Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Racicot: preserving democracy outweighs party politics

Former Gov. Marc Racicot speaks at a rally in the Capitol Rotunda, on Feb. 1, 2023. Rallygoers spoke out against the unprecedented number of constitutional amendments drafted by Republican legislators this session.
Ellis Juhlin
Former Gov. Marc Racicot speaks at a rally in the Capitol Rotunda, on Feb. 1, 2023. Rallygoers spoke out against the unprecedented number of constitutional amendments drafted by Republican legislators this session.

Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot was rebuked by the state Republican party in February. The executive committee of the Montana Republican Party voted to condemn Racicot for his opposition to recent GOP candidates and endorsement of Democrats.

Racicot endorsed Democrats over Republicans in recent presidential and Montana U.S. House races. The committee said Racicot has disqualified himself from being considered a Republican.

Racicot served as both the state’s top executive and Attorney General. He went on to chair the Republican National Committee and lead then-President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign.

Racicot sat down for an interview with Montana Public Radio’s Shaylee Ragar to talk about Montana’s political landscape and where he fits in.

Shaylee Ragar: Governor Racicot, thank you so much for taking the time today.

I want to first give you an opportunity to just respond to the Montana Republican Party's official rebuking of you as a member.

Marc Racicot: Well, I really don't have anything negative to say about it. It's a matter within their jurisdiction and province and discretion. At the end of the day, of course, I've been associated with the party for about 35 years, and I think I probably have a history of having tried to do the right thing. Not that I was mistake free. I certainly wasn't. I followed the approach that reflected my principles and not necessarily my party. So there were some concerns with me for a long time, to be honest with you. And it's not like I didn't contemplate that it was going to be difficult. I certainly did contemplate that it would be difficult. Though, when I came out in opposition to Donald Trump in 2016, I knew that there would be some disapproval of that. And yeah, I did it again in 2020 and went on to endorse Joe Biden. So, it's not like I didn't know that there was some disapproval. But I, some time ago, a long time ago, came to the conclusion that the hierarchy of values has to be your faith and family, your country, your state, and then then your party.

Shaylee Ragar: Governor, do you still consider yourself a Republican?

Marc Racicot: Well, you know, I've been asked that before, and frankly, it's not really a relevant question, because the more important question to me is, 'will our way of life and our Constitution be preserved? Will our democracy be preserved?’ And so, a democracy presumes that there will be self-discipline and that there will be an observation of the checks and balances of the Constitution. And within that framework, we can live in freedom, but we all acquiesce to recognize that there has to be moderation. And there also has to be a willingness for us to work with others to vindicate our principles clearly. But at the same point in time, to respect their position. So, whether I'm a Democrat or Republican, frankly, I haven't even thought about it. I would probably say I'm a Conservative. So I want to conserve our democracy. I want to conserve our way of life. I want to conserve our civility. And the policy can be distilled in a way that serves as many people as possible in as full a fashion as possible.

Shaylee Ragar: I know you're no stranger to some controversial, polarizing issues throughout your career. You chaired the National Republican Committee and you led the re-election campaign of former President George W. Bush. You also championed the deregulation of state utilities and some big tax cuts while you were governor in Montana. Are you proud of how you navigated those controversies and of that legacy? And is there anything you would do differently?

Marc Racicot: Well, I would do different things with different issues, unquestionably. But at every point, I can honestly say that I tried to figure out what was the best thing to do, what was the right thing to do. It's a very complicated world, unquestionably. You mentioned the utility question. That's one of the issues that probably, you know, we thought we understood clearly and plainly, and we probably made a mistake. But clearly, you know, I made mistakes. I would never suggest that somehow we were perfect. We weren't. It was usually, however, a good faith attempt and well — it was always a good faith attempt — but sometimes you were mistaken in what the facts were or what the circumstances would do to change. And you ended up in a situation where you had a solution that didn't appear to be near as attractive at the end as it did at the beginning.

Shaylee Ragar: I know there are Republican lawmakers who would argue that the proposals they're bringing to regulate the judiciary, for example, are what they believe to be the right thing and the important thing to do right now. What separates a good-faith attempt from a bad-faith attempt?

Marc Racicot: Well, I think you have to take a look at the structure of the government and, you know, what was intended from the beginning, and what has brought us equilibrium within our government over the course of time, through depressions, through wars. When there's moderation, when there is the ability to consider a vast number of ideas, when there is a strict adherence to the separation of powers, that you're in a situation then, I think, to say that you are preserving the government, preserving the equilibrium, preserving the capacity to make decisions that people can find acceptable. But if you're going to invade one branch against another — first of all, it's prohibited by the Constitution. Encroachment is strictly prohibited in our Constitution in Montana, it is at the national level. And you swear to observe the limits of your authority. And the invasion of the judiciary by the legislative is clearly a violation of the Constitution. You may think you have the prerogative or you have the power, but you don't have the right to do it by the terms of our contract between the people and their government observing the separation of powers and a lack of encroachment.

Shaylee Ragar: We just learned that Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is going to run for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate, and Tester has won races in the past by offering a really moderate middle of the road message. How do you expect that to appeal to Montana voters right now in our current political landscape?

Marc Racicot: Well, you know, I think Jon Tester has been a very good public servant. He has won on the merits of his service. So I think he'll be just fine in this re-election effort. But it will have to be a candidate in opposition that offers a substantial improvement or change or something that people … I don't think Jon is just a one-party candidate.

Shaylee Ragar: Two possible opponents, that seem pretty likely to come forward, are Matt Rosendale and Ryan Zinke, our current U.S. House of Representatives. Do you see that opponent in them that you were just describing?

Marc Racicot: No, it's a matter of principle. If as a matter of principle, somebody serves well all of the interests of the people of Montana, and if they proceed in a way that's reasonable and lacks extremism, then, to me, if they are a member of the party that I was a member of, that's a happy coincidence. But if they don't, then I'm not going to defer to party over principle. I know it may seem strange and people can't quite figure it out, but it's really very simple.

Shaylee Ragar: Could you see yourself endorsing Jon Tester?

Marc Racicot: Yes. I'm not certain Jon Tester would want my endorsement. You know, I'm not certain anybody would want my endorsement. But, you know, at the end of the day, Shaylee, I worry more about sleeping. If I can live with myself — and I can — I have no regrets.

Shaylee Ragar: During the answer you were talking about how people find their footing in this current political world and in government. And that made me think of Mallerie Stromswold. So, former Rep. Mallerie Stromswold, a young Republican for Billings, resigned her legislative seat just two weeks into this legislative session. She said she was ostracized for voting independently of her party. What do you make of that?

Marc Racicot: I'm heartbroken. You know, to think that there's a young woman who would set about to improve the lot of others as best she could. And to think that the representative of our next generation would somehow be deterred for being of service because of the pressure put upon her to vote in a certain direction is a horrible disappointment to me and, I think, a heartbreaking set of circumstances that does not speak well for the system that we have in place.

Shaylee Ragar: What would you say to people who look at the current political atmosphere and our current government and maybe don't see themselves represented, or their values represented?

Marc Racicot: What I would urge them to do is to let their desires and their beliefs and their convictions be known. Require more of those of us who either have served or presently serve in office. Be fair, be balanced, be disciplined. Because we can't survive in this life of freedom without it. We just can't. When it becomes nothing more than a race for power, then you're going to trample people in the race and it's going to be a stampede and it's going to end up badly for the country.

Shaylee Ragar: I so appreciate you taking the time.

Marc Racicot: Not at all. It was a pleasure.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information