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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Steve Bullock On Why He's Running For President

Gov. Steve Bullock.
Freddy Monares - UM Legislative News Service
Gov. Steve Bullock.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is the latest candidate to join the crowded field of Democrats vying to unseat President Trump in 2020. Bullock waited until the Montana Legislature ended to announce his long-rumored candidacy. Now he'll find out if his statewide popularity will translate to a national stage. Bullock spoke with MTPR's Sally Mauk about his just-launched campaign and why he'd rather be president than a U.S. senator, and his positions on some key national issues.

Sally Mauk You have a proven track record of working across the aisle and as a central point of your campaign message. But some of the other 20 plus Democratic candidates can and do say the same thing. How will you stand out? What's the rest of your message?

Steve Bullock Thanks for the question Sally. I think that, look, a lot of the folks sort of talk, but as you know we've done here in Montana. Of the field of 20-some I'm the only one that actually won in a Trump state when Trump was on the ballot. I got re-elected in 2016 when President Trump took Montana by 20; I won by four. So like 25-30% of my voters voted for Donald Trump. But I've actually been able to, as hopefully you've seen over the last six years in Montana as governor, bridge some of the divides to get policy done that matters to people. That there's nothing I would have been able to get done without actually bringing Democrats or Republicans together to do things like pass one of the most progressive laws when it comes to dark money and curbing the influence, or what we were able to do with health care and Medicaid expansion, or record investments in our K-12 system and in freezing college tuition. So I think that we've actually been able to show that government can function in Montana and it's something that others could learn from. And as far as what others will be saying in the large field, you know, the best that I can do is say, here's why I'm doing it, here's what I believe that we can do, and leave that for the voters to decide.

Mauk Governor, a lot of Montana Democrats are mad at you for running for president instead of the U.S. Senate, and they argue you're a longshot at best for president but they believe you'd have a real chance to beat Sen. Steve Daines. What do you say to those Democrats who think you're putting your personal ambition ahead of what might be best for Montana, from the Democrats' point of view?

Bullock Well hopefully that they've seen in my decade of public service that I've always put what Montanans' best interests forward. Look, I have a lot of great respect for a lot of the Democrats in the Senate and I also fundamentally believe that there's gonna be a lot of people that'll jump into this race to beat Senator Daines in 2020. My experience is as an executive not as a legislator. I've been able to have success in that arena and that's where I think that my talents are best suited.

Mauk If your presidential race falters would you consider at some point the Senate race?

Bullock No I wouldn't. You know, and it's again like what Jon Tester has been able to do in getting a dozen bills through on veterans is really, really admirable from my perspective. But even before I decided to launch into a presidential race I pretty consistently said didn't have much interest in serving as a senator in Washington D.C.

Mauk So you're ruling that out?

Bullock Yes ma'am.

Mauk You've been, governor, described by some national news outlets as a progressive Democrat because of your work on campaign finance reform and Medicaid expansion. But the litmus test for progressives nationally is support for Medicare for all and The Green New Deal. And correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think you support either of those proposals.

Bullock You know, look, when it comes to health care, as an example, I think that it ought to be accessible for all and affordable for all. And if you — as you've seen what we've been able to do in Montana — expanding access, and even this last legislative session ensuring that affordability is a possibility while holding pharmacy benefit managers accountable to the high risk pool that we've been able to do, and I think that's what folks want is to make sure that we can have health care. I haven't said that Medicare for all. I haven't been in support of that. I agree with the aspiration. But I also fundamentally don't think that we should start out of the gate saying, all right 155 million people that have private insurance, they may think they've paid too much, but ultimately that may not necessarily be the best way to completely disrupt the whole system from the start. So I think that we can agree on the overall objectives and get to the same place. You know that the lane that hopefully I'll be in is somebody that's going to get stuff done that matters in people's lives. And I think that there are a lot of progressive accomplishments that we've gotten done here. But there will also be some where — you know as a governor I've had to balance a budget — so I'm gonna make sure that if we're talking about, like, the Trump tax cuts which put $1.5 trillion onto the backs of people, or some of the programs that may be talked about; my first question will be, great program, let's make sure we can pay for it.

Mauk As for the Green New Deal, I know you are concerned about climate change. You certainly think it's real, but the Green New Deal, is out too far out of what you think would be a realistic solution?

Bullock Look, I think and we in Montana, I mean two years ago had the record fire season that we've ever had. We see the impacts. Our growing seasons are changing. We see the impacts of climate change happening and we do have to take bold action. I think that there are steps that you can take and take even from the beginning. I mean, day one rejoining our global role in Paris. What you could do, even energy efficiency alone could address about 30% of the reductions that we would need to do; investinng in technology. So I think there are a number of steps that you can take. I think that the Green New Deal is a sort of resolution aspiration in Washington D.C., and I'm less, I guess, interested in signing on to resolutions that probably won't take meaningful steps going forward in Washington D.C. than what are the tangible things that we could start doing now.

Mauk What do you say, governor, to supporters of President Trump — who still polls very well in Montana — who think he's doing a great job as president.

Bullock Well I think that that'll be part of the overall discussion going forward is that, look, you know, I understand why people have been frustrated with the economy, not feeling like life's gotten better for them. I mean you have 44% of America that if you had a $400 emergency you wouldn't be able to pay it. So the economy is not working for a whole lot of folks. They look to the political system for relief. And I think that President Trump tapped into something about this 'drain the swamp', yet that's not the results that we've seen coming out of Washington D.C., that people's lives in places like here if you're a farm producer or in a rural town, it hasn't improved under him. So it will be giving them a reason to vote for us and saying that we could be doing a lot better in both economically, politically and actually bridging some of the divides that unfortunately, you know, we're more divided now under this president than we ever have been certainly in my lifetime.

Mauk Governor, one final question for you. Are you ready for the rigors of the national campaign? It's nonstop travel. It's nonstop speaking and interviewing and it's going to be on a scale you've not experienced before Are you ready for that?

Bullock I don't know that anybody's ever ready for it from the start Sally, but I'm really excited about it and I'm excited about being able to talk about what we've been able to do here in Montana, how it could actually translate much larger to make a difference, not just in Montanans' life, but people across the country. So it's certainly a marathon more than a sprint. I've run a share of those, but going in eyes wide open and excited about the prospects.

I've been speaking with Gov. Steve Bullock who is the latest Democrat to enter the race for president. Governor thank you so much.

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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