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Dudik stumps in Chinook for attorney general


September 16, 2019

Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

Rep. Kimberly Dudik, D-Missoula, shakes hands with Roger Jergeson while at a campaign stop in Chinook Saturday during the Chinook Sugarbeet Festival. Dudik is campaigning for state attorney general.

Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula, Democratic candidate for Montana attorney general, was in Chinook Saturday during the Sugarbeet Festival for an open house event where she talked to people about her campaign and some of the issues the state is currently facing.

"Accountability is something that is important to all Montanans," Dudik said in an interview. "We take each other at our word and if we say we are going to do something we are going to do it."

Other candidates who have declared in the race include Democrats James Cossitt and Ralph Graybill and Republican Austin Knudsen, former speaker of the Montana House of Representatives.

Dudik said that if she takes office she wants to take a specific look into campaign finances as well as establish an official office of Native American Affairs for the Attorney General's Office. The Attorney General's Office currently does some work with tribes but has no official tribal affairs office, instead has a travel liaison who works with the tribes.

An official office would be better equipped to help work with tribal governments to find solutions to issues, she said. She added that the office would be made up of representatives from all tribal communities in the state and the state would have a full partnership with the tribes.

From her time working in the child protection system, she said, she is aware of the high crime rate experienced on the reservations. On reservations, in addition to drug crimes, children are more likely to suffer from violence and sexual abuse, she said. She added that women on reservations are also more likely to suffer from sexual violence, Native American women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than non-Native women.

"We need to be full partners in that and help address it because it doesn't just affect our Native American communities, it affects all of us," Dudik said. "They are Montanans, too, and we need to work together."

Dudik said she has served as a state representative from Missoula for the past eight years, adding that during her time in the Legislature one of her biggest accomplishments was some legislation for criminal justice reform. She said that in conjunction with other legislators they were able to reform the public defender system for the state, giving it a new structure to better provide services. 

"Trying to get to those root causes of why people are involved in the criminal system so we can actually get them out of it," she said.

She also helped pass a bill to establish the Holistic Defense Program, she said, which passed the Legislature with nearly 100 percent support. She added that it is the only state-funded Holistic Defense Program in the country, using an interdisciplinary team including public defenders, social workers, investigators, paralegals and support staff members to help deal with underlying social needs and problems that have caused defendants to end up in the criminal justice system. 

"That's the kind of reforms I've been able to do," she said, "reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans and finding common ground in values and getting those changes mad.

Before she served in the state Legislature, she said, she served as a deputy county attorney for Bozeman and served as an assistant attorney general while Gov. Steve Bullock, D-Mont., who is campaigning for U.S. president, was state attorney general.

She said she got into politics primarily because she wants to be able to keep the children of Montana safe.

She said while she was assistant attorney general she saw a child who had been removed from parents due to them having drug problems. Once the parents had finished all legal requirements, the child was returned - and died shortly thereafter.

She said she wants to reform the legal system so things like that don't happen.

She attended a number of trainings and educational courses about child protection from her time working in the legal system, she said, and, as a mother herself, she wanted to be able to help children stay safe.

"I just wanted to do just so much more to make our state safer for kids and there was really a lot of opportunities there," she said. "I couldn't stand on the sidelines anymore."

She added that the system was not working the way it was and something needed to change. She is running for attorney general because she will be able to do more to help the state.

She said it is also important to move forward the state insures people's rights are not violated, from women's right to reproductive health care to the LGBT community to Native American communities. She added that it is also important that military veterans and the elderly communities are not taken advantage of. The state also needs to take a look into how the criminal justice system deals with the growing drug problem in the state as well as securing the safety of public lands.

Dudik said that the attorney general has a position on the state's land board and she will take special interest in making sure no individual or industry is taking advantage or taking away Montanan's access to public lands.

"We just need to make sure that we don't allow that to happen to our beautiful state that we enjoy so much," she said.


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