HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock has called a press conference for Friday and is expected to announce his appointment of Lt. Gov. John Walsh to fill the remaining year of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’ Senate term.
Walsh, a Democrat like Bullock and Baucus, already has been campaigning since last fall for a full six-year Senate term this year. He is the leading fundraiser among the three Democrats running for the Senate.
Bullock’s office notified reporters Thursday of a press conference scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday in the Governor’s Reception Room in the Capitol. It said that reporters unable to attend in person can call in on a listen-only line.
Bullock has regular media availabilities at 9 a.m. on most Fridays, but the call-in line has not been used.
Bullock administration officials declined to confirm if the governor would announce his Senate appointment Friday.
“I guess we’ll have to see tomorrow,” Kevin O’Brien, a deputy chief of staff to Bullock, said when asked if the governor would be announcing a Senate pick.
Attempts to reach Walsh were unsuccessful.
President Barack Obama on Dec. 20 announced that he intended to nominate Baucus to be the next U.S. ambassador to China.
On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Baucus on a 96-0 vote, with Baucus voting “present,” clearing the way for Baucus to be ambassador.
Now the clerk of the Senate must send Baucus’ official confirmation vote to Obama. The president must sign it, and then the State Department will swear him in. After that occurs, Baucus will submit his resignation letter.
Since Obama’s announcement in December, Bullock has been tight-lipped about what he would do to fill the Senate seat.
On Jan. 31, reporters again asked Bullock about what he planned to fill the Senate seat.
“There’s not a vacancy,” Bullock said then. “If there is a vacancy, I certainly want to move quickly, but as I’ve said before, that’s where I’m going to leave it until a vacancy occurs.”
Republican legislative leaders have pressed Bullock to divulge how he plans to choose his appointee to file out the remainder of Baucus’ term.
In a letter responding to GOP legislative leaders late last month, he said, “You may be assured that all legal and constitutional requirements will be met, and that the appointee will represent the interests of all Montanans during the term of appointment.”
Montana law gives the governor the power to fill vacancies such as pending U.S. Senate one.
Walsh, 53, served in the Montana National Guard for more than 33 years, including four years as the state’s adjutant general and director of the Department of Military Affairs under Gov. Brian Schweitzer. He resigned from the guard in March 2012 to become Bullock’s running mate in their successful campaign for governor and lieutenant campaign.
If Bullock taps Walsh to fill Baucus’ seat in the Senate, the governor at some point would have to pick a new lieutenant governor.
Among the names being mentioned for lieutenant governor, according to State Bureau sources, are Angela McLean, an Anaconda educator who chairs the state Board of Regents, and Meg O’Leary, director of the state Commerce Department under Bullock and former director of sales and marketing at Big Sky Resort.
Neither returned calls from the Gazette State Bureau on Thursday.