MISSOULA – As Montana Republicans gathered here Thursday to kick off their state convention, they heard first from the man trying to become the first Republican state attorney general in two decades: Tim Fox.
“For the first time in 20 years, you’re going to have an advocate in that office to get things done for Montana,” he told the 200-plus, standing-room-only crowd at the convention’s opening reception at the Hilton Garden Inn in Missoula.
Fox, 54, an attorney from Helena who ran for attorney general and lost four years ago, is squaring off this fall against Democrat Pam Bucy, a 43-year-old state lawyer and former chief deputy attorney general.
In an interview in his hotel room earlier Thursday, Fox laid out why Montanans should elect a Republican as the state’s top law enforcement official.
Fox said not only is he the most qualified candidate, but also that he will be a strong voice on the state Land Board for developing Montana’s natural resources, such as coal, oil and gas.
“We need to have an attorney general who knows how to use the office to promote jobs and the economy here in Montana,” he said. “You can’t take a position … or side with those who really want to lock up parts of Montana and prohibit us from creating jobs.”
He cited that stance as a “clear contrast” with Bucy, noting she was endorsed during the Democratic primary election by the Montana Conservation Voters, a group Fox equated with environmentalists who often stand in the way of natural resource development.
Fox struck a similar chord in his speech to convention delegates Thursday evening:
“When the extremists want to shut down all of the natural resource development in Montana, you call me, and I’ll make a difference, and we’ll put that fire out,” he said, to great applause.
Bucy, contacted for a response, took issue with Fox’s suggestion that she is allied with environmental extremists, saying she favored the Land Board’s lease of state coal for development in southeastern Montana’s Otter Creek Valley.
She also said she has the support of unions that work in the mines, and that her father has worked for much of his life in a mine south of Townsend.
“There is no one who values a natural resource job more personally than me,” she said. “I have been very consistent throughout my entire campaign on natural resource jobs. I know how important they are to a family, because my father getting a job at that mine literally lifted my family into the middle class.“
Fox’s natural resource emphasis is right in line with a central theme Republicans will be driving home this entire campaign year: That they are the party that wants to develop the state’s coal, oil, gas and other resources to create well-paying jobs in a struggling economy.
Still, it’s not the only reason Fox listed when asked why Montanans should elect a Republican as attorney general.
Fox said he has a diverse 25-year career that includes defending constitutional rights, acting as administrator in the state Department of Environmental Quality, and working as a guardian ad litem on behalf of children.
Fox has not been a prosecutor, but said the attorney general doesn’t personally prosecute cases, and that he has experience as a criminal defense attorney.
He also said he would have challenged the 2010 federal health reform law as an unconstitutional overreach of federal authority – and will stand up against other federal acts he considers an invasion of individual rights or violation of the Constitution.
When asked what health care reforms he would support or propose, Fox acknowledged that reforms are needed, but said it’s up to Congress and legislators to propose health care changes.
“I think we need to have an approach that uses free-market approaches and doesn’t violate the Constitution,” he said “I think the attorney general can be involved at the outset … and review some of those proposals.”
Montanans haven’t elected a Republican attorney general since 1988, when Marc Racicot defeated Democrat Mike McGrath, who won the office 12 years later and is now Supreme Court chief justice.
Racicot served until 1992, when he won the first of two terms as governor.
Fox insisted Thursday he has no grand plans for the future, and that he’d be happy if Montana voters make him the first Republican to grace the office since 1992.
“I hope the Montana people see that this is the year to elect a Republican candidate for attorney general,” he said.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.