Name: Steve Bullock
Party affiliation: Democrat
When voters elected Steve Bullock as the 24th governor of Montana in 2012, it proved that the state’s affinity for the Democratic Party was still alive— the Treasure State’s first governor was a Democrat and so were 15 of the state’s 24 governors since statehood.
As Bullock gears up for the general election following a decisive win in the June 7 primary, and prepares for a challenger whose core message centers on an increase in high-wage jobs by dispatching burdensome regulations and taxes, he’s optimistic that the lean of the state won’t glance too far right.
“I considered the primary a vote of confidence, and we feel strong moving on to the general election,” Bullock said. “We’re going to keep going strong, keep riding this momentum and working for the best interests of Montanans.”
As one of only three Democratic governors in rural states, and one of only 18 holding governorships across the United States, Bullock is now a rarity among western states that once were solidly blue.
But he stands by his record of ushering key legislation through a splintered Republican caucus, divided into blocs of conservatives and moderates.
Under Bullock, the 2015 Legislature expanded Medicaid, tightened campaign finance laws, passed a water rights compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, invested in workforce development and education, and maintained a $300 million rainy day fund.
Bullock said he would continue to seek to help bring universal pre-kindergarten to Montana, to bridge the wage gap between men and women, and protect access to public lands if re-elected.
Republicans were in his crosshairs for scuttling a bipartisan infrastructure bill that fell one vote shy of the supermajority needed for passage, and Bullock refused to accept blame for the bill’s failure.
Bullock said he didn’t have much sympathy for the “extreme minority” of House Republicans, and in the final days of the session called on its members to negotiate and pass a final budget-and-infrastructure bill, or else explain their decision to kill it to Montanans.
“I always said I would work with any Democrat or Republican as long as they will set aside partisan politics,” Bullock said. “The last infrastructure bill was a compromise measure that died in the House by one vote, and the lawmakers who voted against meaningful investments across the state and against the best interests of Montana, some of those legislators aren’t coming back.”
But looking back on the last session, Bullock said the accomplishments far outweigh the shortcomings, and he expects a similar tenor of cooperation to underscore the divisions next year.
Here are a handful of issues on which Bullock and his opponent, Greg Gianforte, are expected to differ on.
Bullock is already preparing to take another run at a major infrastructure bill when the Montana Legislature convenes next year, calling for $200 million in cash and bonds to fund building projects and infrastructure needs across the state.
In 2013, Bullock vetoed a Republican infrastructure bill, and with last year’s failure of a compromise measure, the governor said he’s determined to make significant investments to strengthen the state’s communities, create jobs and grow the economy.
“I’m prepared to do what it takes to get this across the finish line. But what I don’t want to have happen is a small bloc of legislators blocking the overwhelming majority, and blocking the needs of this moving forward. It would be so nice to ensure that legislators are going to put the needs of Montana first and not treat this as a game of political football.”
A major point of contention was that the governor wanted to borrow some of the money to pay for the infrastructure through low interest bonds, while Republicans wanted to spend surplus tax revenue and eliminate so-called “capital projects” in the bill, such as the renovation of Romney Gym at Montana State University and the acquisition of space for the Montana Historical Society in Helena.
While both Bullock and Gianforte say infrastructure funding will be a top priority next session, neither has yet to flesh out the specific details of their plans, while a key obstacle is their differences over a funding formula.
When news outlets reported that Gianforte said he doesn’t support the transfer of public lands to states because it’s not “attainable at this time,” the Bullock campaign seized on the Republican candidate’s tenuous language.
Last year, Bullock vetoed legislation requiring the state of Motnana to study the feasibility of assuming the cost of managing state lands.
“I have made very clear that there will not be transfers of public lands on my watch and I have not only made those statements but I have backed it up with my veto pen,” he said. “Let’s make it clear that land transfers will not happen on my watch. Period. When my opponent says that land transfers are not attainable at this time, what does that mean for Montanans months down the road?”
Last year, Bullock’s office helped rewrite Montana’s political rulebook as it proposed changes to controversial regulations meant to implement the state’s divisive Disclose Act.
Bullock teamed up with Republican state Sen. Duane Ankney to introduce Montana Disclose Act. The bill passed the Senate on the first try and went to the House, where a bipartisan majority of 41 Democrats and 10 Republicans passed it 51-48.
The bill overcame opposition from the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity, the main political vehicle of the billionaire Koch brothers.
Bullock has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to list the shuttered Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant site on the Superfund National Priority List.
Bullock sent a letter to EPA Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath encouraging the agency to proceed with listing the site on the priority list and moving forward with cleanup.
Recent reports from the state Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA have shown the site is eligible for Superfund status, but the site’s owner, Glencore, a Swiss commodities firm, is resistant to Superfund listing.
Montana is one of 27 states suing to halt implementation of Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Supreme Court ruled to block enforcement of the plan while the litigation is pending.
Under the federal plan, Montana faced the steepest cuts to its emissions rates of any state — 47 percent compared to 2012 — to meet the target set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Nationwide, the Clean Power Plan aims to cut emissions by 32 percent by 2030.
The Democratic governor said the Montana cuts were unfair, but the state had to move ahead with planning for them. In November, he appointed an advisory council to begin shaping a plan and to justify extending to 2018 the deadline for submitting that plan.
In February, he suspended the work of the advisory panel appointed to address new federal carbon dioxide emissions rules after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to block enforcement of the plan while litigation is pending.
In January, Bullock expanded prohibitions against discrimination in state employment and state contracts to include pregnancy, military service and gender identity.
The governor’s action was hailed by the Human Rights Campaign, which reportedly is the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.
Bullock said 40 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people report some form of employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and 90 percent of transgender people report harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
Five cities — Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Missoula, and Whitefish — have nondiscrimination ordinances that protect people who are LGBT from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
“My opponent led the fight against adopting a non-discrimination ordinance in Bozeman and even said that businesses are leery of locating in towns that are friendly to homosexuals,” Bullock said. “I believe the opposite is true. He has donated millions of dollars to anti-equality groups so I think there is a real contrast here.”