HELENA — Editor’s note: This is part of MTN’s ongoing series on contested statewide primary elections.
For the three Republicans vying to become Montana’s next governor, there’s no shortage of paper trails on their public records, be it voting records or legislative accomplishments.
For example, Congressman Greg Gianforte has supported President Trump 96 percent of the time on key votes during the current Congress – and he’s still in the middle-of-the-pack among Republican House members voting with the president.
Gianforte has been in Congress since 2017; his opponents in the primary are Tim Fox, who’s been attorney general for almost eight years, and state Sen. Al Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon from Kalispell and six-year veteran of the Legislature.
MTN News examined the records and statements of the candidates, to drill down on their records as public officeholders. Here’s what we found:
Tim Fox: The two-term attorney general says dozens of bills he’s supported or had introduced at the Legislature have passed, on everything from cracking down on drunken driving and opioid prescriptions to re-defining “consent” in sexual assault cases.
He also has initiated a broad approach to combatting substance abuse in Montana, including a focus on prevention, such as pushing for more drug-treatment courts and the expansion of the 24/7 sobriety program to reduce repeat DUI offenders.
Fox has stepped up enforcement to prevent drug trafficking, creating the state’s first drug-interdiction team within the Montana Highway Patrol.
He also said he has fought “federal overreach” by joining Republican attorneys generals in their fight against Obama-era environmental rules and regulations, such as the “clean power plan” and a rule giving the feds more power to regulate water use.
Republican political opponents, however, have dinged Fox for his March 2019 legal argument against throwing out the entire Affordable Care Act. A federal judge said the law’s mandate that all Americans buy health insurance was unconstitutional and therefore the entire law should be overturned.
Fox and Ohio Attorney General David Yost agreed that the mandate is unconstitutional, but said the rest of the law should not be invalidated.
The Trump administration has supported the judge’s ruling.
Fox said that portions of the ACA – “Obamacare” – are beneficial, such as its ban on insurers denying coverage to those with pre-existing health conditions and Medicaid expansion, which he says has greatly helped rural hospitals.
Greg Gianforte: According to 538.com, which tracks congressional votes, Gianforte has supported President Trump on 96 percent of 73 key votes in the current Congress, since January 2019.
He opposed Trump on only three key votes, voting “no” last July for the two-year federal budget bill and voting for two bills that Trump opposed: Resolutions opposing the president’s withdrawal of troops from Syria and last fall and disapproving of the president’s plan to lift sanctions on two Russian companies in early 2019.
About half of the 198 Republicans in the House have supported Trump as much or more than Gianforte since January 2019.
Gianforte’s campaign said he is “proud to have voted with President Trump 96 percent of the time.”
It also said he is “dedicated to bipartisan solutions that address issues important to Montanans,” such as laws he has sponsored to protect wildlands in south-central Montana and provide federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe.
The group ProPublica says Gianforte has missed 10.5 percent of votes in the current Congress, and that only 29 other members have missed more votes.
Yet Gianforte’s campaign noted that three-fourths of those votes were mostly procedural budget votes during a two-day period in June 2019, when he accompanied Vice President Mike Pence on a visit to Montana. He was there for the final vote on the bill late that month.
Al Olszewski: During his six-year career in the Legislature, Olszewski has passed 11 of the 31 bills he has introduced – many of which concerned medical issues.
Some of his bills that became law include ones to improve care for acute heart attacks, increase incentive programs for physicians to practice in rural areas, and revise the “scheduling” of illegal drugs.
He also sponsored the bill that led to a voter-referendum, passed in 2018, that restricts how people can deliver absentee ballots for other people.
Some of Olszewski’s more prominent bills have been killed by Gov. Steve Bullock’s veto, such as bills to restrict abortion and another to impose stricter regulations of pharmacy-benefit managers, meant to reduce drug prices.
Olszewski also has voted against many major initiatives passed with the support of Gov. Bullock and moderate Republicans in the Legislature, such as Medicaid expansion, the Flathead tribal water compact in 2015, and an $80 million infrastructure bill in 2019.