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Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton

Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton testifies before the State Administration and Veteran Affairs Committee at the State Capitol in this file photo.

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is on a trip to Israel that he said in an email blast gives him an opportunity to learn “about Israel’s elections, institutions, governing and people.”

The trip is organized and sponsored by Project Interchange, an initiative that is part of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The project describes itself as an educational institute that is nonpartisan. It is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. It says it's brought almost 6,000 leaders from 110 countries to Israel over the years.

Nine other secretaries of state are on the trip, which runs Dec. 14-20. A lieutenant governor is also participating.

Stapleton’s office said Monday in an email that “there is no cost to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office” for the trip.

Kenneth Bandler, director of media relations for AJC, said Monday in an email that Project Interchange is paying for the trip, which is common practice for the delegations it sends to visit Israel.

“For the National Association of Secretaries of State visit there is no cost to taxpayers,” Bandler wrote. He did not provide information about how much the trip cost.

The goal of the trip, Bandler said, is to have participants share how they address a wide range of things from cyber-security threats to “mutually-beneficial innovations that can help the people of Montana, from health care innovations to artificial intelligence, to economic entrepreneurship and Israeli expertise in managing finite natural resources in such vital areas as agriculture and water management.”

“Project Interchange hopes that Secretary Stapleton and colleagues will gain a firsthand understanding of the vital ties between Montana and Israel and the broader U.S.-Israel relationship,” Bandler wrote.

In a press release from the National Association for Secretaries of State (NASS), group president Paul Pate, who is secretary of state in Iowa and chair of the delegation to Israel, said secretaries of state are “uniquely on the forefront of today’s most complex issues, including election cyber-security.”

In his letter, sent from a state account to those who have signed up for it and those who have registered businesses and provided their email addresses to the secretary of state’s office, Stapleton said he expected a “pretty insightful trip.”

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“In a historic stalemate, Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been unable to form a government because he can’t get a majority of lawmakers to join him — so Israel may be headed into its third straight election,” Stapleton wrote. “Unlike the United States, parliamentarian governments don’t always have predictable election calendars. In order to govern, prime ministers have to put together coalition majorities if their own party doesn’t gain an outright majority. While I like some of the features of multi-party systems, I prefer our American two-party system which promotes stable terms in office, and gives closure to elections. I’m looking forward to learning about Israel’s elections, institutions, governing and people,” Stapleton wrote.

He also said he was going to visit Israel in 1993 while serving in the Navy, but that trip was canceled so the aircraft carrier he was on could support the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Stapleton is in his third year as secretary of state and is not seeking reelection in 2020 and instead plans a bid for the U.S. House. His in-state travel during his time in office has come under fire for use of a state pickup truck to commute between Helena and his family home in Billings.

In addition to Stapleton, the list of attendees on the trip to Israel include Secretaries of State John Merrill, of Alabama; Pate, of Iowa; Scott Schwab, of Kansas; Matt Dunlap, of Maine; Jocelyn Benson, of Michigan; Barbara Cegavske, of Nevada; Tahesha Way, of New Jersey; Mac Warner, of West Virginia; and Ed Buchanan, of Wyoming. Alaska Lt. Gov. Kev­in Meye is also participating.

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