2020 Primary Preview: Montana State Auditor
Montana’s June 2nd primary election will be conducted mostly by mail-in ballot due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. As the election approaches we’re expanding on who’s behind the names on your ballot.
Six candidates are running to be Montana’s State Auditor, as incumbent Matt Rosendale campaigns for the U.S. House. YPR News’ Jess Sheldahl spoke with Nicky Ouellet about each of the candidates.
NICKY OUELLET: It seems like every statewide elected position has a crowded field of primary candidates this year. With high profile seats like governor, U.S. Senator and Representative on the line, why should voters pay attention to the state auditor’s race?
JESS SHELDAHL: The state auditor, also known as the commissioner of securities and insurance, regulates the insurance and securities industry and also has a seat on the state Land Board, so decisions made by the office affect every Montanan with insurance, investments, children enrolled in public school or anyone who uses public lands.
NO: There are six candidates currently running for State Auditor: Republicans Troy Downing, Nelly Nicol and Scott Tuxbury; Democrats Shane Morigeau and Mike Winsor; and Libertarian Roger Roots. Can you tell us a little more about the Republicans in the race?
JS: Sure. Troy Downing’s website says he runs a nationwide insurance company and he’s worked in commercial real estate investment securities.
Downing says he would continue spending cuts started by current State Auditor Matt Rosendale, who reduced the office’s budget by $650,000 dollars by eliminating seven vacant positions. Rosendale is leaving the seat to run for the U.S. House.
Downing says he would want to bring more insurance companies to Montana.
"And, what that will do ultimately is increase choice, increase products and having competition will drive prices down," Downing said.
Nelly Nicol has also worked in the insurance industry for over 20 years. She says as State Auditor she would work with insurance companies and healthcare providers to lower insurance rates. She also supports bringing more insurance companies into the state.
"Getting rid or regulation that is not necessary is gonna bring people in. And I have a plan to go ahead and actually be an active marketer and lead the state and talk to insurance companies about coming in," Nicol said.
Nicol says the greatest issues facing Montanans are affordable healthcare, choice in insurance and inefficient government entities.
Scott Tuxbury has been in the insurance industry for the longest time of any candidate with 37 years under his belt.
Tuxbury says his background teaching classes about insurance, ethics and law would enable him to start an outreach program so consumers can recognize fraud.
"If we can stop fraud before it happens that’s a great objective right? As opposed to waiting until it happens and then throwing those folks in jail or going after them," Tuxbury said.
Tuxbury says he also supports bringing more insurance companies to the state.
NO: Are there any big differences between these candidates that stand out to you?
JS: For the most part, Republican candidates said they’d continue the majority of what Rosendale has put in place. One area they diverged was in their view of Montana’s state trust lands, which as a Land Board member they’d help oversee as a revenue generator for public schools.
Tuxbury says he has a focus on public access because of his experience as a backcountry guide. Nicol’s website mostly talks about how to use public lands for revenue through timber sales, agricultural, mineral and grazing leases, and real estate management. Downing has advocated for multi-use on public lands. That means balancing access against other revenue-generating uses, like energy development.
NO: What about the Democratic side of the ballot?
JS: Shane Morigeau comes to this race with a background in politics after serving in the state legislature, while Mike Winsor is leaning on his experience as a former special assistant attorney general for the state auditor office.
Morigeau has served two terms in the Montana House of Representatives. He’s the only candidate in any party who has won an election before.
"You know for me this is an opportunity to continue my efforts that I’ve done in the legislature, such as with Medicaid Expansion. I think this office can do a lot to help people get fair and affordable healthcare coverage," Morigeau said.
Morigeau says he has specific legislation he would like to bring to the state government, including expanded hail insurance and limiting how long a company has to process an insurance claim. Morigeau is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Mike Winsor says, as a lawyer, he’s been a consumer advocate for more than 20 years. He says the greatest issue facing the State Auditor’s Office is the funding cuts enacted by State Auditor Rosendale. He and Morigeau both say they would seek to restore the funding and direct it toward outreach and investigations.
"You know, when Rosendale came in he drove a lot of those people out, a lot of really experienced people. And you know, under the guise of reducing government," Winsor said.
Winsor says that because the State Auditor’s office gets its revenue from the industries it regulates through insurance premium tax and other licenses, permits and fees, the cuts did not save taxpayers any money. He says they just decreased the efficacy of the office.
NO: What can you tell me about the Libertarian candidate?
JS: Roger Roots is an attorney who says he supports deregulation of the insurance and securities industries. According to campaign finance disclosure reports he has raised no money for his campaign.
"I’m what you might call a true-blue hard-liner Libertarian. We are the party of, I won’t even say limited government, we are the party of anti-government," Woods said.
Roots says if elected he would completely overhaul the State Auditor’s office, renting out the headquarters, laying off a majority of staff and conducting all investigations, which would target only the government, by himself in his truck.
NO: Jess, thanks for your reporting.
JS: Thank you.