Bennett faces Jacobsen in 2020 Montanan secretary of state race: Sen. Bryce Bennett
Last updated 9/25/2020 at 12:14pm
Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, is squaring off against Republican Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen in the race for Montana secretary of state.
Bennett said a lawsuit filed by The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Montana Republican State Central Committee, and Donald J. Trump for President Inc. alleging Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's Aug. 6 directive allowing counties in the state to decide whether to allow mail-in voting for the 2020 general election, is simply a political move during an election year.
"I think this is partisan politics at its absolute worst," Bennett said. "I don't think that any Montanan should have to choose between their health and casting a ballot, but that is exactly what these D.C. partisan operatives want to do. They want to pull out the rug from underneath our county clerks and recorders, election administrators and make them have to recruit election judges and undermine the safety of our elections."
The filers of the lawsuit called the directive an unconstitutional power grab, saying in a press release it invites fraud and threatens the security of the election and by extension threatens the right to vote for Montanan.
Bullock's directive said that concern of the spread of COVID-19 at election polls was the reason for the directive to allow people to vote by mail, which also requires election officials to provide a polling place for people who prefer to vote in person.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives states and local governments the authority to take actions during an emergency to protect public health and safety.
Bennett said he thinks the lawsuit it is the absolute wrong direction and that he wants to ensure every Montanan is able to safely cast their ballot this fall.
The secretary of state's office is incredibly important, he said, and it affects the day-to-day activities that Montanans ought to experience.
"They are in charge of our elections, they make sure that our democracy works for everyone, ensures that every voice is heard and every vote is counted," he said. "In our business office, making sure that Montanans are able to start up their business to continue a business, and help their business grow and thrive."
He added that the secretary of state also has a seat on the State Land Board.
They make sure to protect public access to the public lands, and ensure there's always access to places that people grew up such as hiking, hunting, fishing, exploring and more.
He said the secretary of state also does important work to protect the state's record and history to make sure that generations from now Montanans will know what took place in Big Sky country.
"I think that, on the Land Board, we need to have a secretary of state who believes that all Montanans should be able to access our public lands," Bennett said. "We need to have somebody that's going to fight every day to ensure that we are preserving the access that we have and expanding it to ensure that there is more places to hike, hunt, fish and explore."
When reporters asked his opponent about her vision for the land board, he said, she told them she wasn't well-versed on what the land board did.
"I just can't imagine a situation that we will have a secretary of state that will protect our access if she doesn't even after four years of serving in this office know what the board does," he said.
He said he believes in natural resource extraction in Montana public lands.
"It is a vital role of the secretary of state's office is to make sure that we're providing funding for our schools and that comes from our state trust lands, so I think that there is a lot of opportunities for us to explore grazing permits, logging permits, oil and gas permits," Bennett said. "I think we have to look at each of these on a case-by-case basis, but I think there is many opportunities for us to be partners with each of these different industries to figure out how we can best utilize these public lands to make sure that our schools get the funding they need."
When it comes to business services, the current Secretary of State's Office has spent the last four years putting up red tape and bureaucracy to make it harder Montana businesses to grow and thrive, he said.
"I know that Main Street is struggling," Bennett said. "I was recognized by the Montana Chamber of Commerce because they know I'll stand up for small business, know that I'll do the important work to ensure that our businesses can get in, get out and get on with their day because I know that every moment somebody stands waiting through the bureaucracy of that office is time they can't spend on their business, time they can't spend putting food on their family's table.
"Beyond that, I want to make sure that the only voices that matter on Election Day are Montana voters, and that's why I've spent years in the Legislature fighting against the dark money special interests that are trying to infiltrate our elections," he added. "I'm proud of the fact that I helped pass the Disclose Act to make sure that every penny spent on our elections is accountable and transparent to Montana voters, and that's the way it should be."
He said what he is hearing from business owners in Montana is that the process of registering or renewing their business registration, something that used to take five to 10 minutes, is now taking hours - they are having to bring on lawyers and accountants to try to help them waive through this process.
"We need a secretary of state that is going to ensure that our businesses have the tools to get through this process, so that its an easy one stop shop where they can get the information they need from A to Z and get back to the important business of running their Main Street business," he said. "We need to make sure that we have a secretary of state that is being honest with the people of this state and we've seen a secretary that has done every thing they can to advance a corrupt, partisan, competent agenda over the last four years they've been there. Whether that be handing out government contacts to some of their office's biggest donors, criminal abuse of a state-owned vehicle, hiring her own family members into the office - there's just a lot of cleaning up that needs to be done."
Bennett said he has a lot of experience cleaning up messes that he says are seen in the secretary of state's office right now.
"I'm proud of the fact that I've passed sweeping ethics reform to make sure that politicians wouldn't hide this misconduct from the voters of Montana," he said. "Proud of the fact that we've passed bills in the Legislature to keep the special interest out of our elections to make sure that is only Montana voters that have their voices heard on Election Day."
He spent his career bringing Republicans and Democrats together to get things done in Montana, he said.
He said he grew up in a small town in eastern Montana - Hysham - where partisan politics doesn't come up very much, when needing to change irrigation parts for your neighbors or somebody's house that is at risk of being flooded, so one shows up to fill up the sandbanks.
"That is the experience I brought to Legislature when I was elected there 10 years ago and that's the leadership I want to bring into this office," he added. "I think after four years of corruption and incompetence we need somebody with a record of standing up for the people of Montana, and that's exactly what I intend to do."
He said when it comes to COVID-19 he is pleased with the directives that Bullock has put out, especially when it comes to protecting democracy in the face of COVID-19.
He added that he went on this issue before COVID-19 came to Montana, by pointing out a nine-point plan that outlines a path to ensuring that no Montanan had to choose between their health and casting a ballot.
From the secretary of state's office, he said, he heard a Twitter video saying that they're taking a deliberate pause to look at the issue and that's the last he's heard from them.
"Despite the fact, that we have got county clerks and recorders were asking important questions like, 'How do we ensure that our election judges and voters have the personal protective equipment they need when the come into a polling location?'" Bennett said. "... They are getting nothing but silence from this (secretary of state's) office. We need a leader that stands up to the challenges, whatever they may be when they come up, but the fact that this office has provided absolutely no leadership in the face of this global pandemic speaks to the sort of leadership that my opponent would provide for the next four years.
"We are proud of the fact that we are building a campaign that focuses around the idea that Republicans and Democrats can come together to get things done for the people of Montana," he added. "That is why we are incredibly proud we got the endorsements from former Democrat Secretary of State Linda McCulloch as well as former Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown. We are proud of the fact that we've been recognized by the Montana Chamber of Commerce for the work we've done to stand up for Main Street businesses. I think that this office at its best should be truly non-partisan, it shouldn't be one that focuses on how we elect more Republicans or how we elect more Democrats - it should be focused on how we can ensure that every Montanan can register their business, register to vote and access their public lands - that is my priority and that is what I want to bring to this office."