HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock selected former Montana Secretary of State Mike Cooney to be the next lieutenant governor on Wednesday replacing outgoing Lt. Gov. Angela McLean.
Cooney, 61, begins Monday as the state's 32nd lieutenant governor.
“I am truly honored with the trust and commitment you have given to me and in turn I commit to you and all Montanans that I will serve the state humbly each day,” Cooney said.
Bullock called Cooney “an accomplished and dedicated public servant.”
The governor said his team reached out to dozens of people across the state for input on the selection. He said Cooney rose to the top of a list of people under consideration.
The Secretary of State's Office said Wednesday it has yet to receive McLean's resignation, but expects it to come in Thursday.
Cooney, 61, has a long history as a statewide elected leader and public employee.
Once one of the youngest legislators in Montana’s history, Cooney was first elected in 1976 to the Montana House of Representatives and served through 1980. He then served three terms as secretary of state, from 1989 through 2000. Cooney was a state senator from 2003 to 2010, and was elected as Senate president in 2007. From 2001 to 2006, Cooney served as director of Montana Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. He also served as the interim head of the Montana Historical Society.
He currently serves as deputy director for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
He and his wife DeeAnn have three grown children, Ryan, Colin and Adan.
DeeAnn Cooney was appointed 1st Judicial District judge by Bullock on Dec. 1 to replace Jeffrey Sherlock, who is retiring after 27 years effective Friday.
Cooney and Bullock have worked together extensively.
Bullock served as chief legal counsel for Cooney when he was secretary of state. Cooney is also the grandson of former Gov. Frank Cooney, who served as the ninth governor of Montana from 1933 to 1935.
Cooney graduated from Butte High in 1972 and the University of Montana in 1979.
David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, called Cooney a “safe pick.”
“I always started from the premise that (Bullock) needed to pick who was safe, who had served in elected office, who had been vetted by the electorate,” Parker said Wednesday. “Mike Cooney fits the bill perfectly."
Parker said his only concern is that the governor “picked a white male as opposed to a woman, which might be less than exciting for some folks in the party, but otherwise I think it’s a good pick.”
Parker said Amanda Curtis, a state legislator from Butte, was talked about as a possible pick, but said she wouldn’t have been a good choice.
“She doesn’t have a great amount of elective office experience,” Parker said. “I think the Cooney pick was safe, which is what he needed to do at this point.”
Parker said the lieutenant governor won’t play a big role in the upcoming 2016 election.
“Everyone gets all excited about the lieutenant governor, but at the end of the day the lieutenant governor’s job is to fill in if the governor is out of state or becomes incapacitated.
“You don’t want to pick anyone who will draw undue attention, and he’s already done that twice. He just needs somebody that was going to be competent and not raise any hackles.”
The Montana Republican Party was quick to weigh in on the selection.
“Gov. Bullock’s third lieutenant governor is the definition of a Helena insider and a career bureaucrat, and once again Bullock made a decision behind closed doors without informing Montanans about the selection process, reminding us all of the (John) Walsh debacle last year," said Shane Scanlon, communications director for the Montana GOP.
"They say the third time’s the charm so hopefully Bullock found a lieutenant governor who will do as told and fulfill the more traditional role Bullock said he’s looking for when he forced out Angela McLean."
In a statement, Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said, "I join Montanans from across the state today to applaud Gov. Bullock's decision and congratulate Mike Cooney on his selection. ... Steve and Mike will make a great team, dedicated to improving the lives of all Montanans, because they share our values and care deeply about this great state."
McLean announced Nov. 30 that she was taking a job with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, leaving Bullock to find a new No. 2 for his re-election bid next year.
Emails between Bullock and McLean released this month showed a fraught relationship. Bullock said McLean’s perceived frustrations with the role of lieutenant governor led to her departure.
In a statement to the Lee Newspapers State Bureau, Bullock said: "This happens every day in businesses across the country, where the fit just isn’t right. Angela is smart and ambitious, but seemed frustrated with the role of lieutenant governor, and that was disruptive to our work for Montana. But I have no doubt that she has talents that will serve the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education well."
Bullock, when further pressed to explain more about McLean’s decision to leave, would not say more.
McLean would only speak to the media through emailed statements, saying: "I loved every part of my job as lieutenant governor. I worked hard every day and in every part of the state to advocate for my fellow Montanans and earn the salary they paid me."