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Bullock says he was not in touch with Democratic operatives on Walsh appointment

Dan Boyce

Governor Steve Bullock said Friday he spoke to no Democratic Party officials ahead of appointing John Walsh to the U.S. Senate other than to tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the issue was “none of your damn business.”

This is in response to criticism from the state GOP, which has described the move as a political backroom deal orchestrated to help Democrats maintain control of the Senate in the 2014 election.

But it’s not just political opponents complaining about the process. The left-leaning news satire program the Daily Show with John Stewart weighed in.

Governor Bullock was also lambasted by the editorial board of both the Missoulian and Billings Gazette newspapers this week.

The Missouliansaid in no uncertain terms Bullock should not have appointed Walsh.

“That he did so without even an attempt at transparency – without even the barest explanation of his reasoning to the people of Montana – is appalling,” the editorial read.

In the weeks running up to the Walsh appointment, Governor Bullock would not discuss what he said was still the hypothetical situation of Senator Baucus becoming the Ambassador to China. He maintained that tight-lipped approach until the morning after Baucus’s confirmation, when the appointment was announced. The Governor said he did not interview anyone for the position, not even Walsh.

The Billings Gazette editorial board says the secrecy on the process might be politics of the worst kind. The paper’s editor, Darrell Ehrlick serves on the board. He said this is one of two U.S. Senators from Montana, a position normally elected by the people, and in this case replacing someone who has been very powerful in both the Montana and national political scenes.

“By Max Baucus leaving,” Ehrlick said. “That’s a pretty important appointment, and we just felt like there needed to be more transparency.”

“Why make more of a media circus when what this becomes is an arm wrestling in an effort to be transparent,” Bullock said Friday. “I would say though, that, that the decision that is entrusted to me to make, after working with John for 22 months, I thought and believe that he would be the best.”

Bullock said other, perhaps more public, processes for similar appointments in other states have in the past ended up looking like what he called American Idol contests. He said if the Missoulian and Gazette editorial boards looked around the country at the last 10 Senate appointments, they would find methods similar to the one he used.

As to the lingering accusations of a political backroom deal orchestrated by the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

“If there was a backroom deal, I was certainly never invited into that back room,” Bullock said.

He said Senator Reid did give him a call before Baucus’s nomination to the Chinese Ambassadorship became public, “and I said, you know what, stay out of my decision making, this is a decision that I make and no one else.”

Ultimately, he says he chose someone for the U.S. Senate seat whom Bullock had already entrusted to take over the governor’s office if something were to happen to him.

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