Documents suggest Bullock had decided on Walsh at least 12 days before announcement

2014-03-11T12:04:00Z 2014-05-30T11:02:39Z Documents suggest Bullock had decided on Walsh at least 12 days before announcementBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
March 11, 2014 12:04 pm  • 

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock had decided to appoint Lt. Gov. John Walsh to the U.S. Senate at least 12 days before he made the formal announcement, records released Tuesday to the media from the governor’s office indicate.

A Jan. 27 memo to Bullock and others from Kevin O’Brien, a deputy chief of staff, laid out a proposed timetable for the governor once the U.S. Senate confirmed Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., as ambassador to China. Without using Walsh’s name, the memo suggested that Bullock announce his appointment of his lieutenant governor to the Senate the day after Baucus’ confirmation. Then Bullock would name a new lieutenant governor on the third working day, the memo said.

Bullock followed that timetable.

O’Brien, however, insisted Tuesday that Bullock didn’t decide to pick Walsh until Feb. 6, the day before he publicly announced it. Bullock also has said he didn’t make the decision until Feb. 6.

“In the days before that, the governor’s aides were certainly providing scenarios that might present themselves to ensure that Montana law was followed and Montanans were fully represented no matter what decision the governor made,” O’Brien said.

Walsh had been running for Baucus’ seat since October. Bullock’s appointment enables Walsh to run for the seat as an incumbent. Two other Democrats and three Republicans also are running for the seat.

The Bullock administration on Tuesday released more than 500 pages of documents in response to a public records request filed by The Gazette State Bureau and other news organizations, which sought memos, email and other documents regarding the Senate appointment.

A Jan. 17 communication also discussed two scenarios — a senator resignation and a lieutenant governor resignation. That memo was from Stacey Otterstrom, Bullock’s boards and appointments adviser, to Andy Huff, the governor’s chief legal counsel.

“I think we should discuss and be thinking about now in case either or both scenarios occur,” Otterstrom said.

On Dec. 20, the Obama administration announced the president’s plans to appoint Baucus to the ambassadorship.

In a Dec. 20 memo to Bullock and others, O’Brien urged the governor to deflect any questions about filling the Senate vacancy since none existed at that time. He suggested some talking points.

O’Brien also predicted the Bullock would face “a series of inane questions,” such as whether he would seek applications for the Senate post, appoint a committee, conduct interviews with candidates and others.

“This is a fire,” O’Brien wrote. “The more oxygen we give it, the more it will burn. You can shut all of these down with what is above: There’s no vacancy to speak of and you won’t be hearing anything from me or my administration in the meantime.”

Bullock followed that strategy until Feb. 7 when he announced Walsh’s appointment.

Throughout the period, Bullock’s standard answer to reporters’ questions about the Senate appointment was that he wasn’t going to talk about a Senate vacancy until a vacancy existed.

Republican legislative leaders sent the Democratic governor letters urging him to conduct an open process that would involve Montanans in the selection and appointment process for a new senator.

“The people should be confident that they had a voice in the process and that it’s not a backroom deal,” Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, wrote Bullock.

The governor assured Republicans he would follow all legal and constitutional requirements and that the appointee would represent the interest of all Montanans during the term of appointment.

On Jan. 21, Bullock sent an email to Otterstrom asking, “Do you have Angela McLean’s resume for any reason?” He appointed McLean as lieutenant governor to replace Walsh.

Otterstrom replied that the only application on file was when McLean applied for a seat on the state Board of Regents in 2006. Gov. Brian Schweitzer appointed her to the regents four years later. She sent it to Bullock.

There were no emails from Walsh in the documents.

The Jan. 27 memo from O’Brien laid out a three-day timetable, beginning with “Day 1” when the Senate confirmed Baucus as ambassador. That occurred Feb. 6.

On Day 2, O’Brien’s schedule suggests the lieutenant governor would submit his resignation to the secretary of state and then Bullock, at a press conference, would announce him as a “temporary appointment” to the Senate. Walsh was appointed Feb. 7.

Walsh is never mentioned in the memo by name, but referred to as the lieutenant governor.

O’Brien said on “Day 3,” Bullock would announce his new lieutenant governor. That occurred Feb. 10 when he traveled to Anaconda to introduce McLean, a high school teacher there, as lieutenant governor. Since Walsh was announced on a Friday, Day 3 wasn’t until Monday.

The memo called for the new lieutenant governor to spend Days 4-10 on a statewide tour, meeting with legislators and municipal and business leaders. McLean traveled the state after her appointment.

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

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