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Governor Steve Bullock talks with students

Governor Steve Bullock talks with students in the early childhood education dual-credit class at the Billings Career Center in August 2016.

Steve Bullock arrived at the Montana governor’s office with a good track record of bipartisan accomplishment in four years as attorney general. Bullock brought a less confrontational style to the office, an asset for a Democratic governor elected with a Republican-majority Legislature. Working with Democrats and Republicans, Bullock achieved significant accomplishments for the people of Montana in the last legislative session:

  • For the first time, Montana extended Medicaid coverage to the poorest residents, regardless of age. The HELP Act was supported by Montana health care and business leaders.
  • The Disclose Act increased transparency in Montana campaign finances.
  • Jonathan Motl, Bullock’s nominee for commissioner of political practices, was confirmed by the Senate, marking the first time in eight years that a COPP was confirmed.
  • The Bullock administration steered the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Water Compact through the Legislature with support from major Montana ag organizations and approval of Republican Attorney General Tim Fox.
  • The biennial budget included a modest inflationary increase for K-12 public schools and enough funding to continue a tuition freeze at state colleges and universities.
  • Bullock negotiated $3 million in biennial state funding to help meet the needs of abused and neglected children. The number of reports of child abuse has skyrocketed in the past few years.

There were also failures in the session, notably the defeat of all infrastructure bills.

Meanwhile, Bullock’s Main Street Montana initiative brought business people together to brainstorm plans for moving Montana forward. High quality education accessible to all Montanans is the foundation for moving our state forward. As a graduate of Montana schools and the parent of students now in school, Bullock understands the importance of public education.

Greg Gianforte, Bullock’s Republican challenger, lacks that crucial commitment to quality education for all. He should not be in charge of the budget where public K-college education is a major expense area.

Gianforte is running as a successful entrepreneur, touting his business acumen. Certainly, there are good business practices that must be applied to government. But running the state of Montana is much different than operating a private business. The state is expected to serve far-flung residents in small communities, and residents of cities up to and larger than 100,000. It isn’t always cost-effective to deliver public services over a large area, but it’s necessary.

Bullock has made mistakes over the past four years, and we’ve called him on them. For one thing, flights on the state plane must be primarily for official state business, and taxpayers must be fully reimbursed for any costs associated with nonofficial business.

Bullock, like Gianforte, has proclaimed that he’s against a statewide sales tax. But Bullock, unlike Gianforte, hasn’t closed the door on letting local voters decide how they want to generate revenue for city government.

As far as being cautious with state money, Bullock deserves credit for insisting on a minimum ending fund balance of $300 million when the biennial budget was set by the 2015 Legislature. If the budget had spent more money — as some lawmakers of both parties wanted — Montana would be facing a negative balance in its checking account come summer 2017.

In a choice between Gianforte and Bullock, we have to go with the man who grew up in Helena, earned a law degree, led the Montana Department of Justice for four years and steered our ship of state on a moderate course for the benefit of average Montanans these past four years. We recommend re-electing Bullock.

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