Republican candidates throughout the primary season, reporting under $2,000 in cash contributions, he has been running as if he has already won his party's nomination, focusing largely on his general election prospects. About his past showdown with McCulloch, Johnson said “I don’t know the last time we’ve had a rematch for secretary of state, but I’m certainly looking forward to it.”
In fact, 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.
Turiano says he wants to use the office to challenge the 1990's court ruling that exempts federal offices from the state's term limits law to federal offices- specifically, he wants to use the office "to deny senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus ballot access in 2014."
Aspenlieder is the dark horse of the primary season, having handily outstripped his GOP competitors in the fundraising race, and winning over many Montanans with his campaign mantra about the people needing "a businessman, not a bureaucrat." He wants to use the office to streamline the business registration process, reduce the size of government.
Lovaas has been relatively quiet since filing for the election. Her only visible platform is pushing for legislation to ensure the integrity of Montana elections. She is "actively chasing down absentee voter fraud issues from past elections," and is currently pursuing case before the U.S. Supreme court on the issue of voter fraud.
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.
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. 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, has not held public office.
Due to term limits, Republican incumbent Brad Molnar is unable to seek re-election. Four candidates entered the race to fill the seat, leading to primaries for both parties.
On the Democratic ticket, term-limited state Senator Lynda Moss will face former Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley for the chance to advance to the general election.  For the Republicans, Al Garver, the Executive Director for the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, will face Yellowstone County Republican Chair Kirk Bushman.
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. He faces a primary challenge from Chairman of the Anaconda Deer Lodge County Commission Mark Sweeney.
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.
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.
- Election preview: No challengers for Montana's incumbent state executive officials
- Montana state executive official elections, 2012
- Montana down ballot state executive elections, 2012
- Montana gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial election, 2012
- Montana secretary of state election, 2012
- Montana attorney general election, 2012
- Montana Code Annotated 2011," 13-10-209: Arrangement and preparing of primary ballots," accessed June 4, 2012
- Montana Public Radio Newsroom Blog, "Heather Margolis stresses civic engagement and collaboration in Democratic primary for governor," May 21, 2012
- Public Policy Polling, "Hill, Bullock tied in sleepy governor's race," May 3, 2012
- The Missoulian, "Tim Fox announces bid for montana GOP nomination as AG," March 9, 2012
- Pam Bucy for Attorney General, "Women for Bucy," accessed May 22, 2012
- Jesse Laslovich for Attorney General, "The Issues," accessed May 23, 2012
- Helena IR, "Fox files for attorney general race," March 9, 2012
- Ravalli Republic, "Helena lawyer Fox files to run for Montana attorney general as Republican," March 9, 2012
- The Missoulian, "McCulloch files for re-election as secretary of state," March 1, 2012
- The Missoulian, "Brad Johnson announces bid to regain secretary of state's office," October 13, 2011
- The Daily Interlake, "Candidate wants to eliminate 'Election Day chaos,' May 9, 2012
- [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)
- The Missoulian, "Attorney General primaries top Montana's statewide races," May 22, 2012
- Scott for Montana, "Scott Aspenlieder for Secretary of State," accessed May 31, 2012
- The Missoulian, "Election 2012: Lovaas will clean up elections," May 30, 2012
- Great Falls Tribune, "Montana primary election ballots set; record number file," March 13, 2012
- Montana Office of Public Instruction, "Biography of the Denise Juneau," accessed March 13, 2012
- Politics 1, "Montana," accessed March 13, 2012
- KULR 8, "Chuck Tooley Runs For Montana Public Service Commission," March 12, 2012
- Billings Gazette, "Ex-mayoral candidate Garver to run for PSC," January 9, 2012
- Yellowstone County Republicans, "Meet the Chairman, Kirk Bushman," accessed March 13, 2012 (dead link)
- Project Vote Smart, "John Vincent biography," accessed March 13, 2012
- Mark Sweeney for Public Service Commission, "Biography," accessed March 13, 2012
- Helena Independent Record, "Five candidates seeking PSC seat held by John Vincent," March 7, 2012
- Montana Public Service Commission, "Gail Gutsche," accessed March 13, 2012