Montana GOP Primary June 5, 2012
TWG Note: Wondering about the upcoming Montana GOP Primary? Me too. This, from one of the TOP Gun Rights and Freedom Advocates in this Nation, Mr. Gary Marbut. Mr. Marbut is the President of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. We can Thank Mr. Marbut for a plethora of very successful bills, including the Firearms Freedom Act. Mr. Marbut has been a vigilant and diligent proponent for our Second and Tenth Amendments, not just here in Montana, but across this Nation. You can learn more about Mr. Marbut’s efforts and about the Montana Shooting Sports Association by visiting the following sites:
Here is Mr. Marbut’s assessment of the upcoming Montana. You can find the original text at: http://progunleaders.org/MTGOPPrimary.html
The View from MSSA
Usually, after pouring over candidate voting records from previous public service, and examining returned candidate questionnaires, MSSA would like to make an endorsement in a race as important as the one for Governor of Montana.
There are seven Republican candidates facing off in the upcoming Primary Election on June 5th. Historically, to endorse any one candidate, MSSA wants to see one letter grade gap between the endorsed candidate and others, an “A” versus a “C”, or a “B” versus a “D.” (We don’t endorse candidates for the Primary who don’t earn at least a “B” grade.)
In the Republican Primary race for Governor, we simply cannot identify any candidate that is head-and-shoulders better than the rest – with a letter grade gap above the others. So, MSSA will make no endorsement in the Republican Primary for Governor.
If I ended this message right here, I can imagine that most GOP Governor candidates would be satisfied, although maybe some disappointed.
However, I can also imagine many MSSA members saying or thinking, “Come on Gary. You know these candidates. You’ve worked with them, tracked their votes in the Legislature, talked with them, watched their performance, and surveyed them. We need whatever information you can pass along in order to make an intelligent choice in the Primary.” Right.
So, I feel MSSA owes its members at least some information about the various candidates. In lieu of an MSSA endorsement, let me tell you what I know and what I think (I’ll mix the two) about the various candidates.
I tend to want to place political figures on a spectrum from liberal to conservative. Because those are fuzzy terms as commonly used, let me tell you how I define them. I think of a modern (not classic) liberal as a person who tolerates or favors shifting power, choice and money from people to government. I think of a conservative as a person who would prefer to shift power, choice and money from government to people. Those are generally the definitions I will apply here. I will also discuss what is known about each candidate’s position on the right to keep and bear arms, MSSA’s prime focus.
As far as I know, there are no out-and-out liberals in this Republican Primary race, but some appear to be more or less conservative than others. Here’s what I know or believe, working from the most conservative to the least conservative. (BTW, these candidates will ALL probably end up disliking all or parts of my assessment – comes with the turf if I’m to give MSSA members an honest review. I know most of these candidates personally, and count them as friends. I hope they’re still friends after they read my comments.)
Bob Fanning & Joel Boniek
The most conservative of the candidates is Bob Fanning. Fanning has a good grasp of constitutional principles. He’s a firm advocate for states’ rights. He has far more time and energy invested in wolf control than any other candidate, maybe than all candidates combined. Fanning has been a CEO and a member of the Chicago Board of Trade. He understands economics. Fanning returned a great MSSA candidate questionnaire. Bob likes to describe himself as a “Montanan by choice; not by accident.” He moved here over a decade ago to deliberately become a Montanan. Fanning has not previously held any public office in Montana. Bob buys big game tags every year and is an elk hunter. He is not as acquainted with the details and processes of state government as some other candidates. Fanning hasn’t raised a lot of money, and he got off to a late start with is campaign. His running mate is former Rep. Joel Boniek, a philosophically-pure guy who carried the Montana Firearms Freedom Act for MSSA when it passed in 2009. I’d say Fanning’s chances of getting into the Governor’s office are a long shot. He’d have a steep learning curve if he got there, but would be something of a breath of fresh air for Montana in the Governor’s chair.
Ken Miller & Bill Gallagher
Former State Senator Ken Miller is very nearly as conservative as Fanning. Miller also has a strong bent towards states’ rights and individual liberty. Miller has FAR more effort invested in the Governor race than any other candidate. He’s been actively campaigning for over a year and has crisscrossed Montana multiple times meeting locally with any groups of people who wanted to meet him. Ken was Chairman of the state GOP for a cycle, and managed to shake up and out that good-old-boy GOP structure some to make the GOP a more effective organization. As GOP Chairman, he was willing to make more hard decisions than some others who have held the post. When in the Montana Senate, Miller always supported MSSA’s pro-gun bills. Miller returned a very good MSSA candidate questionnaire, although with reservation about MSSA’s proposal to stimulate smokeless powder and primer manufacture in Montana. Ken and his wife Peggy are both big game hunters. Ken grew up in Montana, and has been a successful small business owner in Montana. In statewide polling, Miller continues to run a close second place in terms of support among likely Republican voters. Miller’s running mate is Bill Gallagher, a Helena attorney currently elected to the Montana Public Service Commission. Because both Miller and Gallagher have served in elected public office at the state level, they have a good grasp of how state government works and perhaps, because of that, an enhanced ability to translate Miller’s philosophy into deeds.
I see a bit of a gap on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum between these candidates and the next two.
