Republican Governor's Primary Election Race
The View from MSSA
Usually, after pouring over candidate voting records from previous
public service, and examining returned candidate questionnaires,
MSSA would like to make an endorsement in a race as important as
the one for Governor of Montana.
There are seven Republican candidates facing off in the upcoming
Primary Election on June 5th. Historically, to endorse any
one candidate, MSSA wants to see one letter grade gap between the
endorsed candidate and others, an "A" versus a "C", or a "B"
versus a "D." (We don't endorse candidates for the Primary who
don't earn at least a "B" grade.)
In the Republican Primary race for Governor, we simply cannot
identify any candidate that is head-and-shoulders better than the
rest - with a letter grade gap above the others. So, MSSA
will make no endorsement in the Republican Primary for Governor.
If I ended this message right here, I can imagine that most GOP
Governor candidates would be satisfied, although maybe some
However, I can also imagine many MSSA members saying or thinking,
"Come on Gary. You know these candidates. You've
worked with them, tracked their votes in the Legislature, talked
with them, watched their performance, and surveyed them. We
need whatever information you can pass along in order to make an
intelligent choice in the Primary." Right.
So, I feel MSSA owes its members at least some information about
the various candidates. In lieu of an MSSA endorsement, let
me tell you what I know and what I think (I'll mix the two) about
the various candidates.
I tend to want to place political figures on a spectrum from
liberal to conservative. Because those are fuzzy terms as
commonly used, let me tell you how I define them. I think of
a modern (not classic) liberal as a person who tolerates or favors
shifting power, choice and money from people to government.
I think of a conservative as a person who would prefer to shift
power, choice and money from government to people. Those are
generally the definitions I will apply here. I will also
discuss what is known about each candidate's position on the right
to keep and bear arms, MSSA's prime focus.
As far as I know, there are no out-and-out liberals in this
Republican Primary race, but some appear to be more or less
conservative than others. Here's what I know or believe,
working from the most conservative to the least conservative.
(BTW, these candidates will ALL probably end up disliking all or
parts of my assessment - comes with the turf if I'm to give MSSA
members an honest review. I know most of these candidates
personally, and count them as friends. I hope they're still
friends after they read my comments.)
Bob Fanning & Joel Boniek
The most conservative of the candidates is Bob Fanning.
Fanning has a good grasp of constitutional principles. He's
a firm advocate for states' rights. He has far more time and
energy invested in wolf control than any other candidate, maybe
than all candidates combined. Fanning has been a CEO and a
member of the Chicago Board of Trade. He understands
economics. Fanning returned a great MSSA candidate
questionnaire. Bob likes to describe himself as a "Montanan
by choice; not by accident." He moved here over a decade ago
to deliberately become a Montanan. Fanning has not
previously held any public office in Montana. Bob buys big
game tags every year and is an elk hunter. He is not as
acquainted with the details and processes of state government as
some other candidates. Fanning hasn't raised a lot of money,
and he got off to a late start with is campaign. His running
mate is former Rep. Joel Boniek, a philosophically-pure guy who
carried the Montana Firearms Freedom Act for MSSA when it passed
in 2009. I'd say Fanning's chances of getting into the
Governor's office are a long shot. He'd have a steep
learning curve if he got there, but would be something of a breath
of fresh air for Montana in the Governor's chair.
Ken Miller & Bill Gallagher
Former State Senator Ken Miller is very nearly as conservative as
Fanning. Miller also has a strong bent towards states'
rights and individual liberty. Miller has FAR more effort
invested in the Governor race than any other candidate. He's
been actively campaigning for over a year and has crisscrossed
Montana multiple times meeting locally with any groups of people
who wanted to meet him. Ken was Chairman of the state GOP
for a cycle, and managed to shake up and out that good-old-boy GOP
structure some to make the GOP a more effective
organization. As GOP Chairman, he was willing to make more
hard decisions than some others who have held the post. When
in the Montana Senate, Miller always supported MSSA's pro-gun
bills. Miller returned a very good MSSA candidate
questionnaire, although with reservation about MSSA's proposal to
stimulate smokeless powder and primer manufacture in
Montana. Ken and his wife Peggy are both big game
hunters. Ken grew up in Montana, and has been a successful
small business owner in Montana. In statewide polling,
Miller continues to run a close second place in terms of support
among likely Republican voters. Miller's running mate is
Bill Gallagher, a Helena attorney currently elected to the Montana
Public Service Commission. Because both Miller and Gallagher
have served in elected public office at the state level, they have
a good grasp of how state government works and perhaps, because of
that, an enhanced ability to translate Miller's philosophy into
I see a bit of a gap on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum
between these candidates and the next two.
Neil Livingstone & Ryan Zinke
Neil Livingstone is an interesting guy, albeit a bit
mysterious. Although born in Montana, Neil has spent much of
his life immersed in the murky world of international business,
intelligence and clandestine operations, both in Washington, D.C.,
and overseas. Livingstone speaks forcefully about his
commitment to constitutional principles, and he definitely wishes
to roll back what he sees as extreme environmentalists'
suppression of the natural resource industry in Montana.
