This week we are airing conversations with some of the candidates running for Montana governor as the June 2 primary approaches.
Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, a Democrat, has been an elected official in one capacity or another in Montana since the '70s. He spoke with YPR New's Jess Sheldahl this week about his experience in state government, healthcare and his campaign.
JESS SHELDAHL: You have a long history of participation in the Montana political scene from serving in the state House of Representatives in the late '70s to serving as Montana's lieutenant governor since 2016. Can you tell us about how your experiences brought you to the governor's race?
MIKE COONEY: While I was in college. I ran for the State House of Representatives in a district in Butte, which was my hometown, and was fortunate enough to be elected. I went from there to go to work for Senator Baucus, worked both in Montana and in Washington, D.C. After a couple years of continuing to work for Max, I ended up being getting elected secretary of state. And I did that for 12 years. From secretary of state I went into a private sector, was a healthy mothers, healthy babies, which was a private nonprofit. And at that time, I also ran for and was elected to the state Senate, served one session as president of the Senate. And then after that, I became lieutenant governor.
SHELDAHL: Do you support Medicaid expansion and how would you work to improve access to health care for Montanans as governor?
COONEY: I have always supported Medicaid expansion. I was delighted when Governor Bullock was able to, in a bipartisan way, pass the first Medicaid expansion and then in the last legislative session was very proud to be sitting at his side and working as we again, in a bipartisan fashion, passed Medicaid expansion. I think that the next governor is going to have to make sure that we're continuing that program and running it in such a way that when it comes time for reauthorization, that it isn't controversial. But if it doesn't end up that way, I can tell you that, you know, as governor, I plan on making sure that Medicaid expansion continues. We continue to build upon it and make sure that people have continued to have access to health care throughout Montana.
SHELDAHL: The Trump and Bullock administrations have both put forth efforts to combat the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people. How would your administration take up this issue?
COONEY: We need to be working with the tribal governments throughout the state individually. We need to try to break down jurisdictional issues before problems occur and we're trying to address them.
SHELDAHL: Montana's energy resources are shifting after the closure of two of the coal strip power plants for units. Some are calling for more investment in renewable energy, while others support continued development of traditional energy sources. How would you balance Montana's energy needs as governor?
COONEY: Coal production is changing and consumers out there are asking and demanding for energy to be developed in other ways. And so we know that there is this transition that will be taking place. It's not going to happen overnight. And so I think we need to be mindful of that. We also have to be mindful that there are still a lot of people employed in this state. You know, as a result of the coal industry. We have to also understand that the market is changing. And if we as a state don't change with it, we will be lost. We will we will lose our position as being an energy producer. We know in Montana that we have tremendous capacity to produce solar and wind energy and geothermal. And we should be working very hard right now, developing those in preparation for that transition to occur.
SHELDAHL: As lieutenant governor. You're a deeply ingrained in current Gov. Steve Bullock's administration, how would you distinguish yourself from Governor Bullock if elected?
COONEY: I'm very proud to serve with with Steve and and his administration, because I think that there have been many good things done for Montana. But I think, you know, with with new administrations, new challenges occur. And so one of the biggest issues that employers was telling me about was the fact that they were having a hard time finding qualified employees. Well, we need to be continued continuing to focus on making investments in our education system and providing avenues for people to expand their educational opportunities so that they can grow and be better prepared to take those jobs.
SHELDAHL: Why are you the candidate best suited to lead Montana as governor?
COONEY: First of all, Montana has been my home. I think throughout my career, I have incredible experience that really lends itself for me to be a good governor. You know, I think a governor who can hit the ground running on day one. I mean, I understand, you know, how government operates. More importantly, I understand with through my work that I've been able to do how Montanans expect government to operate. And with my experience and the record that I've developed over the course of the years, Montanans know who I am. They know how I act and they know that I mean what I say.