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State Auditor Candidates Compare Resumes During Weekend Debate

A screen capture from the Sept. 6, 2020 MTN News debate between state auditor candidates Troy Downing (L) and Shane Morigeau (R). Moderator Mike Dennison appears below the candidates.
A screen capture from the Sept. 6, 2020 MTN News debate between state auditor candidates Troy Downing (L) and Shane Morigeau (R). Moderator Mike Dennison appears below the candidates.

The candidates for Montana’s state auditor office squared off in a televised debate Sunday hosted by MTN News. The Republican candidate touted his past business experience as making him the most qualified to run the office. The Democrat argues he’s best prepared for the job due to his work as an attorney and state legislator.

Republican Troy Downing, a businessman and combat veteran from Bozeman, and Democratic State Rep. Shane Morigeau, an attorney from Missoula, are vying to be the state’s commissioner of securities and insurance. The state office is responsible for regulating insurance and investment industries in Montana. The seat is left open as current Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale is running for U.S. House against Democrat Kathleen Williams.

Downing said Sunday that he should be the one to fill the seat because he brings broad business experience, having worked in technology, venture capital, securities and insurance.

“And I understand the pitfalls that you have building companies I understand what it’s like to work in heavily-regulated and complex industries,” Downing said. “And I think it all comes to bear in this office that I’m running for.”

Morigeau, on the other hand, said he’s proud that he doesn’t come from industry. He said he’ll draw from his experience as a prosecutor who’s taken on fraud and as a state legislator who’s had to broker deals.

“I’ve worked on legislation – bipartisan legislation – where I’ve worked across the aisle, and I’ve been able to find common ground on common-sense issues in the Legislature,” Morigeau said. “I’m proud of my record there.”

Morigeau highlighted his work on the Republican-backed bill that renewed Montana’s Medicaid Expansion program, as well as his own legislation aimed at strengthening child sex-abuse laws. Morigeau said he would work with lawmakers to enact laws increasing transparency around health care costs, but did not mention specific legislation.

Downing said he would also target transparency around health care costs. But, he added, he was more focused on educating consumers about the kinds of insurance available and what they provide. While he supports what he called “business-friendly regulations,” Downing said the office’s job first and foremost is about consumer protection.

Montana’s current state auditor, Matt Rosendale, has been critical of the Affordable Care Act and has sought to offer options outside of the government health care program. Downing voiced support for that effort, said having choices is “fundamentally American,” and stated he would prioritize educating Montanans on those choices. Downing did not share his thoughts on the Affordable Care Act itself.

“I think it’s good to have a lot of tools in the toolbox,” he said.

One of the options Rosendale has supported, limited short-term insurance, has been criticized by Democrats and some experts because it does not cover essential health benefits such as prescription drugs or mental health care.

Options are important, Morigeau said, but so is protecting people with pre-existing conditions, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, and keeping out limited plans that don’t cover prescription drugs or mental health care.

“And that’s one of the reasons I’m in this race, is to find ways to get people insured and get people affordable insurance,” Morigeau said.

Both candidates had the opportunity to ask the other a question during Sunday’s debate. Morigeau asked about Downing’s 2018 guilty plea for buying in-state hunting and fishing licenses when he was not a resident.

“How can Montanans trust you to hold the insurance and securities industries accountable when you can’t hold yourself accountable in these areas?” Morigeau asked.

The Associated Press reported at the time that Downing alleged his accountant made an error on his tax returns, listing him as a California resident. Investigators said that Downing lived in Montana seasonally at the time, according to AP.

Downing responded during the debate that he’s helped veterans come to Montana to hunt and fish, and that he’ll take criticism for the charge if that means he could help them. Downing also said the charge wasn’t fair saying he’d made Montana home for more than 20 years.

“The only thing that really got to me was they were holding me to a standard that was not reasonable, I believe, for any Montanan,” Downing said.

When it came to his question, Downing asked Morigeau how he would handle complex business and insurance questions without ever having “signed the front of a check” as a business owner.

“You have no experience directly – in insurance or securities – so how do you expect to even learn to know what you don’t know?” Downing asked.

Morigeau reiterated that he’s proud of the fact that he’s not from industry and that he’s worked on bipartisan issues at the Legislature.

“My legal background is something that I think is really a strong trait for this job, because I know the nuances in law and I’ve been able to navigate that,” he said.

Libertarian Roger Roots is also running for state auditor, but was not part of Sunday’s debate.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.