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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

The CPP Decision's Effect On State Elections & What The State Auditor Does

Campaign Beat, Montana Public Radio's weekly political analysis program.
"Campaign Beat" MTPR's weekly political analysis program.

How will the Supreme Court's stay on the Obama Clean Power Plan affect Montana's governor's race? What's a state auditor, and why should voters care about the auditor's race? Which presidential candidates have qualified for Montana's June primary ballot? Sally Mauk, Chuck Johnson an Rob Saldin discuss these questions on today's episode of "Campaign Beat".

Clean Power Plan Decision

Tuesday's Supreme Court decision to temporarily block the Clean Power Plan may give Governor Bullock some breathing room in his campaign for re-election, says Professor Saldin.

"This stay almost certainly means that the Clean Power Plan is going to be sidelined and remain in limbo until after the election in November."

"It really takes some of the air out of Gianforte's point about how regulations are hurting Montana's economy," Saldin says. "The Clean Power Plan was teed-up perfectly for a Montana Republican. The fight over jobs and regulation isn't going away, but pointing to the Clean Power Plan just isn't going to pack quite the punch as it did before the Supreme Court's stay."

Two traditional Democratic constituencies — labor and environmentalists — are lined on opposite sides of the Clean Power Plan, with Governor Bullock right in the middle. The Court's stay means one less intra-party conflict for Bullock during his campaign.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte is calling for the Clean Power Plan Advisory Council to be, "to become a sort of lobbying group against the plan," says Sally Mauk.

Although Attorney General Tim Foxis running unopposed, Professor Saldin says the Clean Power Plan ruling helps his re-election efforts as well: "He has been the person here in Montana who has clearly been out in front leading the charge [against the Clean Power Plan] ... and I think this is one more thing that strengthens his position and raises the bar in terms of some Democrat jumping into the race."

State Auditor Race

"The Auditor's office is a strange office in that the title doesn't begin to describe what the auditor does," Chuck Johnson explains. "In fact, the auditor does no auditing. The auditor regulates insurance and securities in Montana ... I personally would rank it as the third most important state office behind governor and attorney general."

Sally Mauk notes that state auditor is, "often a stepping stone to another higher office."

Professor Saldin agrees, saying "I think whoever emerges as a winner here is probably someone we're going to be hearing about for a long time to come."

Republican Matthew Rosendale, the drone shooting state senator, entered the auditor race this week. On the Democratic side is Jessie Laslovich, a young, but politically experienced candidate.

"Rosendale will be a serious candidate," Chuck Johnson says. "Rosendale also has the ability to self-fund. When he ran for the House in 2014 he put in about $1.2 of his own money. So all of the sudden Laslovich has got to start raising more money."

Presidential Race Slowly Heating Up in Montana

So far, five Republicans (Trump, Bush, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio) and two Democratic presidential candidates (Sanders, Clinton) are on the ballot in Montana. Montana's late primary in June usually means the nominations are decided long before Montanans vote. But:

"If we have close races, the late Montana primary could be critical to their chances, just as it was in 2008 when we had the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama," Chuck Johnson says.

"It looks a lot more plausible that the Montana primary is going to matter for the presidential race than it did just a couple weeks ago," says Saldin.

Stay tuned to "Campaign Beat" as the election season continues its march to November.

"Campaign Beat" is hosted by MTPR's Sally Mauk, with UM Political Science Professor Rob Saldin, and former Capitol Reporter Chuck Johnson. Listen every Friday at 6:48 p.m. and again on Sunday at 11:00 a.m., or via podcast.

Retired in 2014 but still a presence at MTPR, Sally Mauk is a University of Kansas graduate and former wilderness ranger who has reported on everything from the Legislature to forest fires.
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