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Dem AG candidates tout experience, reputation – and their campaigns

Posted at 5:31 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-27 19:54:50-04

HELENA — Editor’s note: This story is part of MTN News’ ongoing series on contested statewide primary elections. Up next is a story on the Republican candidates for attorney general.

Democratic attorney general candidate Raph Graybill may be only 31 years old, but says he already has a record of taking on major cases for Montana – and winning.

“The attorney general’s job is not to cut deals at the Legislature,” he told MTN News. “Their job is to go to court when Montanans need it the most … and be an advocate for us.”

His opponent in the Democratic primary is state Rep. Kim Dudik, a four-term lawmaker from Missoula who’s been a nurse, a prosecutor and a lawyer in private practice. She says her background in the Legislature, working on issues like child abuse, human trafficking and drug treatment, give her across-the-aisle appeal to both Democratic and Republican voters.

“I’ve established these relationships and I’ve been out there on the front lines, doing this work … and that’s what’s going to win in November,” she says. “Nobody else has the experience (of) voting for policy changes and actually bringing those policy changes across the finish line.”

Less than two weeks from now, on May 8, primary-election ballots will be mailed to all registered voters in Montana – and voters will start choosing the nominees in this under-the-radar yet important race.

Attorney general is an open seat in 2020, because incumbent Republican Tim Fox is running for governor.

The office is not only front-and-center on major issues facing the state, from crime prevention to environmental policy to health care, but also often serves as a launching point for further political ambitions.

Since the 1960s, every attorney general in Montana has run for governor – and some have succeeded.

The winner of the Graybill-Dudik June 2 primary election will take on the winner of a two-man GOP primary and Green Party candidate Roy Davis.

Graybill works as chief counsel for Gov. Steve Bullock and got into the race a year ago. He’s raised more money than any other candidate -- $282,000, as of mid-April – and notes that the Republican Attorneys General Association already is reserving TV time in the fall, indicating that Republicans see this contest as a critical one.

“We’ve been working this really hard for a long time,” he says. “This is a race that will attract an enormous amount of attention. … Our campaign has proven over the course of a year that we can win in November.”

Dudik, 45, entered the race even earlier, in December 2018, and had raised about $220,000 through mid-April, but that includes $90,000 in loans she made to the campaign herself. She notes that she has won election four times in a Missoula County House district that isn’t solidly Democratic, showing that she can attract voters of all stripes.

“I get elected there because people know that I’m doing things for the right reasons,” she says.

Dudik says she got into politics after working as a prosecutor and the attorney general’s office – under Bullock – and seeing “one too many children die at the hands of their parents.”

During her career, she’s passed more than two-dozen bills, including ones that sought to help abused children and crack down on human trafficking.

Graybill says the job of attorney general is one of advocate, for the average Montanan – and that he has plans to take on the prescription-drug industry, make voter-registration easier and block attempts by banks to force onerous language into credit-care agreements.

Drug companies are overcharging Montanans and attorneys general have the power to investigate illegal pricing schemes and win money for consumers, he says.

“You don’t have to wait for Congress’ approval; you don’t have to wait for the Legislature’s approval,” Graybill says. “It requires actually building an investigation, caring about it as a political priority and being willing to follow through and go to court to take on these schemes.”

As for his resume, Graybill points to his work for the Bullock administration, to take down a Trump administration rule that tried to stymie disclosure of “dark money” from political groups and on Bullock’s order that blocked the sale of flavored vaping products.

“My message is simple: You are owed an advocate in the attorney general’s office,” he says. “That’s a message that I think is going to win us the primary … and going to carry over into the general election.”

Dudik says as attorney general, she’d also like to battle the high costs of health care, but that she also plans to tackle the problem of illegal drugs – namely, methamphetamine, and the damage it’s inflicting on Montana, from crime to child abuse.

The state needs not only to enforce the law, but also to focus on drug prevention and rehabilitation, she says.

“More needs to be done to ensure that we have enough treatment programs in our state,” Dudik says. “The attorney general has a role in advocating for those programs and helping establish them, and also making sure they’re successful.”