What's gotten into Gov. Steve Bullock lately? The understated former attorney general sends out the occasional funny tweet and shows up for all the usual photo ops, but he's nothing like the showman and sometimes bully he replaced in Helena. At least, not until the last week or so.
First, Bullock's office nominated 5.1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land as priority for "restoration" (read: logging). Some touted the proposal as a collaborative effort among the timber industry and environmental groups, but the Great Falls Tribune reported that in fact it was cooked up by seven people over the course of five conference calls that included zero opportunity for public input. Those left out of the discussion are rightfully angry and calling out the governor for approving such a heavy-handed clearcut of public lands.
In the governor's defense, spokesman Dave Parker told the Trib "vigorous" public participation will follow on a project-by-project basis, and he undermined those questioning the governor's so-called "diverse coalition" by dismissing the critics as a "minority." The merits of the proposal aside, a decision this large deserves a more transparent process, and the governor should know better than to try to strong-arm the public.
But perhaps strong-arming is something Bullock's office is warming up to. Hours after the Tribune story, the Billings Gazette reported that Bullock was about to unveil a $45 million aid package for eastern Montana communities struggling with the Bakken boom. The controversy here involves politics—lawmakers passed a similar bipartisan package during the last legislative session, but Bullock vetoed the bill claiming the state couldn't afford it. Some Republicans wonder how the governor suddenly found the money, and how he can allocate it without legislative input. Enter spokesman Parker again. According to the paper, Parker "would not elaborate on the funding mechanisms for the aid package, and then threatened to exclude The Gazette from further advisories from the governor if the newspaper reported on the aid package before the governor's whistle stop tour."
Bullock's predecessor, Brian Schweitzer, developed a reputation for bulldozing his way through certain policy decisions. He rarely received much heat for his tactics because he was always quick with a quip and tended to deliver popular results. Bullock has no such track record and he isn't in the same league as Schweitzer when it comes to playing the press and entertaining the public. That's worth remembering before Bullock picks his next fight with the media or, more importantly, tries to silence public input.