Neil Livingstone & Ryan Zinke
Neil Livingstone is an interesting guy, albeit a bit mysterious. Although born in Montana, Neil has spent much of his life immersed in the murky world of international business, intelligence and clandestine operations, both in Washington, D.C., and overseas. Livingstone speaks forcefully about his commitment to constitutional principles, and he definitely wishes to roll back what he sees as extreme environmentalists’ suppression of the natural resource industry in Montana. Livingstone returned a fine candidate questionnaire, although he had some un-detailed concerns about MSSA’s “Sheriffs First” proposal. Livingstone has not held elected office in Montana. While expressing strong support for the right to keep and bear arms, Livingstone did select a running mate, State Senator Ryan Zinke, who formerly expressed a very definite opinion that “civilians” should not be allowed to own .50-caliber rifles. Livingstone quickly explains that he and former SEAL commander Zinke have come to terms about .50-caliber rifles, and Zinke now whole-heartedly supports civilian ownership of such firearms, as does Livingstone. Livingstone has a forceful personality. There are concerns expressed by some, however, that he has not spent enough time in Montana in recent years to have a good sense of Montana issues and Montana culture. Livingstone has not hunted in Montana, but says he has hunted in Eurasia and Africa. Livingstone is supported by a number of former high-ranking military and government officials of excellent national repute, many of whom are not Montana residents. Were Livingstone elected Montana Governor, one gets the impression he would kick ass, and that the timid and naysayers would do well to keep out of his way. With his long employment, connections and experience with the federal government, one would hope that his total allegiance would be to Montana, rather than to the federal government or influences from D.C. or elsewhere.
Corey Stapleton & Bob Keenan
Both Stapleton and Keenan are former state senators, both with good conservative credentials, and both of them are known as proven supporters of the right to keep and bear arms – excellent guys. Stapleton is a graduate of Annapolis, a strong recommendation by anyone’s standard. Stapleton did not return MSSA’s candidate questionnaire, but, based on his past votes in the Montana Senate, I believe he would support most of the issues MSSA plans to have before the 2013 Legislature. Because both Stapleton and Keenan have long experience in the Legislature, they also know how state government works and how to translate their philosophy into deeds at the state level. They would also be realistic, even pragmatic, about what a Governor can accomplish. Stapleton’s campaign has not been highly visible. There is a concern that because Stapleton has been (and presumably still is) an officer in the U.S. military, the federal government might be able to “pull rank” and command his loyalty in any disagreement between Montana and the federal government.
Continuing to work from the conservative end of the political spectrum gets us to:
Rick Hill & Jon Sonju
Rick Hill was formerly elected to represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives, and his running mate, Jon Sonju, has been in the Montana Senate. Both are experienced hands in the process of politics. Hill is currently thought my many to be the front-runner in this seven-way Republican Primary. He is reported to lead in fundraising, and is known to be supported by many “old guard” Republican figures. Although Hill did not return MSSA’s candidate questionnaire, he did speak to the MSSA Annual Meeting in Helena in March (as did Fanning, Miller and Livingstone), where he expressed strong support for the right to keep and bear arms. It is unknown how this strong expression will translate to the details of MSSA’s legislative agenda in 2013. I expect he would support most of those issues, but with no returned candidate questionnaire and no voting record from the Montana Legislature, that’s just my educated guess. Hill is reputed to occasionally hunt upland game birds. Sonju has been a solid supporter of gun issues in the Legislature, and his family manufactures firearms in the Kalispell area. It is argued by some that the nature of Hill’s work and experience in D.C. and Montana may make him more vulnerable to attacks by the Democrats in the General Election, making it difficult for him to win the General Election, although Democrats will certainly attack whomever becomes the Republican candidate for the General Election. Hill recently released a statement asserting need to better manage wolves to prevent negative impact on game herds. While quite welcome, this recent interest by Hill is seen by some as being a bit late and lacking the strong intent needed to resurrect Montana’s predator-decimated game herds.
Jim Lynch & Al Olszewski
Current Governor Brian Schweitzer (a Democrat) appointed Jim Lynch to be Director of the Montana Department of Transportation. In that office, Lynch says that he has made maintenance of the Montana highway system much more effective and efficient. He wishes to bring the same management techniques to the Governor’s Office. Lynch has been an insider in state government long enough to know how things work, although he hasn’t been involved in the political machinations used to turn eggs into an omelet. Lynch did return a very good MSSA candidate questionnaire, a plus for him, although MSSA puts more credence in a voting record history than in a candidate questionnaire. I know nothing about Lynch’s running mate, Al Olszewski. It is said that Lynch has made numerous political donations on record to Democrat candidates, although that may just be an unspoken job requirement to work for Governor Schweitzer. It is my fuzzy opinion that Lynch is probably a pretty good manager, but I have not heard others who know him speak of his conservative philosophy or credentials.
Jim O’Hara & Scott Swingley
Jim O’Hara is elected as a County Commissioner of Choteau County. He did not return MSSA’s candidate questionnaire. I haven’t met O’Hara and really don’t know anything about Jim or his running mate, Scott Swingley.
I’ve tried seven times to write a conclusion, but I’m just not getting there. I guess you’ll have to draw your own conclusion. I hope this has been helpful.