The state's voters have two very good choices for the important position of Montana State Auditor and Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.
Democrat Shane Morigeau, 36, currently represents Montana House District 95 in the state House of Representatives. He is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation.
Morigeau earned a bachelor's degree and a law degree from the University of Montana and a Master of Laws degree from the University of Arizona. Despite being in the minority party in the Legislature, he has a solid record of accomplishment, and has not hesitated to work across the aisle.
He says his priorities for the job are promoting business growth and protecting Montanans from investment fraud; fighting to ensure that health insurance rates are fair and affordable; keeping public lands in public hands on the Land Board; and keeping partisan games and negativity out of the State Auditor's office.
His opponent, Republican Troy Downing, 51, has a very different resume, but it's one that has singular advantages in this particular race.
Downing taught computer science, wrote software books, and became a software entrepreneur. But by his own account he "got burned out on tech," and quit a successful startup company, deciding to refocus his business efforts toward real estate. "Just about every great fortune, they did it with dirt," he says.
He got involved in the self-storage business, syndicating acquisitions and developing projects, "going around the country wholesaling retail self-storage deals," he says, when 9/11 happened.
Downing says he was overcome by sadness — and anger. "It was very personal for me," he said. So, at age 34, he joined the Air Force/Air National Guard. He has twice deployed to Afghanistan with a combat squadron, helping to evacuate wounded personnel.
He has worked in insurance, securities, and in a variety of business roles. He says his knowledge of those fields is perfectly tailored to the job he's running for.
That's hard to argue with.
Downing says consumer protection and transparency are top priorities, but he also says he feels excessive regulation has made it too difficult to do business in Montana. He’s an advocate for smaller, less intrusive state government.
"Insurance and securities are highly complicated and highly regulated," he says. "I have detailed knowledge and experience in these areas."
Downing says he wants the auditor's office "to advocate for business and create more opportunities, making Montana pro-business." But he also says that he wants to make sure that "if you do something bad you pay the consequences."
Speaking of which, many people question Downing's fitness for statewide office because he was charged with several hunting violations and ended up pleading guilty to two misdemeanors and paying a $2,100 fine.
We are uncomfortable with that, and with the fact that Downing still maintains he was held to an unfair standard. Also, he was found by the Commissioner of Political Practices to have committed several relatively minor infractions of campaign finance regulations in the primary in which he defeated other Republicans to win the chance to represent the party in the general. Those cause us a little less heartburn. Failing to report the expense of 25 bottles of hand sanitizer is not a fatal error, and Downing says he has changed his campaign-finance staffing.
All the same, we understand the cumulative effect of the hunting and campaign finance violations could lead to a lack of trust.
We are not convinced, though, that those flaws are disqualifying in this race.
When Downing ran for the Senate in 2018, his direct experience was scant and he was all but unknown. Now, his position as a Montana business owner and his nonprofit activity — he's the driving force behind Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation, an organization that uses fly-fishing as therapy for wounded veterans — combined with his very direct and applicable experience in securities and insurance paint a different picture.
Montana will be well-served, whoever wins this race.
Shane Morigeau will be a force for good in Montana politics going forward, and we hope and believe that he has a great career in front of him. But we are persuaded by Downing's business experience and acumen, and a platform that indicates moderate conservatism wholly appropriate to the job at hand.
For State Auditor, the Gazette supports Troy Downing.