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072520          Political Note #306   Mike Cooney. Montana Governor

2020               General election

Mike Cooney is a politician.  Except for working in the family food and beverage business as a kid and as a young adult, his life has been devoted to politics.  He’s not a conventional politician.  He’s not an old fashioned white, male candidate.  During his stretch out of elective or administrative office, he was  Executive Director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies?  Does that sound like a macho westerner?

Initially, I made a list.  Political jobs Mike Cooney has held and turning points in his life.  I needed the list to get my sense of his chronology.  Thirty items?  I can’t start a piece like this with a thirty-item list.

Mike Cooney is Montana’s  Lt. Governor.  Appointed by Governor (former Presidential candidate, current US Senate candidate) Steve Bullock to fill a vacancy, then elected on the ticket with Steve Bullock.  Mike Cooneywas appointed in 2013, the same year his wife was appointed a judge by Steve Bullock.  Before 2013, he had been working with Montana’s Department of Labor & Industry.

When Mike Cooney started college, he thought he would be a journalist.  He had already worked for a local television station.  Then he met Max Baucus.  He became an advance man for Baucas’s first campaign for Congress.  He worked the entire state because Montana has only one Member of Congress.  He went to the Senate with Baucus as well – serving as Executive Assistant.  While he was in Washington, his wife went to law school.

Mike Cooney had a pedigree.  His grandfather was Montana’s ninth governor.  He made his own career as a legislator.  A boy wonder, he was elected to the Montana House of Representatives at age 22.  After he returned from Washington, he was elected to the Montana Senate for two terms, serving ultimately as the Senate President.

Mike Cooney ran for Secretary of State in 1986, serving three terms in that role.  Then, in 2000, he lost for the first and, if he is elected governor, probably for the last time.  He came in third in a primary for Governor.  After that he became Executive Director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.

What did he do during these years in politics? As a legislator, Mike Cooney earned positive ratings from women’s groups, conservation groups, and human rights groups.  He earned a 0% rating from the NRA.  As Senate President he sought to expand the state’s anti-discrimination laws to apply to people who were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.

As Secretary of State, Mike Cooney rejected his predecessor’s practice of requiring employees to donate to his campaign.  He was able to run the Secretary of State’s office like a business, relying for revenue only on the fees that came into the office, never needing an appropriation for the office. When asked, he points to an improved computer system, increased voter turnout, improved access to state lands, and improvements to the state capitol.  He doesn’t mention it, but he could point to giving a start to the young attorney he hired as chief legal counsel – Steve Bullock.

It is complicated to sort out accomplishments of a Lt. Governor.  He was an advocate for recycling and for net neutrality.  The latter led to an executive order by the Governor.  That executive order served as a template for states around the country as they sought to limit abuses by large internet companies, something Trump’s FTC was unwilling to do.

Mike Cooney has an opponent – Montana’s two term Member of Congress, Greg Gianforte.  Gianforte has been able to make some political progress in Montana despite being from away.  He is a tech millionaire from New Jersey.  He cloaks his belligerence with religiosity.  He was elected despite a lawsuit for keeping fishermen off public land adjacent to his, despite having roughed up a reporter during the last moments of his Congressional campaign.  He is a believer in Young Earth creationism and a substantial funder of a creationist museum in Montana.  In Congress, he has stayed away from contentious cultural issues.  While he voted against the Affordable Care Act along with all Republicans, he has advocated withholding pay from Members of Congress if a balanced budget is not passed and sought to nullify designations of federal land in Montana as Wilderness Study Areas, federal lands that retain their primeval character.

The race for governor is generally considered to be a toss up, though recent polls find Republicans leading in this race and the House race to replace Gianforte, but not in the US Senate race.  Make an effort to help Mike Cooney.  He’s a politician with good instincts, with the interests of Montanans at heart.  Support for Mike Cooney helps defeat Greg Gianforte.  Democrats who worry about the future will be glad to see Gianforte go down to defeat.

There are only 11 Governorships up for election in 2020. 

 One of them is a toss up – Montana.  Mike Cooney won the primary, now he has to win the general election. 

 One of them leans Democratic (according to the Cook Report).  Roy Cooper in North Carolina is a Lean Democrat.  Look up the Note about him.

 Two are solidly Democratic – Delaware and Washington where incumbents don’t face much of a challenge

 Four are solidly Republican – Indiana, North Dakota, Utah (even though the Republican candidate has not yet been chosen) and, according to Cook, West Virginia.

 Three are Likely Republican – New Hampshire (we won’t know that candidate until September), Missouri (I have already written urging you to support current State Auditor Nicole Galloway who is moving this race toward becoming a toss up) and Vermont (I wrote urging support for former State Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe before other Democratic candidates announced). 

 Notwithstanding Cook, consider West Virginia in the Likely Republican category, a tough sell for Democrat Ben Solango.  But he has his own source of revenue, is capable of raising more, and is the kind of candidate who can appeal to West Virginians.  

Here is my chronology for Mike Cooney

1972               Graduated from Butte High School

1972               Went to work for KXLF-TV

1972-7            Worked in the family business, Cooney Food and Beverage

1973-4            Advance man for Max Baucus’ campaign for Congress

1975               Worked for an insurance lobby

1976               Elected to Montana State Legislature

1976               His father died.

1977-9            Worked for the Montana Energy Research Institute

1978               Served as Executive Assistant for US Senator Max Baucus

1979               Graduated from the University of Montana

1979               Married DeeAnn Gribble

1980               Did not run for reelection

1982               Moved to Washington, His wife went to Antioch Law School

1985               Moved back to Montana.  His wife joined a law firm.

1985               He worked in in Senator Baucus’s Montana office.

1986               Elected Montana Secretary of State

1992               Reelected Secretary of State

1996               Reelected Secretary of State (his last term, by law)

2000               Lost the primary for Governor

2001-6            Executive Director of Montana Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies

2002               Elected to Montana State Senate

2006               Reelected to Montana State Senate. (last term, term limited)

2006-15         Administrator, Workforce Services, MT Department of Labor & Industry

2007               Elected President of the State Senate

2010-11        Interim Director, Montana Historical Society

2015-16         Deputy Commissioner, Department of Labor & Industry

2013               DeeAnn Gribble Cooney appointed just by Steve Bullock

2013               Appointed Lt. Governor by Steve Bullock to fill a vacancy

2016               Elected Lt. Governor with Steve Bullock

2020               Won Primary to be the Democratic nominee for Governor