HELENA – As a kid, Steve Bullock delivered the morning newspaper every day to the governor’s mansion on the city’s upper eastside. Now someone will be dropping off the newspapers to Bullock and his family at the executive residence.
Bullock, 46, will be inaugurated as Montana’s 24th governor on Monday.
He is leaving the job he’s held the past four years as attorney general.
Winning the governor’s race was no cakewalk.
Bullock, a Democrat, defeated Republican Rick Hill, a former congressman, by 7,571 votes, out of 483,487 votes cast. Official results showed Bullock with 49 percent to Hill’s 47 percent, while Libertarian Ron Vandervender grabbed the remaining votes.
As governor, Bullock will succeed colorful and highly popular Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who held post for eight years.
While they agree on many, if not most, issues, Bullock is a decidedly more low-key and less confrontational leader than Schweitzer.
But friends and staff say that Bullock also will fight for what he thinks is right and predict he won’t be run over by Republicans who control the House and Senate again this year.
Despite the big Republican majorities, Bullock remains optimistic.
Shortly after meeting with top GOP legislative leaders, he said, “I look forward to hopefully a real constructive relationship. I think we can get some great things done working together.”
Incoming Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, and House Speaker Mark Blasdel, R-Somers, have expressed similar sentiments after the meeting.
Bullock has faced a hectic two months following his victory in November.
He’s had to interview and select his department directors or Cabinet, along with choose his top staff to work in the governor’s office.
He’s talked to many Montanans and groups about the issues that concern them.
On Friday, he released his proposed modifications to the Schweitzer’s proposed two-year budget for the next two years.
Bullock described his changes as “a reflection of tens of thousand of people we talked to during the campaign” and of “Main Street, Montana, their hopes, their needs and their values.”
Included in his budget are some of his top campaign priorities, including giving Montana homeowners a one-time $400 property tax relief and eliminating the business equipment tax for 11,000 businesses.
As attorney general, Bullock succeeded in getting his top bills through the 2011 session with broad support.
One required repeat drunken driver offenders, at their cost, to take breath tests for alcohol twice a day at local sheriff’s departments.
His other top priority was asking the Legislature to pass a bill to create a prescription drug registry. It allows physicians to check a database to make sure that people seeking painkillers aren’t doctor-shopping to obtain more pills than they should.
Over the past two years, Bullock built a name for himself as he and his attorneys have fought to defend state election laws that have come under attack by a conservative “dark money” group known as American Tradition Partnership, formerly known as Western Tradition Partnership.
A Missoula native, Bullock grew up in Helena in a family with strong education ties. His late father, Mike, taught and administrated vocational education programs. His mother, Penny Copps, served as a Helena school trustee. His stepfather, Jack Copps, was school superintendent in Helena and Billings.
Throughout the governor’s campaign, Bullock defended Montana’s educational system, when Hill criticized it. Bullock said Montana schools can be improved without “making a wholesale attack on our school system and teachers.”
Bullock graduated from Helena High School and went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna College in California and a law degree from Columbia University in New York
He practiced law for large New York and Washington, D.C., law firms before managing Joe Mazurek’s successful campaign for attorney general here in 1992. Bullock later and served as his executive assistant attorney general and acting chief deputy.
Bullock lost to Mike McGrath in the Democratic primary for attorney general in 2000 and went on to practice law in Helena.
As a private attorney, Bullock led the successful 2006 initiative, approved by voters, to raise Montana’s minimum wage and to provide for yearly cost of living adjustments.
In 2008, Bullock won a three-way Democratic primary for attorney general and went on defeat Republican Tim Fox for attorney general. (Fox won the post this year and will succeed Bullock.)
He and his wife, Lisa, have three children, Caroline, Alexandria and Cameron.