HELENA – Montana Gov. Steve Bullock endorsed Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney in the 2020 gubernatorial race on Friday, saying Cooney’s long history of public service made him the right person for the job.
Democrats have held on to the governor’s post for nearly 14 years. Republicans said they were not surprised by the announcement.
The nod to Cooney was given over other Democrats, including former state lawmaker Reilly Neill, state House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner and businesswoman Whitney Williams. The primary is June 2 and the general election is Nov. 3, 2020.
“I know I join with many other Montanans across the state in saying ‘I like Mike,’” Bullock said in a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol.
“We need to make sure that the shining example that is Montana continues after 2020,” Bullock said. “We can do so with someone who has the executive experience needed to make that happen. That is why I stand here today on behalf of Mike Cooney, candidate for governor. There is certainly no better partner than I could ask for in governing.”
He noted Cooney has fought for jobs, economic livelihoods and health care who can work across party lines. Bullock, who is now among the Democratic candidates running for president in 2020, said he served as Cooney’s chief legal counsel when Cooney was secretary of state. He said Cooney exemplified high values and characteristics.
“He brings people together and he does so with a deep commitment to our state,” Bullock said.
Cooney, 65, thanked Bullock for the endorsement and said he has a desire to give back to the state that gave him everything.
“Montana is my home,” he said. “There is a lot at stake in this election and in this race. We cannot afford to let out of state special interests and out of state candidates … buy their way into the governor’s office. We have to protect all the progress we have made and build upon it.”
“I am truly honored and grateful that Steve Bullock has my back,” he said.
Cooney was named lieutenant governor in late 2015, replacing Angela McLean, who resigned to take another job in the Department of Higher Education.
Republicans in the race include state Attorney General Tim Fox, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and state Sen. Al Olszewski.
The Gianforte camp issued a statement:
“In the most unsurprising news of the campaign, Steve Bullock endorsed career politician Mike Cooney, his third pick for lieutenant governor, to continue his failed legacy. The most surprising part of the announcement is that Bullock didn’t make Cooney fly to Iowa for it.”
The Montana Republican Party weighed in as well, saying ““Democrats across Montana should rightfully question Governor Bullock’s decision to support a member of the ‘good ole boys club’ during a contested Gubernatorial primary.”
Bullock said his endorsement should not have been unexpected, especially to other Democrats in the race.
“I don’t think this has been any deep surprise that I was going to support Mike,” he said, adding he told Cooney prior to announcing his run for governor that he would support him if he ran for the office. He also said he has been open to others about supporting Cooney.
Bullock cannot seek another four years due to term limits. He defeated Gianforte in 2016. Democrats had portrayed Gianforte as an outsider millionaire who used his own money to win office.
Cooney got his start in state politics as a representative from Butte in the 1970s. After working as an aide to former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus for six years, Cooney was elected Montana secretary of state in 1989, serving three terms.
Cooney later served as a state senator from Helena between 2003 and 2010, including a short stint as Senate president in 2007. He has also served as deputy director for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
Cooney was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Butte. His grandfather, Frank Cooney, served as Montana’s eighth governor from 1933 to 1935.