Jon Bennion 2020 Election Questionnaire
Montana Public Radio is gathering information on all statewide primary candidates to publish as a resource for our audience. We asked all the statewide candidates to respond to the following questions via email, limiting their answers to 300 words per question. These are their unedited responses.
Attorney General candidate Jon Bennion:
What is your full name as it will appear on ballots?
What is your age?
Where do you live?
What is your education background?
Graduated from Skyview High in Billings, earned bachelors degree in political science from the University of Montana and a law degree from the University of Montana School of Law
What is your current occupation?
Chief Deputy Attorney General at the Montana Department of Justice
Why are you running for this particular public office?
For the last seven and a half years, I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving the state as a Deputy Attorney General. We need to continue to have a competent, experience person in the office with a proven record of success. The position is important to provide leadership on critical public safety issues, fight back against government overreach, and protect our most vulnerable.
I saw that several other candidates, like my primary opponent, were not going to bring the experience and record of success that I could contribute to the office. I was especially concerned that my primary opponent, a career politician, was only going to seek the office as a way to climb the political ladder. We need to have a person who is completely dedicated to the important work of being Attorney General, and I have committed to do that. We need more public servants ready to do important work and fewer career politicians just trying to be important people.
I recognize that the Attorney General can’t solve everyone’s problems, just like government cannot solve everyone’s problems. But if you have the right leadership and right priorities, you can channel the department’s limited resources and personnel to tackle some of our biggest problems. Take human trafficking, for example. I was part of the team that not only passed some of the country’s strongest human trafficking laws, but also helped raise public awareness of the issue with little to no resources from the Legislature. We did that through public/private partnerships that have now put human trafficking on the map in Montana.
What makes you qualified to hold this position?
For half of my 15-year legal career, I have been a Deputy Attorney General at the Montana Department of Justice working for General Fox on cases involving criminal law, constitutional law, natural resource issues, and consumer protection. I have litigated cases in state district court, the Montana Supreme Court, federal district court, and the U.S. Supreme Court. My primary opponent is a career politician who has very little experience in any of these courts and he decided to run for AG after only five months of prosecuting. He isn’t even licensed to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court. I am ready on day one to hit the ground running without on-the-job-training.
The Attorney General heads up one of the largest operations in state government with 800 employees scattered around the state with various missions. In short, the AG is a boss and manager. I have a proven record of responsibly managing a large operation as I headed up the Legal Services Division for a number of years. I am also quite familiar with the operations of the other divisions: Highway Patrol, Crime Lab, Division of Criminal Investigations, Gambling Control, MVD, JITSD, and Central Services.
What are three policy issues that distinguish you from your opponent(s)?
In general, my primary opponent has a very soft-on-crime record while I have aggressively worked to update and modernize Montana’s laws on DUI, sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence and more. I was able to do this by getting a majority of Republicans and Democrats to support our Department’s legislative agenda. My opponent, however, often voted against strong DUI laws, child abuse and neglect laws, and bills that would tackle our drug crisis.
When it comes to health care, my opponent advocated in 2016 for shifting the cost of Obamacare to Montana taxpayers and is okay with doing away with coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. If Montana had to pick up the tab for Medicaid expansion, hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes would have to be paid by Montanans. I have fought to protect the coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and do not believe Montanan taxpayers should have to pick up the tab for the federal portion of Medicaid expansion.
Over the last few years, increased investments have come into the department’s budget to address our drug crisis, child abuse and neglect, and missing/murdered indigenous persons. Most of those increases were supported by my primary opponent. Now, he says the budget is too big, but will not publicly identify how he will make cuts to law enforcement. The DOJ’s budget has been consistent with budget inflation and has been helpful in addressing big problems around the state. Cutting highway patrol officers, drug investigators, or other positions would make our state less safe.
What are the greatest issues facing Montana that have gone unsolved by elected officials and how would you address them?
Our addiction crisis, whether its meth, opioids, or alcohol, has driven up crime and child abuse in our state. Over the past four years, I have worked on substance abuse issues by pursuing strategies on prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Prevention is still the area where I feel like there is the biggest void. As Attorney General, I will lead in formulating a statewide strategy on prevention that will include those even outside of government – non-profits, schools, employers, churches, and more. If we can prevent even a small percentage of people from becoming addicted, it will save the state money and make our communities safer.