Daily Inter Lake
September 28th, 2019
Even with the Republican primary over eight months away, Attorney General Tim Fox is wasting no time courting Montanans as he seeks the Republican nomination for governor.
He had traveled 3,400 miles – all by car – in the two weeks before he sat down with the Daily Inter Lake editorial board on Thursday to talk about his campaign.
Fox was the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination before U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., threw his name in the hat in early June. Fox said he was “wasn’t surprised” that Gianforte entered the race, even though Gianforte had “promised” to run for re-election as Montana’s lone representative in the U.S. House.
A Sept. 4 poll by Florida-based Gravis Marketing showed Gianforte with 56% support among Montana Republicans and Fox in second at 29%. But Fox was not necessarily concerned by this poll conducted so long before the actual election.
“Gianforte’s run three state campaigns in three years,” Fox said. “He has the name recognition.”
Fox said Gianforte’s failure to win the governor’s race in 2016 despite spending nearly $6 million of his own money indicates he in “unelectable” in a general election.
Fox added that being a Montana native will give him an advantage as voters get to know the candidates. Fox grew up in Hardin, has three degrees from the University of Montana and has practiced law in both Billings and Helena.
“I’ve served Montanans in the private and public sectors for many years,” Fox said, and having lived in both Eastern and Western Montana he added that he “has a good flavor of the demographics of Montana.”
The state is seemingly doing well after 16 years of Democrats in the governor’s seat, with unemployment at a 10-year low of 3.3%, continued economic expansion and a thriving tourism industry. But Fox believes there are numerous underlying issues the former and current governors – Brian Schweitzer and Steve Bullock – have not addressed.
He maintains the governors’ actions have been “polarizing,” with an “incessant need to stroke egos” by seeking “prestige” through their positions.
Fox said he would aim to act with “civility and statesmanship” as governor and wants to cultivate an environment where communities are working together to tackle the issues. Even in the current political environment, he is optimistic about working across party lines.
“We need to bring down the silos,” he said. “There’s nothing we can’t do if we work together and pull together.”
Fox pointed out that economic conditions in rural Montana do not match the rosy economic outlook presented by the governor’s office. He said Schweitzer and Bullock have failed to address the economic struggles of rural communities and poor access to health care in these areas.
But most of all, the Democratic governors have failed to adequately address the substance-abuse crisis, Fox asserted.
“The substance-use disorder crisis is the number-one crisis in our state,” he said. “We all know somebody who knows somebody who’s had an issue.”
Fox is proud of his record on tackling substance abuse in Montana since he became attorney general in 2013. He worked with the Montana Senate on House Bill 86, a bill that combats “doctor-shopping” by opiate addicts and limits opioid prescriptions for certain patients.
Fox also highlighted his efforts to tackle human trafficking in Montana. His office has partnered with organizations such as Soroptimist International of Whitefish, along with law enforcement officials across the state to implement a system that imposes harsher punishments on recruiters while offering support to survivors of sex and labor trafficking.
Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization working to stop sex trafficking, gave Montana an “A” in its 2018 report card for the state’s efforts to combat human trafficking. The state received a “D” as late as 2014.
Fox has since expanded his focus to tackle the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women.
“I think Montana is taking the lead in states with Native American populations,” he said.
Fox said he would like to keep tackling these issues as attorney general, but believes he can do plenty of good from the governor’s office – as long as he is more accessible than he believes previous governors have been.
“It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing,” Fox said. “Life’s all about relationships, and so are politics.”
“There are plenty of people who don’t like my politics but believe I’m a good person,” he added.
When asked about what he hopes his greatest accomplishment would be after his first term as governor, Fox was vague, but emphasized his optimistic vision of working with Montanans of all backgrounds and political stripes.
“I will hope I did all the right things for all the right reasons and lived with civility and statesmanship,” Fox said. “It won’t be my accomplishment, it will be our accomplishment.”
“If you’re going to leave a legacy, it should be a legacy of more leaders,” he added.
The Republican gubernatorial primary election takes place on June 2, 2020.