As the June 2 primary approaches we are airing conversations with some of the candidates running for governor in Montana.
Republican Tim Fox was born in Hardin and has been Montana’s Attorney General for the past eight years. He spoke with YPR New’s Jess Sheldahl in early March, before the coronavirus pandemic hit Montana, about his time as attorney general, his public safety plan and his campaign.
SHELDAHL: You've been Montana's attorney general since 2013. Can you please tell us a little more about your background?
FOX: Born and raised here in Montana. I grew up in a little town just east of here. We're in Billings sitting here to your studio. This is my 33rd year practicing law in the great state of Montana. This has been my home for most of that time. It's been my pleasure to serve the people of Montana as their attorney general these last seven plus years. I'm in my eighth year. I'm term limited, so I can't run for attorney general again. But I'm open to continue to serve as Montana's next governor.
SHELDAHL: As attorney general, you've already been a member of the land board, which the governor also serves on. The board directs actions on state trust lands to benefit schools in Montana. What are your priorities for managing public lands if elected governor?
FOX: So certainly we need to continue to look for opportunities to sustainably earn income from our state lands, for our schools. We can, I think, take advantage of some opportunities we have there, always being cognizant, again of the fact that we want to do these things in an environmentally sensitive manner. We have a lot of state lands with great forests that can be sustainably logged to make sure that we thin them to protect them from fire hazard.
But one of the things that I feel that we should do is be in a better partnership with our federal partners in land management to be a part of that dialog in a greater sense. There's just a lot we can do.
SHELDAHL: You've come out with a public safety strategy along with other strategies throughout your campaign. But the public safety strategy touches on many topics but has a large section on addressing drug use. How would you address the rates of drug addiction in Montana, especially methamphetamine misuse as governor?
FOX: Well, actually, we've been working very hard on those issues for many years now. During my tenure as attorney general. What we did initially is we established a program called Resolve Montana, which focused primarily on prescription drug abuse. And we worked with health care providers, pharmacies and just ordinary Montanans to educate folks on the dangers of potentially getting addicted to opioids, how to handle them, how to use them and how to dispose of them. We started a program to give grants to pharmacies to encourage them to provide drop boxes in there in their businesses for unused and unwanted prescription drugs. So that was the start of a program that eventually evolved into a much broader program called Aid Montana, where we saw a void in state government, in particular in leadership on bringing everyone together to talk about these issues. So much of the crime is driven by substance abuse. So we established the first K-9 units in the Montana Highway Patrol during my tenure. And we've really stepped up our efforts in seizures, in interdictions, working with our local and federal and tribal law enforcement partners to communicate and work together on drug task forces and other things. But we also need more treatment options and we need to continue to focus on the law enforcement end of it as well.
SHELDAHL: How would you ensure access to affordable health care for Montanans?
FOX: We will be rolling out a health care strategy that will take into account many of the things that are part of the discussion in the dialog on our state.
My dad had a heart attack and he was taken down to the critical access hospital in Hardin. And they were able to get him Lifeflight and get him stabilized, life flighted to Billings. And I got seven more years with my dad, which is priceless. And I eventually got to say goodbye to him. So we need to understand that those critical access hospitals are ever so important. We have excellent health care options. We need to make sure they're affordable. We need to make sure they're accessible.
SHELDAHL: If elected, you'd be the first Republican governor in Montana since Judy Martz, who left office after the 2004 election. Why do you think your best suited to lead your party's attempts to regain the office?FOX: Sure. Well, let me say, you know, when I ran for attorney general in 2012, I promised those that were supporting me that I would run for reelection and hold that seat as long as possible. And so in 2016, I won reelection with 68 percent of the vote. And I received 96,000 more votes than our Republican governor candidate that year, Greg Gianforte. So I was the first Republican attorney general elected to that office in 24 years. Republicans are united in their quest to have a Republican in the governor's office. Our polling shows that I'm the only guy that can win the general election, but I've got to get out of the primary election first. But I think Montanans also know that I can get things done as their governor, just as I've done as attorney general.