HELENA — Documents released Tuesday indicate Gov. Steve Bullock was planning to replace departing U.S. Sen. Max Baucus with former Lt. Gov. John Walsh at least 12 days before the governor announced the appointment in February.
Bullock Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin O’Brien insisted Bullock didn’t make his decision until Feb. 6, the day before the Walsh announcement, and he described the Jan. 27 memo as the staff preparing for “scenarios that might present themselves.” However, no other scenarios or timelines for other possible appointees were outlined in the Jan. 27 memo or in any documents that followed.
Republicans have criticized Bullock, a Democrat, for a lack of transparency in the appointment process. Bullock has responded that he would follow state law, which gives him the power of the appointment.
Walsh’s resignation and the appointment of a new lieutenant governor is mentioned in the Jan. 27 memo sent to Bullock by O’Brien. The memo indicates that the confirmation could come within days and lays out a three-day proposed timeline, starting with Baucus’ confirmation on the first day, then the lieutenant governor resigning his post and a press conference announcing the appointment on the second day.
A press conference on the third day would announce a new lieutenant governor, according to the plan.
A Jan. 17 memo from Stacey Otterstrom, Bullock’s boards and appointments adviser, laid out an outline and presented general questions about the appointment process that included a scenario in which the lieutenant governor resigns and a new one is appointed.
No response from Bullock to either memo was included in the documents released Tuesday.
O’Brien also advised Bullock in a separate email in December to refrain from any public statements about the appointment.
There would be a series of “inane” questions about the appointment, including whether Bullock would be taking applications for the position, but “you can shut all of these down” by saying “there’s no vacancy to speak of,” O’Brien wrote in the Dec. 20 email.
“This is a fire. The more oxygen we give it, the more it will burn,” O’Brien said in the email, sent as news of Baucus’ nomination broke.
Bullock took the advice, deflecting reporters’ questions for months about whom he would appoint or how he would go about the selection.
The memo and email from O’Brien were among hundreds of documents released Tuesday by Bullock’s office in response to public-records requests made by The Associated Press and other news organizations.
The requests included any correspondence to and from the governor’s office about Baucus’ resignation and how Bullock planned to replace him.
The documents don’t include any correspondence between Walsh and Bullock.
Walsh said in December he asked Bullock to appoint him to the post, but said the governor made no commitment. Bullock said the day of Walsh’s appointment that he had only informed the lieutenant governor of the decision the night before.
Walsh is running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat in November’s election. He has said an interim appointment would allow him to grow his name recognition and build a track record in the Senate to campaign on.
He faces two challengers in the June 3 Democratic primary. Three Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, are seeking the GOP nomination.
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