HELENA — Contested battles on each side for attorney general give both Republican and Democratic primary voters distinct choices as they move down a ballot full of statewide races.
The Democratic side features two candidates, Jesse Laslovich and Pam Bucy, who have previously worked in the office and both tout experience helpful to the position.
The Republican side is a contest between two private practice lawyers with some experience in government. Current state Sen. Jim Shockley touts his legislative experience and past work as a prosecutor, while Tim Fox points to a career in private practice along with a stint as a state government attorney in the Marc Racicot administration of the 1990s.
Democrats expect a tight race between their two candidates. Both Laslovich and Bucy have remained competitive in fundraising, active in campaigning and engaged in a fierce battle for support from party faithful.
Laslovich is a former state legislator from Anaconda first elected to the House at 20 years old who is touting his more recent experience as a consumer advocate first in the attorney general's office and now with the insurance commissioner. The Democrat is also telling voters he will continue the work of current Attorney General Steve Bullock, leaving the office to run for governor, in fighting to uphold Montana's restrictions on corporate political spending.
Laslovich is pushing plans for an embezzlement registry to aid small businesses in determining if a potential employee has been convicted of theft, along with plans for improved treatment of drunken drivers and other substance abuse offenders.
As he and Bucy both unveil television advertisements for the stretch run to the June 5 primary, Laslovich expects a close battle.
"I think at the end of the day, it is coming down to name recognition and reaching as many people as possible who will vote in the Democratic primary," he said. "We have been doing this officially since last July, and there are still a lot of people who are undecided."
Bucy, who holds some endorsements from key Democratic abortion rights and conservation constituencies, previously worked as chief deputy attorney general office on civil and criminal cases before her current post as an attorney in the Montana Department of Labor. Bucy points to past work setting up the system of registering sexual and violent offenders as she promises increased crackdown on cybercrime and those who take advantage of children and the elderly.
Bucy said she is engaging a very strong get-out-the-vote campaign with a volunteer phone bank to help sway primary voters, on top of the television advertising and campaign mailers targeted at key Democratic groups.
The Townsend native said she thinks primary voters are swayed by her prosecutorial experience and her time representing the state in front of the Supreme Court. And as primary voters look to pick someone who can win in a general election where a tough stance on sex crimes could come into play, Bucy is reminding them she has prosecuted such cases.
"I am the only candidate in this race who has tried these criminal cases and put sexual predators behind bars," Bucy said. "This is not a legislative job, this is a legal job. And the daily work of the attorney general is making complicated legal decisions."
Republican Tim Fox, likely a front-runner on that side based on the name identification built up in his 2008 run for the office where he lost to Bullock, has been openly campaigning for tougher treatment of sec offenders. He said the statewide registry has not been properly maintained and promises to do so.
But Fox, perhaps looking ahead to a general election battle, said the top issue remains using the office to battle what he views as an overreaching federal government. The Republican private practice attorney who grew up in Hardin said he would do what he can to fight the federal health care law, and criticizes Bullock for not joining the lawsuit seeking to toss it out.
"One of the biggest issues on Montana voters' minds has been federal intrusion into our state sovereignty and our state's rights," Fox said. "Obamacare has really brought to a head the concerns Montanans have in terms of an overreaching federal government. The attorney general can play an important role in that in standing up to the federal government."
Shockley, a longtime legislator involved in crafting laws dealing with the justice system, said that experience gives him important insight into the needs of the office. The former Marine touts his experience in the military court system prior to returning to his home in the Bitterroot Valley to practice law.
Like Fox, he is targeting "Obamacare," but he is also touting his opposition to the state's legalization of medical marijuana and promises to use the office to engage in that issue.
Few of the down-ticket statewide races feature contested primary ballots.
On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, State Auditor Monica Lindeen, and Clerk of the Supreme Court Ed Smith are all unchallenged.
Republican primary voters, however, have four choices for secretary of state.
Brad Johnson, who lost the job in 2008 to McCulloch, is running again. But the most successful in terms of fundraising has been newcomer Scott Aspenlieder, a Helena engineer who has mounted an active campaign highlighting his desire to use the land board seat to develop Montana's natural resources.
Patty Lovaas, a frequent filer of lawsuits against the state and its officials on a variety of issues, is also running for the office. And conservative Drew Turiano has promised to buck the court system that ruled in the 1990s that the state's term limits law does not apply to federal offices and vowed to use the position to deny senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus ballot access in 2014.
Current state legislator Derek Skees of Kalispell is unopposed for his party's nomination to challenge Lindeen, as is Sandy Welch in her effort to challenge Juneau.
Republicans again failed to find a candidate to file for the Supreme Court clerk race, prompting party executive director Bowen Greenwood to mount a write-in campaign.