Livingstone returned a fine candidate questionnaire, although he
had some un-detailed concerns about MSSA's "Sheriffs First"
proposal. Livingstone has not held elected office in
Montana. While expressing strong support for the right to
keep and bear arms, Livingstone did select a running mate, State
Senator Ryan Zinke, who formerly expressed a very definite opinion
that "civilians" should not be allowed to own .50-caliber
rifles. Livingstone quickly explains that he and former SEAL
commander Zinke have come to terms about .50-caliber rifles, and
Zinke now whole-heartedly supports civilian ownership of such
firearms, as does Livingstone. Livingstone has a forceful
personality. There are concerns expressed by some, however,
that he has not spent enough time in Montana in recent years to
have a good sense of Montana issues and Montana culture.
Livingstone has not hunted in Montana, but says he has hunted in
Eurasia and Africa. Livingstone is supported by a number of
former high-ranking military and government officials of excellent
national repute, many of whom are not Montana residents.
Were Livingstone elected Montana Governor, one gets the impression
he would kick ass, and that the timid and naysayers would do well
to keep out of his way. With his long employment,
connections and experience with the federal government, one would
hope that his total allegiance would be to Montana, rather than to
the federal government or influences from D.C. or elsewhere.
Corey Stapleton & Bob Keenan
Both Stapleton and Keenan are former state senators, both with
good conservative credentials, and both of them are known as
proven supporters of the right to keep and bear arms - excellent
guys. Stapleton is a graduate of Annapolis, a strong
recommendation by anyone's standard. Stapleton did not
return MSSA's candidate questionnaire, but, based on his past
votes in the Montana Senate, I believe he would support most of
the issues MSSA plans to have before the 2013 Legislature.
Because both Stapleton and Keenan have long experience in the
Legislature, they also know how state government works and how to
translate their philosophy into deeds at the state level.
They would also be realistic, even pragmatic, about what a
Governor can accomplish. Stapleton's campaign has not
been highly visible. There is a concern that because Stapleton has
been (and presumably still is) an officer in the U.S. military,
the federal government might be able to "pull rank" and command
his loyalty in any disagreement between Montana and the federal
Continuing to work from the conservative end of the political
spectrum gets us to:
Rick Hill & Jon Sonju
Rick Hill was formerly elected to represent Montana in the U.S.
House of Representatives, and his running mate, Jon Sonju, has
been in the Montana Senate. Both are experienced hands in
the process of politics. Hill is currently thought my many
to be the front-runner in this seven-way Republican Primary.
He is reported to lead in fundraising, and is known to be
supported by many "old guard" Republican figures. Although
Hill did not return MSSA's candidate questionnaire, he did speak
to the MSSA Annual Meeting in Helena in March (as did Fanning,
Miller and Livingstone), where he expressed strong support for the
right to keep and bear arms. It is unknown how this strong
expression will translate to the details of MSSA's legislative
agenda in 2013. I expect he would support most of those
issues, but with no returned candidate questionnaire and no voting
record from the Montana Legislature, that's just my educated
guess. Hill is reputed to occasionally hunt upland game
birds. Sonju has been a solid supporter of gun issues in the
Legislature, and his family manufactures firearms in the Kalispell
area. It is argued by some that the nature of Hill's work
and experience in D.C. and Montana may make him more vulnerable to
attacks by the Democrats in the General Election, making it
difficult for him to win the General Election, although Democrats
will certainly attack whomever becomes the Republican candidate
for the General Election. Hill recently released a statement
asserting need to better manage wolves to prevent negative impact
on game herds. While quite welcome, this recent interest by
Hill is seen by some as being a bit late and lacking the strong
intent needed to resurrect Montana's predator-decimated game
Jim Lynch & Al Olszewski
Current Governor Brian Schweitzer (a Democrat) appointed Jim Lynch
to be Director of the Montana Department of Transportation.
In that office, Lynch says that he has made maintenance of the
Montana highway system much more effective and efficient. He
wishes to bring the same management techniques to the Governor's
Office. Lynch has been an insider in state government long
enough to know how things work, although he hasn't been involved
in the political machinations used to turn eggs into an
omelet. Lynch did return a very good MSSA candidate
questionnaire, a plus for him, although MSSA puts more credence in
a voting record history than in a candidate questionnaire. I
know nothing about Lynch's running mate, Al Olszewski. It is
said that Lynch has made numerous political donations on record to
Democrat candidates, although that may just be an unspoken job
requirement to work for Governor Schweitzer. It is my fuzzy
opinion that Lynch is probably a pretty good manager, but I have
not heard others who know him speak of his conservative philosophy
Jim O'Hara & Scott Swingley
Jim O'Hara is elected as a County Commissioner of Choteau
County. He did not return MSSA's candidate
questionnaire. I haven't met O'Hara and really don't know
anything about Jim or his running mate, Scott Swingley.
I've tried seven times to write a conclusion, but I'm just not
getting there. I guess you'll have to draw your own
conclusion. I hope this has been helpful.