Eons ago I wrote a column based on a conversation with pontificating pig farmer, Marty Mohr of Park City, Mont. Marty allowed that Brian Schweitzer might beat Roy Brown in the governor’s race, so perhaps I should be his lieutenant governor to pull him to the right occasionally. Because Marty holds his Levis up with baling twine, the character Kalvin Twine became the spokesperson for fashionable bipartisan filing.
When the column appeared in print, Schweitzer called me three times to discuss the legality of bipartisan teams and the political wisdom of same. He still asks about the welfare of Kalvin Twine, and we share a laugh.
Since then Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger has been on TV ads, during campaign season, espousing his political differences with Gov. Schweitzer. During the Great In-between, Bohlinger has been reported walking the governor’s dog with plastic glove in hand, greeting returning troops at the airport, and giving commencement speeches for small-town eighth-grade students.
Bohlinger has never attended a Republican caucus during a legislative session. Lt. Gov. Bohlinger is rarely seen in an official capacity but then getting between Schweitzer and a camera could lead to a work comp claim, so perhaps it is just pragmatic self preservation.
The only legislated job function of the lieutenant governor is to chair the Drought Advisory Committee. Ergo, if it rains they have nothing to do, and if it does not rain there is nothing they can do. Not bad for $86,000 per year plus benefits. The only better job in state government is chief of staff to the lieutenant governor.
In my 20 years in Montana politics I have been courted twice to be an official Second Banana. Both recruitments were unique. So what goes into the picking the new backup governor? The one who will officiate at your funeral?
I asked. They told.
Applicants, decision points
Rick Hill: Quite a few people asked about becoming a running mate and we reached out to see who others thought would be a good fit for the position. The campaign team and trusted advisers sorted through voting records and vetted other areas. Serious consideration resulted in an interview. The final decision of John Sonju was mine.
Neil Livingstone: Several approached me and I was advised to “bring balance” to the ticket by choosing a female politician or Native American. I rejected that clichéd advice and went for the best. I only asked Ryan Zinke. I have a high comfort level with the leadership capacity of the former Seal Team 6 commander.
Jim O’Hara: My criterion was simple. I wanted someone I am personally very familiar with, not a laundry list. My wife and I put together a list of five or six to pick from. Scott Swingley brought the most to the table.
Corey Stapleton: I received several unsolicited applications via emails but many had zero political experience. I considered several, but Bob Keenan was a natural and my first pick.
Ken Miller: We considered about 50 names of which 15 asked to be picked. Names were recommended from conversations during regional travel and applicants. A seven-person selection committee reduced the list to two people. Bill Gallagher never asked but was the unanimous pick.
Steve Bullock: Bullock declared his lieutenant governor candidate on Friday, March 9. There is no contact information on his web site, just a means to volunteer or donate. A call to his home, and an offer to volunteer, have gone unreturned. He chose Brig. Gen. John Walsh, commander of the Montana National Guard.
Capacities and functions
Miller: I want a worker, not a ribbon cutter. Bill brings experience in education as a teacher and energy/natural resource development as a conservative Public Service Commissioner, and experience in small business development.
Hill: John is an integral part of a successful family business that went from a body shop to a manufacturing business. They are an aviation contractor, a defense contractor, and make missile and rifle parts. John served three terms in the House and one in the Senate and displayed strong conservative values.
Livingstone: As a leader of a SEAL team, Ryan naturally brings the prerequisite leadership qualities.
O’Hara: Scott has run a high profile campaign for sheriff and his involvement in law enforcement gives him valuable insight in preventable crimes, especially those caused by alcohol and drug abuse. He can help address the causes of crime. It would be up to him to figure how best to do that via working with local agencies.
Stapleton: Bob would head up budget issues and augment my knowledge by acting as budget director. We can work together to leave Helena with fewer FTEs than when we started. Bob is more capable to be governor than any of the other gubernatorial candidates and is capable of doing the job from day one. I bring a structured naval background and Bob complements that with a more laidback management style.
Does the pick affect votes?
Stapleton: Typically people vote for the governor unless the lieutenant governor is a very strong pick. Then people may choose based on extreme qualifications.
Miller: Not in a major way but it can distract.
Hill: Yes. Top of the ticket drives the race, but races are won at the margin. Jon is a strong addition to the ticket.
Livingstone: Normally people vote strictly for governor. But in this case we are stronger together than individually.
O’Hara: Yes. Scott is well thought of around Helena and has connections statewide.
• • •
The lieutenant governor candidates were asked what they think their main function would be as lieutenant governor and whether they feel qualified to run the state if called upon with no warning.
Scott Swingly: I would be an ambassador, etc., as assigned by the governor. Our diverse backgrounds (education vs. law enforcement) are a plus for the people of Montana. I would attend all interim committees and civic actions especially on DUI and mental illness. If I unexpectedly became the governor I could carry on the O’Hare progressive thrust on energy and job creation. I would not be a “spare tire” but would earn the $86,000 salary.
Bill Gallagher: I would be an ambassador and go-between for the governor. Yes, I would be up to date and prepared if called upon to finish the term.
Jon Sonju: “Why would I talk to you? You are a friend of Ken Miller and work with Bill Gallagher. Look me in the eye and tell me you do not support them!”
“Do you think I will not quote you accurately?”
“I mean it! Look me in the eye!”
“Take your attitude and shove it!”
Ryan Zinke: I would chair the task force of industry leaders, much like Gov. [Chris] Christie [R-N.J.] had, to reduce red tape by 50 percent in two years. We would eliminate antiquated or unnecessary form and function. My record of leadership and military service would suggest I am prepared to lead this state.
Keenan: I’m not a good politico. I don’t campaign well but Corey and I know how to make government work while the others are trying to reinvent the wheel.
Corey wants me to be budget director. I may do that or perhaps just marshal, effect and affect the budget. I had four years on Audit, Finance and the Mental Health Oversight committees. I am more qualified than any governor candidate including Corey. I have too much experience to just sit back with all that is facing Montana and this nation.
Brad Molnar is a political columnist, term-limited legislator and term-limited Public Service Commissioner.