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Austin Knudsen: 2020 General Election Q&A

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen
Austin Knudsen is the 2020 Republican candidate for attorney general.

Montana Public Radio is gathering information on all statewide general election 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 150 words per question. These are their unedited responses.

Austin Knudsen is the 2020 Republican candidate for attorney general.

What makes you the best candidate for attorney general and how do you stand out from your opponent(s)?

Montana needs an Attorney General who will put the focus back on the number one responsibility of the state’s top law enforcement officer -- that’s not taking care of bureaucrats in Helena, that’s taking care of our kids and making sure our communities are safe. I’m

running for this position because I have the experience and the leadership to take on the role and help bring down our state’s skyrocketing crime rates. As Roosevelt County Attorney, I

work every day with the local sheriff’s office, tribal police, and Montana Highway Patrol troopers fighting the scourge of meth and the violent crime it creates. I prosecute criminals, take them to jury trials, and convict them. My opponent has never done any

of these things. He’s never even represented a private client in Montana. I’m the only candidate in the race with the real-world prosecutorial experience that is necessary for Montana’s top lawyer.

What is your current legal experience?

Since being elected to be Roosevelt County Attorney, my office has taken on the backlog of criminal cases and been aggressive about getting dangerous people behind bars. The meth problem, and the violent crime it creates, is our state’s biggest law enforcement issue, and I work with our local law enforcement to try to contain this problem every day. Additionally, I have over a decade of real-world legal practice in Montana, representing farmers, ranchers, neighbors, and small businesses from my private law practice in Culbertson. I’ve handled just about every type of legal question imaginable. Over the last decade, I also served my maximum four terms in the Montana House of Representatives where I spent a lot of time studying the state budget, which is why it’s one of my top priorities as Attorney General to move some of the funding for the Department of Justice out into the communities where people on the ground can make decisions about how it will be the most helpful to them and their unique needs.

What are your three top goals to accomplish as attorney general and how would you achieve them?

Violent crime in Montana is up 36% since 2013, and my top goal is to get this rate down to make our communities safer. One way to help is by moving some resources out of Helena to increase funding for county sheriff’s offices, local police departments, and other offices. These offices deal with drugs and violent crime on the front lines, and they’re overwhelmed. Added resources can help provide new advanced tools, or maybe just hiring a full time prosecutor.

I’ll shrink the Department of Justice (DOJ) bureaucracy in Helena, which has grown tremendously under the current Attorney General. In about a decade, the overall DOJ budget has increased from $86 million in 2013 to $106 million today. I’ll do this through internal management of the department.

I’ll work with the Legislature to fully fund the Montana Highway Patrol, the Division of Criminal Investigation, and the State Crime Labs.

The attorney general is one of five statewide elected officials that sits on the state Land Board, which manages state trust lands. What are your priorities for managing these lands?

Montanans value public lands. As a public land hunter, I do too. As a land board member,

I will make sure that multi-use access on our public lands truly means multi-use: hunting, fishing, off-road vehicles, horseback riding, etc. In Montana, our state lands also fund K-12. Monies generated from leasing state lands go directly to educating our kids. I’ll use my experience in land use and natural resource law to maximize our public lands while at the same time making sure they are protected for future generations.

What, if any, changes would you like to see made to the state’s criminal justice system?

As a prosecutor, I routinely see the same drug users over and over in court, because 1) they don’t want to get cleaned up; and 2) they receive deferred sentences that don’t hold them accountable. This makes me dubious of criminal justice reforms that move us further from holding criminals responsible. Some of the criminal justice reforms that were made several years ago need to be reexamined by the Legislature and this is a priority for me. Petty crime and misdemeanor theft are up as a result of lessened penalties. We need to fix this.

Are there any Montana laws that, if challenged in court, you would not support defending them? In other words, are there state laws you want to see changed?

I don’t believe the Attorney General should be an activist. The Attorney General’s job is to enforce and defend the laws passed by the Legislature. With that said, I would have serious concerns if the Legislature ever enacted gun control measures I believed to be unconstitutional. 

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