HELENA – As Tim Fox asks Montana voters for another four-year term as the state’s attorney general, he’s running on his record.
The Republican points to accomplishments like the expansion of the 24/7 Sobriety Program for drunk drivers, stronger laws on human trafficking and recovering $9 million for victims of fraud.
“I think, generally speaking, we’ve conducted ourselves at the Department of Justice in an admirable way, keeping politics out of the office and making very difficult decisions, doing things right for the right reasons,” he said.
Fox previously worked as a private-practice attorney in Helena, and he notes that attorney general is the only elected office he’s run for. He was first elected in 2012, after being narrowly defeated by Steve Bullock in 2008.
Fox’s opponent has spent more time in public office. Larry Jent is a former Democratic state senator from Bozeman. He served 14 years in the legislature, lost in the Democratic primary for Congress in 1996 and considered running for governor in 2012. He filed for attorney general just hours before the deadline in March, which has led Fox to question whether he wants the job.
But Jent calls the attorney general’s position “the best job in Montana” for a lawyer, and promises to be “the people’s champion” if elected. He says his decades as a criminal defense attorney would help make him effective.
“I’d be an AG that knows what a murder trial looks like, what a DUI trial looks like, what you’re supposed to get from a crime lab,” he said.
Jent has vowed to be a “stay-at-home” attorney general, focusing on public safety and consumer protection in Montana. He accuses Fox of joining national lawsuits with other Republican AGs for ideological reasons.
“The bar should be, ‘Does this matter affect the ordinary lives of Montanans, the daily lives of Montanans, in such a way that it’s important for the government to be involved?” said Jent.
But Fox says he ran in 2012 on a promise to fight overreach by the federal government, and the lawsuits he joined helped defend Montana’s interests. He claims Jent would make decisions based on politics, instead of the law.
“If he’s serious about not getting involved in these lawsuits, he would be violating his oath of office in not doing what he’s supposed to do as attorney general,” said Fox.
During the campaign, Jent has been critical of operations at the state crime lab. He says several drug cases have been or will be dismissed because the lab took too long to test samples or lost them.
“We need to have more analysts, we need to have a quicker return time, and the attorney general should take a personal interest in what the state lab does,” Jent said.
Fox admits the lab had problems when he became attorney general, but he says there have been major improvements since that time. He says wait times for drug analysis are down from nine months to less than three months. Last month, he announced Montana would receive a grant to examine 1,400 untested rape kits.
“The work goes on,” Fox said. “There’s still a lot to do; we want to build on those successes and do much, much more should the voters of Montana give me another term.”
Reporter: Jonathon Ambarian