Statewide Roundup: Fox Wins Attorney General Seat; Lindeen Reelected Auditor

By Beacon Staff

Here’s a roundup of results from Montana’s statewide races as of late Wednesday morning.

Attorney General

It appears Republican Tim Fox has won the race for attorney general over Democrat Pam Bucy. At ll a.m. Wednesday, Fox led Bucy 53 percent to 47 percent.

During the campaign, Fox touted his 25-year legal career that includes a wide range of criminal, constitutional and civil cases. He said his managerial experience in both the private and public sectors would be an asset at the AG office.

Meanwhile, Bucy campaigned on her own long list of credentials, including as an executive assistant attorney general under former Attorney General Mike McGrath, chief legal counsel for the Department of Labor and Industry and criminal prosecutor in the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office.

Fox said he would make the AG office a “job creator” by promoting natural resource development through his seat on the Land Board and standing up to the federal government, specifically the Affordable Care Act.

Bucy said her No. 1 priority was to protect Montana’s kids and was instrumental in drafting legislation to register sexual and violent offenders when she was assistant attorney general. She also boasted a long list of law enforcement endorsements.

A considerable amount of third-party money flooded into the race, especially in support of Fox. Both candidates received sizable donations in the time between a U.S. District Court judge striking down state donation limits and a federal appeals court reinstating them. And both ended up returning the donations, which were upwards of $30,000 each.

Fox previously said he would continue to fight to preserve the state’s campaign laws, many of which have been struck down following a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision. That allowed outside groups to spend considerably more money on Montana elections.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

The race between incumbent Democrat Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and her Republican challenger Sandy Welch of Martin City remained too close to call on Wednesday morning. As of 11 a.m., Juneau led Welch 50.3 percent to 49.5 percent.

During her campaign, Juneau pointed to a number of statistics in making her case for reelection. According to figures from her office, students’ state test scores have increased by about 4 percentage points in reading and math proficiency during her tenure. In 2011, Montana eighth-graders had the country’s top scores in reading and science, and the second-highest scores in math, according to “The Nation’s Report Card.”

Welch, meanwhile, campaigned on giving local schools more control. She said the state should be more focused on “student learning” in which it allows more freedom for individualized education plans at the local level. She also argued against mandates, such as those that require hiring employees based on student numbers, rather than allowing schools to decide if they need the additional hires.

During a September debate, Juneau pressed her opponent to oppose charter school systems that she argues would siphon money from public schools. Welch said she would be open to supporting charters schools, but only if they did not take money from the public school system.

The two also disagreed on whether to use test scores to evaluate teacher performance. Welch said they could be a useful tool, while Juneau said the tests are unproven, although those decisions would have to be made at the local level.

Welch said she would be a strong advocate for natural resource development as a member of the state Land Board. Juneau also touted her role on the board in bringing in a record amount of money from trust land to be used for schools.

Secretary of State

Incumbent Democrat Linda McCulloch appeared to defend her seat as Montana secretary state. At 11 a.m. Nov. 7, McCulloch had 52 percent of the vote compared to 45 percent for Republican Brad Johnson. Libertarian Roger Roots had earned 3 percent of the vote.

The race was a rematch of 2008, when McCulloch edged then-incumbent Johnson by just 5,000 votes. And though it was a rather low-profile statewide race, the campaign often turned nasty with both candidates leveling accusations against the other.

The candidates differed widely on voting issues. McCulloch supports all-mail voting; Johnson doesn’t. McCulloch supports Election Day voter registration; Johnson doesn’t. The two also disagreed on voter identification laws. McCulloch favors keeping the current requirements while Johnson wants voters to show government-issued ID to prevent fraud.

The contrasts were stark.

McCulloch said that when she took over as secretary of state in 2008 she had to clean up Johnson’s mess. She said the office was in financial disarray and $1 million in the red; and she said she blocked $58,000 in illegal bonuses that Johnson authorized.

For his part, Johnson said there were “differing professional opinions” regarding the bonuses and accused McCulloch of lying about his record. During the campaign, Johnson said he would modernize the secretary of state’s office and streamline operations.

Both candidates touted their previous pro-development records on the state Land Board. McCulloch said as a result of her record on the board and fiscally conservative approach, she was endorsed by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed only two Democrats for state and federal races. Meanwhile, Johnson said he would be an “aggressive” advocate of natural resources and said the state was dragging its feet on approving leases.

State Auditor

Democratic incumbent State Auditor Monica Lindeen appeared to retain her seat against Republican challenger and former Whitefish Rep. Derek Skees. At 11 a.m. on Nov. 7, with the majority of votes counted, Lindeen led Skees 54 percent to 46 percent.

During her campaign, Lindeen touted her record of protecting consumers. She said she forced insurance companies to pay more than $15 million in unpaid insurance claims to Montanans and recovered $200 million in restitution for victims of securities fraud.

Skees had largely a more singular focus: the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” He made it clear that he had vacated his House District 4 seat to run for auditor explicitly to combat the federal health care act’s influence in Montana. And he said Lindeen hadn’t done enough to stand up to federal encroachment.

Thus, the health care law, and its implementation, was the primary focus during the campaign.

Lindeen said the Affordable Care Act was the law of the land and it was her job to carry out the law. She was critical of Republicans in the state Legislature for killing legislation that would have provided more state control, such as a bill that that would have created a state-run exchange. Without legislation, the federal government would create its own system.

Skees, however, commended the legislative efforts to prevent implementing any aspect of Obamacare. In the last session, the former lawmaker introduced an unsuccessful measure to nullify the Affordable Care Act. He also supported tort reform and called Montana’s unisex mandate, which prohibited the consideration of gender in establishing insurance rates, a “socialist idea.”

Lindeen got a boost in the race in June when she was one of just two Democrats running for statewide and federal offices to be endorsed by the Montana Chamber of Commerce. She also had a substantial fundraising advantage.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.