ENDORSEMENT: For Attorney General, voters should choose Raph Graybill

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

October 13, 2020

For attorney general, voters should choose Raph Graybill. He faces Republican Austin Knudsen, a Roosevelt county attorney and former speaker of the state House of Representatives.

In at least the last 30 years, the Chronicle has not endorsed a straight-party ticket. Rather, our editorial board has found solid candidates from both parties whom we believed were worthy of urging our readership to vote in a particular way.

This year, however, we are endorsing all Democrats, specifically in the five state-level offices listed below. This was not an easy decision. We understand that doing so will bring into question our impartiality and ability to make nonpartisan calls. But this shouldn’t be about political parties. It should be about endorsing the best candidate in each particular race, and – after interviewing the candidates in each of these contests – it is clear to this board that the candidates with the superior qualifications happen to be Democrats.

Here are our recommendations:

For attorney general, voters should choose Raph Graybill. He faces Republican Austin Knudsen, a Roosevelt county attorney and former speaker of the state House of Representatives.

Graybill is chief legal counsel to Gov. Steve Bullock and is familiar with the many state and national level legal challenges facing the state. He is former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Columbia University and Yale Law School. He has pledged to protect the health coverage Montanans have received through the Affordable Care Act. He successfully defended state efforts to hold to account dark money groups and helped develop and execute Bullock’s net neutrality executive order. As a member of the State Land Board he says he is familiar with and will go to bat to protect public access to these lands.

Knudsen touts his experience as a county prosecutor as a key qualification for the office, though he is unlikely to be personally prosecuting defendants as attorney general. He also promises to make budget cuts at the Montana Department of Justice, believing the money would be better spent supporting local law enforcement. That proposal is overly simple and misguided. We are also unable to ignore that, according to the Montana Board of Crime Control, Roosevelt County, where Knudsen serves, has by far the highest violent crime statistics in the state. With that, his tough-on-crime campaign seems disingenuous.

Knudsen has also been active in opposition to the Affordable Care Act and has in the past supported efforts to transfer federal public lands to the state, despite the state’s lack of resources to manage those lands.

For secretary of state, voters would be wise to choose Bryce Bennett. He is currently in the state Senate. He is knowledgeable on the issues facing the secretary of state’s office. He plans to establish a business council to advise the office on better methods for improving services to corporations. He has been involved in efforts to protect access to public lands, and as a member of the State Land Board he pledges to continue to do so. Bennett has a history of voter advocacy, including working to register voters at age 17 even before he was eligible to vote.

Bennett faces sitting Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen. She has not distanced herself emphatically from the actions of sitting Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, one of the most inept, partisan state office holders in recent years. And she has acknowledged in the past she is “not well-versed” in the duties of the State Land Board. She also voices concerns about the legitimacy of the electoral system, which the state department oversees. In our interview, Jacobsen even suggested that county election officials commandeering returned ballots for their own preferred candidates represents a serious threat to state election results. Frankly, making such a claim without offering any supporting evidence should disqualify her from serving. Voters should be wary.

For superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Melissa Romano deserves the nod. She is a highly successful, award-winning teacher with many years of experience. She will bring fresh ideas to the office. Romano is passionate about public education and will be a strong advocate for public pre-school education.

Romano is facing incumbent Republican Elsie Arntzen. While in office, Arntzen has been deferent to the will of lawmakers and has not acted as an independent advocate for public school improvements. She shows little interest in establishing universally available public pre-school education, a proven factor in later student success.

For state auditor, voters should choose Shane Morigeau, a state legislator from Ronan and a member of the Flathead Nation. As a lawmaker, he was key in passing the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact, an important step in settling historic disputes over water. He is a graduate of the University of Montana Law School and will bring a fresh perspective to the office, which also acts as state insurance commissioner.

His opponent, Republican Troy Downing, has an impressive business background, but he also pleaded guilty in 2018 to misdemeanor hunting violations as a nonresident. Equally disturbing, his campaign described state fish and game officials as “the liberal Montana FWP deep state on a witch hunt” for pursuing charges against him. Such convictions and such nonsense are disqualifying for state office and cannot be ignored.

For Public Service Commission, southwest Montanans should elect Tom Woods as their representative. Woods has been extensively engaged as a lawmaker in energy issues and is well versed in energy policy. He is committed to promoting alternative energy and combating climate change. And given recent history, it’s vital to get a Democrat on what has been an all-Republican PSC for far too long.

Woods is facing James Brown, a Republican attorney. Brown is a sincere, well-informed candidate but given recent infighting and backstabbing on the commission, it’s time to introduce someone from the other party.

Above all, voters should make sure their votes count. Gallatin County ballots go in the mail Friday, and voters should be sure they get them completed and in the mail with sufficient time to make it to the courthouse or deposited in one of the drop boxes around the county by Nov. 3. Voters can also vote in person at the courthouse through Election Day.