HELENA – Democrat Pam Bucy and Republican Tim Fox disagree sharply over the role of the attorney general and who has the best credentials and experience to be Montana’s chief legal and law enforcement official.
The two Helena-area lawyers are seeking the job being vacated by Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat who is running for governor.
Both were both raised in small towns – Bucy in Townsend and Fox in Hardin – and bring different kinds of experience to the race.
The race has heated up in recent weeks. A national Republican committee that receives donations from insurance, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, among others, recently spent more than $580,000 in independent expenditures for television and radio advertising in support of Fox.
Bucy denounced it as an attempt by these corporations “to buy this election.”
In response, Fox’s campaign manager, Tyler Matthews, called Bucy’s comment an attempt to distract Montana voters from the real issues in the race.
Fox, a lawyer in private practice in Helena, said he sees the attorney general’s post as one that can help improve the Montana economy and create jobs. He called that the chief difference between the candidates.
“I will treat it as a position that has to focus on what’s best for Montana in terms of jobs and the economy,” Fox said. “Whenever the federal government passes legislation and regulations that are unconstitutional or inappropriate for Montana, I will be there to push back. It’s important that Montana’s attorney general stand up for the state.”
That’s why, Fox said, he believed Bullock should have signed a friend-of-the-court brief filed by a number of state attorneys general – 25 Republicans and a Democrat who later became a Republican – with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Bullock, who defeated Fox in 2008, refused to do so, calling it a waste of time and money since the case was already reaching the court.
The Supreme Court upheld most of the law this summer, but rejected the requirement that states expand Medicaid coverage for people in 2014. Instead, it made the expansion optional for the states.
“Medicaid expansion would have cost Montana millions,” Fox said.
Bucy, an attorney for the state Department of Labor and Industry in Helena, said, “I absolutely think there are appropriate places to stand up to the federal government. I have to say I’m disturbed that that’s what he’s running his campaign on, making some, I think, predetermined analysis about constitutionality and those kinds of things.”
She said she would make legal decisions on whether to intervene in federal cases the same way Montana attorneys general historically have, and that she participated in such discussions when she worked as a top deputy to then-Attorney General Mike McGrath, who is now chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
“You do a complex legal analysis about how Montana’s involvement can make a difference and if it’s in the best interest of Montana,” Bucy said. “Bottom line, the decision to intervene in a federal case absolutely has to be a legal one and not a political one.”
Bucy sees her background as giving her candidacy a major advantage.
“I just have directly relevant experience,” she said. “I think a lot of Tim’s campaign about federal overreaching demonstrates just a lack of experience with litigation and how you analyze a legal case.”
Bucy spent 7 1/2 years in the attorney general’s office as a top deputy, nearly four years as an assistant Lewis and Clark County attorney, two years in private practice and the past two years at the Labor Department.
She’s been before the state Supreme Court 22 times and made two oral arguments and tried hundreds of cases before state courts and some before federal courts.
That experience has earned her the backing of many law enforcement officials across Montana, Bucy said.
“I know these people,” she said, adding, “We have spent a significant amount of time working on very complicated issues. I think they believe that I have their back and that I will do the right thing for Montana, and I will explain it to them and I will work with them to make sure they do have the resources they need to implement all of these policies and laws that get passed that impact their lives every day.”
Fox sees the candidates’ respective experience differently.
“I’ve practiced law in Montana for 25 years – fully 11 years more than my opponent,” he said.
Fox also points to the diversity of his experience. He’s practiced criminal law, been a special assistant attorney general at the Department of Environmental Quality, been a corporate counsel and been a private practice attorney helping small and large businesses. He said he’s practiced constitutional law focusing on First and Second Amendment issues.
He said he’s had a number of Supreme Court cases over the years, ranging from making oral arguments, arguing through briefs and filing friend-of-the-court briefs.
“I have the depth and breadth of experience to hit the job running to do the job starting on day one,” Fox said.
Here’s where they stand on some issues:
Land Board and natural resources. Fox, whose undergraduate degree was in geology, said he’s the only candidates with both private and public experience in the natural resources field.
“I have protected the environment,” he said. “I know that we can develop our natural resources responsibility. I will do that on the Land Board. We have a lot of opportunities. We are going to improve the business environment without compromising our environment or our way of life.”
Bucy said she supports the responsible development of natural resources, which creates hundreds of good-paying jobs in Montana. When her father got a job in a mine, Bucy said her family then joined the middle class.
On her campaign website, Bucy said she will “work hard as a member of the Montana Land Board to encourage responsible and balanced development of our natural resources and to get top market value for our school trust lands.”
Public land access. Bucy said she was fortunate enough to draft attorney general opinions on stream access and wrote one defining access when people closed a public road to a hunter. She believes strongly in public access, she said.
On her website, Bucy said that she would “continue to advocate for the protection of Montana’s landscapes and our rights to access them” and “fight against wealthy out-of-staters that would seek to restrict access to our public lands.”
Fox said on his website, “we must protect and preserve our hunting and fishing heritage for future generations, and we need to end the politically motivated move to erode private property rights.”
He said he’ll work with sportsmen, landowners, businesses and others to ensure Montanans continue to have hunting, fishing and floating access.
Consumer protection. Fox said he will fight consumer fraud and pledged to bring “the full force of the law” to make sure Montanans are protected from consumer fraud.
Bucy said she lobbied the Legislature to move consumer protection to the state Justice Department where it gained the help of attorneys in the department. She said she is proud that 92 percent of consumer protection disputes settle.
Gambling control. Fox said he’ll work with the gambling industry, law enforcement and communities on gambling issues.
“If that means expanding, I can take a look at it if Montanans support it,” he said.
Bucy said any proposed changes in Montana’s gambling laws should come from the industry and be reviewed by the Gaming Advisory Council before going to the Legislature.
DUI laws. Bucy said she hasn’t discussed any new laws, but said her top priority is getting the 24/7 program, enacted last year, up and running throughout the state. Under this 2011 law, repeat DUI offenders must come in to local law enforcement offices to be tested for alcohol twice at day at their own expense.
She cited her experience as a prosecutor cracking down on DUI offenders.
Fox said that while Montana has strengthened its laws to crack down on drunken driving, there’s always room for improvement.
He said he will work with law enforcement officials and other stakeholders to continue to revise Montana’s DUI laws where necessary.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.