The following story is part of a collection of stories about the upcoming election provided to newspapers by the University of Montana School of Journalism Community News Service.
By Erik C. Anderson
Community News Service
UM School of Journalism
When it comes to getting attention, Montana’s race for attorney general is fighting for its share of the airwaves.
TV ads for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and gubernatorial hopefuls dominate, but the attorney general’s race has shouldered its way onto the commercial-fest. That’s due largely to big money donated by a national Republican group backing GOP candidate Tim Fox of Helena.
The national Republican States Campaign Committee has pumped more than $580,000 into advertising on behalf of Fox’s campaign to become the chief enforcer and defender of Montana law. Its ads focus on a federal law Fox opposes: the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Fox’s opponent, Helena Democrat Pam Bucy, has denounced the outside money, which by mid-September had amounted to more than what she and Fox had otherwise raised combined.
“That’s a game changer in this election,” Bucy said. “It feels like some out-of-state entities are trying to buy Montana.”
Federal health care law
The 43-year-old former prosecutor and assistant Montana attorney general has also blasted Fox’s focus on the federal health care law, saying it has overshadowed discussion of the office’s principal duties.
“I see myself as the people’s lawyer and not just for the people who just don’t like Obamacare,” she said.
Fox, a 54-year-old Helena attorney and Hardin native, defends his focus on Obamacare, much of which the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld, except for its requirement that states expand Medicaid, the state-federal program that helps the poor, sick and disabled.
“(Chief Justice) John Roberts got it right when he said Congress put a gun to the states’ heads,” Fox said. “Certainly, in many respects, it’s become more evident that Montana needs an attorney general that will stand up to federal government, mainly because of the Affordable Care Act.”
That’s also a slam at current Attorney General Steve Bullock, the Democratic nominee for governor who defeated Fox to become attorney general four years ago. Bullock refused to join attorneys general in 26 states, all but one a Republican, who offered legal arguments against Obamacare in federal court.
Fox said he would have joined that effort.
Meanwhile, there are other issues in the race.
Fox, who is the father of four, says the state’s Sexual or Violent Offender Registry is broken. He says law enforcement needs to keep better tabs people who have threatened the public’s safety.
Bucy, who is endorsed by several law enforcement groups, said additional law enforcement is always a priority, but added that she’s not aware that the system is broken.
“Since his commercial has come out saying there are ‘gaping holes’ in the registry, I’ve gone to three different deputies and they didn’t know what Tim was talking about,” Bucy said.
Bucy, a mother of three, says children need to be protected in the Internet community and has announced her eSm@rt Kids initiative to educate youth on how to responsibly interact online.
Another issue that divides Fox and Bucy is the attorney general’s voting membership on the State Lands Board, which oversees the leasing of millions of acres of state-owned lands. The revenue supports public schools.
Throughout the campaign, Fox has criticized the current attorney general for his vote last year against Arch Coal’s successful bid to mine state-owned coal in the Otter Creek area.
Managing state lands
If elected, Fox said he will vote to promote the development of Montana’s gas, coal, oil and other natural resources. He added that he’s the lone candidate in the race who wants to develop state resources and the jobs that would bring.
“I believe that the position on the State Land Board is creating jobs and jumpstarting our economy here in Montana, along with standing up to the federal government when it introduces job killing legislation,” he said.
Bucy, who is endorsed by the Montana Conservation Voters, disagreed and said she takes natural resource development seriously.
“I think we can and do and should develop natural resources,” she said. “I just think we need to do it on behalf of Montana citizens and on Montana’s terms. I want to make sure we get the most amount of money and that we are getting actual jobs for Montanans.”
This is Bucy’s first campaign for state office. Fox lost his 2008 contest to Bullock, who won with 52.6 percent of the vote.
Fox has spent 25 years practicing law. Today he works as an attorney with the law firm Gough, Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman in Helena. But has been a public defender and worked as an attorney for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, Mountain West Bank and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Bucy started her career as a criminal prosecutor with the Lewis & Clark County Attorney’s office and the served as executive assistant attorney general. She now works as administrative counsel for the Montana Department of Labor.