HELENA — Editor’s note: This is another installment of MTN’s multi-part series on contested state primary election contests. Ballots will be mailed to all voters May 8.
Democratic state Rep. Shane Morigeau of Missoula began his campaign for state auditor almost 10 months ago and looked to be the only Democrat in the contest for the open seat.
But the day before the candidate filing deadline in early March, Helena attorney Mike Winsor threw his hat in the ring – and is saying he’s the one with the requisite experience to do the job.
“What we have to remember is that the state auditor’s office is there to protect me, and you, and all of us here in Montana from insurance fraud and investment fraud,” he told MTN News. “We need an experienced consumer advocate to promote the protection of insurance and investment consumers in Montana.”
Winsor, 51, said he spent 13 years working as an attorney and investigator in the auditor’s office in the 2000s and 2010s.
Morigeau, 35, a staff attorney for the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said he, too, has plenty of professional and life experience – both as a lawyer and a legislator, working on cases and laws to protect vulnerable Montanans, and growing up in Ronan in a family of modest means.
“My heart’s in this to help Montanans,” he said. “I think (state auditor) is one of the most important offices that people don’t know about or talk about enough – especially because it can have a direct impact on people’s health and the health care that people can receive in Montana.”
The state auditor, also known as the commissioner of insurance and securities, regulates insurance and the investment industry in Montana.
The seat is open in 2020 because incumbent Republican Matt Rosendale is running for the U.S. house. Before Rosendale won the seat in 2016, Democrats had controlled the auditor’s office for 24 years.
The winner of this two-man Democratic primary on June 2 will take on the winner of a three-person Republican primary and Libertarian Roger Roots.
Morigeau, a state legislator since 2017, said he’s built a solid campaign organization since beginning last June and is the best person to take on the Republican nominee this fall.
“I’m taking this race extremely seriously and I’m doing the work to get out there and win it,” he said.
He also said his rural background enables him to connect with voters of all stripes.
“I grew up bucking bales and changing pipe -- walking out of my house through a field to go change pipe for my neighbors,” Morigeau told MTN News. “I connect with the actual issues and the issues that our communities are struggling with. … I see this job as being an opportunity to protect everybody in the state of Montana, regardless of their political affiliation.”
He said he’d increase the office’s outreach to consumers and noted that he has worked with lawmakers of both parties to pass key legislation, such as a bill in 2019 to crack down on sexual abusers of children.
Winsor grew up in Helena and worked as a private attorney before joining the state auditor’s office in 2006.
He noted that the Republican candidates are all running on a pro-business platform, saying they want to ease regulations to bring in more competition – which he said is precisely the wrong approach.
“The statutory mission of the state auditor’s officer is to protect consumers and investors,” he said. “It’s not like we need a competitive insurance market in Montana -- we have a competitive insurance market in Montana. It’s the second largest industry in Montana.”
Winsor said both the insurance and investment industries have many good people, and that he would treat them fairly. But the job of the auditor is to ensure that the bad actors are weeded out, he said.
He pointed to a case in which he pursued a purveyor of “junk insurance,” that was misleadingly advertised in Montana, and recovered $800,000 for the victims of the scam.
“I’ve got years and years of regulatory experience; I know what the office does,” he said. “Some people might ask: `Why not elect someone who knows the job?’”