Montana governor: Politics can be made more civil, but will take time

2013-09-26T19:42:00Z 2014-03-26T19:36:17Z Montana governor: Politics can be made more civil, but will take time

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock told a Leadership Montana gathering Thursday that he remains hopeful that civility eventually can be restored to the U.S. and Montana political systems, but it will take efforts by many to make the needed changes.

“I am still confident about the future of politics and civility in our system,” he said. “I think it’s going through a rough time. I look ahead to what we want in 10 years.”

Bullock, speaking at the event at Carroll College, listed some of the many challenges stand in the way of making elections more civil.

“We’re all part of this,” Bullock said. “Don’t look to just office holders or candidates or media or third-party groups to fix it. It’s up to all of you to demand better. It’s up to media to ensure they are cutting through spin. It’s up to elected officials to have to the courage to stand up for what we believe in and not just tear down those who have differing views.”

He also talked about the outside money being spent by third-party groups that far outnumbers what candidates spend.

Over the last five or six years, Bullock said he’s had a front-row seat witnessing civility, or the lack thereof, in Montana politics.

He discussed his 2008 victory over Republican Tim Fox in the race for attorney general and the ads run by Fox. He never mentioned Fox by name.

“Every single advertisement said, ‘Steve Bullock, schooled in California, worked in New York. No wonder he wants to take our guns away.”

Ten days before the election, Bullock said his eldest child took him to her show-and-tell at school. The questions raised and comments by the children were the same ones being raised in the various candidates’ ads.

Shortly before that election, Bullock said he and his wife, Lisa, viewed a contrast – or negative – TV ad his campaign was about to air. It was 15 seconds of dark and grainy background talking about Fox, and 15 seconds with a bright, sunny background telling what a wonderful person he was.

“I looked at my wife, and we decided if this was what it takes to win, I didn’t want to do it,” Bullock said.

Over the advice of some of his campaign staff, Bullock said they drove to another town to tape a positive ad.

(In response to a later question later about his relationship with Fox, who was elected attorney general last year, Bullock said he doesn’t agree with Fox on everything, but believes in many ways he’s doing a very good job.)

Bullock called his personal standard the “Mrs. Conner standard” after a woman who has known him for most of his life. She has donated $20 to him now and again, which represented a major contribution for her, he said.

“I would ask myself, ‘Mrs. Conner is investing in me. What would Mrs. Connor think of that investment?’ ”

When he ran for governor in 2012, Bullock said he set an additional standard for himself. He said he decided that if he wouldn’t do a contrast ad against his opponent if he wasn’t on camera himself.

As for negative ads, Bullock said, “How many times have you heard people say, ‘I can’t believe all those negative ads.’ But you know what, they work.”

If they didn’t work, spending on negative ads wouldn’t outnumber positive ads by ten to one.

Bullock told the audience about his legal actions aimed at trying to limit spending by outside groups.

As attorney general, he said he wrote the amicus or friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of 27 state attorneys general urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to include the states in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

The U.S. Supreme Court paid no heed in its 5-4 decision, which has opened the floodgates for unlimited money to be spent on elections by corporations and unions.

Bullock told how Montanans in 1912 passed the Corrupt Practices Act, a ballot initiative aimed at disallowing corporate spending in campaigns. It was in reaction to the widespread corporate political corruption then, he said.

A group known as American Tradition Partnership challenged that Montana law, and Bullock successfully defended it before the Montana Supreme Court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily reversed the Montana court.

“Was that a fight worth fighting to protect elections?” he asked. “I think it was.”

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at: or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Run - A- Mook
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    Run - A- Mook - September 27, 2013 8:34 pm
    Coincidence? No.
  2. idiot state
    Report Abuse
    idiot state - September 27, 2013 8:57 am
    What a joke. This from the guy who sued his political opponent in an attempt to prevent him from spending legal campaign contributions. And that ol' 1912 law prohibiting corporate contributions is as illegal as the state is stupid. It was an attempt by the big labor unions (who control that state) to silence the voices of opposition. The state's corrupt, and look for every election to be crooked with constant attempts by the unions/Democrats to maintain control. Montana's the most economically backward state in the region, and the only one controlled by Democrats. Coincidence?
  3. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - September 27, 2013 6:52 am
    Really grown up to try to do away with a law passed by Congress and signed by the President and then upheld by the Supreme Court, ( that would be all three branches of government) only to have "R's" use that as a bargaining tool? Really grown up. Don't make me laugh. Republicans remind me of the old guys I used to meet at the country store in the deep south when I was a kid. All standing around the stove talking about how we needed to go in and make Russia a parking lot. They were stupid then and they are stupider ( is that a word???) now. Meanwhile the rich get richer and the rest of us trying to make a living get poorer. And all Republicans can say is.....well, those corporate masters will be our saviors.....NO they will not. So civility is not coming anytime soon because there are to many people still voting for idiots like Daines ( who voted to defund the ACA) along with his Tea Party masters, Boner and the rest of those clowns. Oh and lets make sure we don't raise the debt limit...wait till the public who supports not raising the limit sees what that does to the economy. Republicans like Reagan were smart enough to see it...these flame throwers here and the voters who put these conservatives in office are not....that will not promote civility. Not even close cause about half of us realize how stupid and unaware the Republican half is....oh sorry your Constitutional experts...I your own pea brains, No civility. Just keep fighting this injustice and stupidity.
  4. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - September 27, 2013 6:41 am
    Mr. Bullock must be smoking some bad stuff in Helena. How can one be civil in discussing creatures like Obama, Holder, Reid, and Pelosi? They are literally destroying this nation each and every day.
  5. D
    Report Abuse
    D - September 27, 2013 6:39 am
    Right on, Gov. Bullock!
  6. Run - A- Mook
    Report Abuse
    Run - A- Mook - September 26, 2013 11:38 pm
    This is the 1st time, I agree with the Gov.
    Next year we cam put a grown-up {R.} in the Senate.
    Keep a grown-up {R.} in the House.
    In 2016 we can put a grown-up {R.} in the Gov. house.
    We can also put a grown-up {R.} in the White House.
    But we must start by putting more grown-up {R.} in the Senate next year.
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