Governor speaks at the Procrastinator

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock visited MSU last Thursday, Oct. 8 to give a talk primarily to students in the university honors and political science departments in the Procrastinator Theatre. Although Bullock was scheduled to speak on leadership lessons in dealing with the Republican-led state legislature, after arriving late Bullock informed the audience he would be speaking more about his personal journey to becoming governor and advice to those seeking to enter careers in public service.  

Bullock told the audience he believed that his biography would provide some insight on how to find “successes in the system” of government. Bullock related how he was born in Missoula and grew up in Helena delivering papers to the governor’s mansion he now inhabits. He later interned with notable politicians like Dorothy Bradley and helped craft policies to put students on local school boards across the state to give students a larger voice in determining local education policy.

After getting his law degree at Columbia Law School in New York city Bullock said he envisioned himself staying on the East Coast in order to pay off debts incurred from his education, but yearned to return to Montana to do work he is more passionate about. Bullock came back to Montana after working and teaching law in Washington, DC and worked in both the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s office in Helena.  

Bullock then went on to speak to why he decided to run for elected office, saying that as a lawyer, “law looks backwards, not forwards,” and that instead of working with code already on the books, he hoped to make bigger changes. Bullock told the audience that he wanted to be Attorney General, but lost his race to current Montana Supreme Court Justice Mike McGrath in 2000 in the Democratic primary. Upon reflection, Bullock told the audience that they should “throw out the road map in your head of how your life is going to go, it won’t be the one you travel.”  He also told the students “don’t be discouraged by detours or setbacks. Many things that happen in your life will ‘not be part of the plan.’” Bullock said he gained valuable lessons from his losses and that everyone should be willing to take risks and fail.  

In 2008 Bullock ran again for Attorney General and was successful in his campaign. Just three years later he announced his candidacy for governor after Gov. Brian Schweitzer was prevented from running again from state term limits. Bullock won election to the Governor’s mansion in 2012 in a tight three-way race by just over 7,000 votes.

Bullock advised those thinking of going into public service to “not lose sight of what draws you to public service.” He said that the media tends to only highlight gridlock, despite many people working together across the aisle for their constituents to find common ground.  He advised students to protect their reputations, which can be especially important in politics. Bullock finished his speech by highlighting several accomplishments of his first two legislative sessions, including leaving the state with a $300 million ‘rainy day’ fund, passing Medicaid expansion, and passage of the Disclose Act to reveal donors of dark money political groups.

Because of the presentation’s late start, most of the students needed to leave before the question and answer panel, but political science undergraduates Montana Wilson, Garrett Lankford and Alyssa Van Hyfte were able to ask Bullock about his vetoes of income tax reduction bills, balancing personal priorities versus voter concerns and the higher than average rate of unemployment among recent college graduates. Bullock told the panel he vetoed spending bills because “we need to keep money in the bank for rainy day funds,” and that he is trying to improve the state’s economic outlook through projects such as his Main Street Montana work, and seeking growth in all sectors of the state’s economy.

The last questions were from two audience members who later identified themselves as student veterans. One asked about immigration policy, concerned with terrorists possibly infiltrating the country, and the second asked Bullock about his two vetoes of campus concealed-carry legislation. Bullock declined to talk specifics on immigration, saying he was looking for “meaningful discussion” on the issue, and maintained while is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, he believes from a public health perspective, there are some places firearms just don’t belong.