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Bryce Bennett: 2020 General Election Q&A

Bryce Bennett is the 2020 Democratic candidate for secretary of state.
Bryce Bennett is the 2020 Democratic candidate for secretary of state.

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.

Bryce Bennett is the 2020 Democratic candidate for secretary of state.

What makes you the best candidate for secretary of state and how do you stand out from your opponent(s)?

I’ve brought Republicans and Democrats together to get things done for Montana. Those are the values I learned growing up in a small town in eastern Montana. 

Unfortunately, those values are not reflected in today’s Secretary of State's office which my opponent leads. Whether it’s big government contracts for political donors, criminal abuse of state owned vehicles, or hiring her own family members - this office has become a mess. But I’m no stranger to cleaning up messes. 

In the legislature, I passed ethics reform to stop politicians from hiding their misconduct and championed the bill that kept special interest dark money out of our elections. I was also recognized by the Montana Chamber of Commerce because I will always stand up for Main Street businesses.

We need a leader in this office who puts Montana first, not partisan donors. That’s how I’ll lead as your Secretary of State.

What experience do you have in overseeing elections, interpreting election laws, and maintaining public records?

As a ten year veteran legislator, I served as Vice Chair of the committee that directly oversees the Secretary of State’s office and worked across the aisle to send multiple bipartisan bills to the Governor’s desk making our democracy more secure, accessible, and stronger than ever before.

I understand that the Secretary of State is the defender of our democracy - the person in charge of ensuring you have a say in Montana’s future and we can all trust the outcome.

When out of touch politicians tried to make it harder for folks like you to vote to advance their political agenda I fought back to protect your rights. 

I’ve made sure that farmers in Eastern Montana don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to drop off a ballot and fixed our broken vote by mail system so 72,000 Montanans no longer fall off the list because of unnecessary bureaucracy.

What are your three top goals to accomplish as secretary of state and how would you achieve them?

Business One Stop Shop: The Secretary of State’s office should be a resource, not a burden for Montana small business owners. I’ll create a one stop shop to provide a clear roadmap for Montana entrepreneurs of each step they need to take to open up their doors. 

Fight Dark Money: When dark money groups tried to buy our elections, I worked with Republicans and Democrats to stop dark money groups from drowning out your voice by passing the nation’s leading anti-dark money reform law. As Secretary of State, I’ll make sure the only voice that matters on Election Day is Montana voters.

Public Lands Access: We need a leader who’ll be an advocate for our outdoor heritage on the Land Board. I’ll fight the out-of-state special interests that are trying to sell off our favorite places to hike, hunt, fish, and explore to the highest bidder. 

The secretary of state 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?

We need a leader who will be an advocate for our public lands. Our values and our outdoor economy are in the hands of our Land Board.

I grew up swimming in Flathead lake and hiking around my grandpa’s hunting cabin in Zortman, so any attack on our public lands is personal to me. In the legislature, I worked with Republicans and Democrats to put heavy fines on out-of-staters who attempt to block access to Montana’s public lands. I fought the special interests backing my opponent, who wants to transfer our public lands to state ownership or sell them off to the highest bidder. 

When reporters asked my opponent about her vision for the Land Board she responded that she “wasn’t well versed” on what they did. We cannot trust someone on the Land Board if after four years in that office - she doesn’t understand the job.

How would your administration ensure all Montanans have equal access to voting? If you have specific policies in mind, please share them. 

We must ensure that our democracy is strong, accessible, and secure. In the legislature I’ve led in the work to ensure every eligible Montana voter has the ability to have their voice heard and their vote counted on Election Day. No matter where you live, how you vote, or which party you are casting your ballot for - we need to make sure our democracy works for all Montana voters.

I’ve passed bills to help people vote who I know will vote against me this election because it was the right thing to do. We should always expect a Secretary of State who will put Montanans before their own political career.

What are the most pressing election security vulnerabilities in Montana, if any, and how would you address them?

The 2016 election tested our ability to protect the infrastructure of our elections and made us think about the steps needed to protect our elections from hackers both foreign and domestic.

As Secretary of State I’ll protect our democracy and Montanan’s constitutional rights by bringing experts to the table. Unlike the current Stapleton/Jacobsen administration, you will not have to drag me kicking and screaming to utilize the Montana National Guard’s Cyber Security Unit to partner with county elections officials and state officials to keep our voting systems safe.

While they’ve sat on the sidelines - I’ve built plans to bring leaders from the private sector who have gone toe-to-toe with the people who are attacking our elections in Montana and across the country to our cyber security team.

Montanans must have faith in the outcome of our elections and building a team ready to combat these threats is a priority.

Do you support counties having the option to run all mail ballot elections during the pandemic? Would you support Montana moving toward that policy permanently in the future?

In emergency situations we must adapt to ensure that no Montanan has to choose between their health and casting a ballot. Even before COVID-19 came to Montana, I built a 9-Point plan to keep our democracy strong in the face of this pandemic, while my opponent has left our local election administrators with no guidance, no resources, and no leadership.

Once we defeat COVID-19 and return to normalcy, I believe we must defend a voting system that has both vote-by-mail options and in person voting locations. Our democracy should meet people where they are to ensure each and every eligible Montana voter has the ability to have their say in Montana’s future.

What changes, if any, do you think Montana should make to the process for how people register to vote?

Montana has a strong voter registration system that is made stronger by the hard work of our County Clerk and Recorders. We verify the identity of the voter with a state ID or a social security number, ensuring only eligible voters can participate in our elections. 

I will be a partner with our local election leaders on the ground to look into ways we can further strengthen the security of our voter registry and ensure our data is accurate and up to date. That is why I partnered with a Republican legislator from Forsyth on a bill that would allow people to register to vote as part of the process of getting a driver’s license, ensuring our state systems have correct information across the board.

While this bill failed by a single vote, I’ll continue working for bipartisan solutions that build on the strengths of our already effective system.

What other issues are important to your campaign? (300 word limit)

I’ve spent my career working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done because those are the values I grew up with in Hysham, a small agriculture town in eastern Montana. Partisan politics doesn’t come up much when the folks up the road need help changing irrigation pipes or when there are sand bags to fill to keep your neighbor’s house from flooding. 

Unfortunately, the values that founded Hysham, that I grew up with, are too often lost at the Capitol. We see politicians who only care about themselves and use these important offices as stepping stones and political trophies. 

And over the last 4 years we’ve seen the worst of that as my opponent led a Secretary of State’s office plagued by corruption and incompetence.

That’s why we need a leader who will put partisan politics aside like I have my whole career. I protected access to healthcare for 90,000 Montanans and kept our rural hospitals open. I’ve fought against the dark money that’s poisoning our political system. And I defended our public lands against the folks with gates and barbed wire trying to keep us out.

That’s the reason our campaign is endorsed by former Secretaries of State from both parties- like Democrat Linda McCulloch and Republican Bob Brown.

We can’t afford another four years of a Secretary of State who has voted against public access, made decisions that hurt main street, and created barriers between voters and their ballots to advance their partisan agenda. I am asking for your vote to get this office back to working for the people of Montana.

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