HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday he told U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to butt out when the Nevadan tried to offer his opinion last December on the governor’s appointment of a new U.S. senator to replace Sen. Max Baucus.
Bullock told reporters Friday that he received a call from Reid in December before it became public that President Barack Obama would be appointing Sen. Max Baucus as U.S. ambassador to China. By state law, the Montana governor fills any Senate vacancies by appointing a replacement.
“Harry Reid wanted to weigh in on who I should choose and this was before it was even public,” Bullock said. “And I said, ‘It’s none of your damn business.’ ”
Last Friday, Bullock appointed his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to take Baucus’ seat. Walsh, a Democrat, had already been a candidate to succeed Baucus, and had the support of Democratic Party leaders in Montana and Washington, D.C.
Bullock was asked if Reid, D-Nev., had suggested a name for him to appoint and which one.
The governor told reporters to contact Reid to get his side of the conversation and the name.
Reid’s press office had not responded to a request for comment in response to Bullock’s remarks by late Friday afternoon.
In response to another question asking him about the call from Reid, Bullock recounted his end of the conversation:
“I said (to Reid), ‘You know what? Stay out of my decision-making. This is a decision I make and no one else,’ ” Bullock said. “Did I speak to other senators or other party officials about it? No I did not. This is one of those decisions that the voters have entrusted me with.’ ”
Baucus surprised the political world last April by announcing he would not seek a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.
Republicans have alleged that Baucus’ appointment as ambassador to China and Walsh’s appointment to succeed Baucus as U.S. senator was part of a “backroom deal” orchestrated by the White House, Reid and Bullock.
“If there was a backroom deal, I certainly was never invited into that back room,” Bullock said Friday.
It was the first time Bullock had told reporters about Reid’s call.
Bowen Greenwood, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, said, “Despite claims that Bullock told Harry Reid to butt out, he still did what Harry wanted and Reid’s candidate of choice was appointed to the U.S. Senate.”
Greenwood said he found it “a little odd” that Bullock didn’t tell reporters about Reid’s call until after he appointed Walsh.
Reid played an active role in trying to influence the Montana Senate race in other ways, other Democratic Senate candidates said.
Call to Bohlinger
Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger has said Reid called him in late October after news broke that Bohlinger was planning to run for the Senate. Walsh and Dirk Adams, a Wilsall rancher, also were announced Democratic candidates then.
“He said … ‘John, we don’t want a primary in Montana. We’ve chosen our candidate (Walsh),’ ” Bohlinger told the State Bureau this week. “And then he said, ‘What kind of a job do you want? I can get you a job here in D.C.’ ”
Bohlinger said he told Reid, “I don’t want a job in D.C. I want to be Montana’s next senator. I said I think it’s inappropriate for you as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to take sides in a primary.”
Bohlinger also said he thought it was inappropriate for Baucus, then a senator, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to take sides in a contested Democratic primary.
Adams, a rancher and attorney, said he called the CEO of the American Association for Justice, formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, to seek the organization’s support in the Senate race.
He said the CEO said she was sorry, but the association already was supporting Walsh.
Adams asked why the group hadn’t interviewed him before making a decision.
She told him that Reid told the group to support Walsh and “we do what Harry says,” Adams said.
“I think getting assistance from Harry Reid is not free,” Adams said. “He’s going to have our senators’ vote for things to help Nevada that don’t necessary help Montana. It’s going to be very hard for John Walsh to resist that.”