Montana is known more for its trout fishing than for its politics, but this year’s contest between Steve Daines and Steve Bullock could potentially tip the balance in the U.S. Senate. I reached out to several respected Montana anglers for their views on the Daines/Bullock race. Here’s how they responded.
From world-renowned angler, author and conservationist Craig Mathews:
US Senatorial candidate and current Governor of Montana Steve Bullock wrote Montana’s world famous landmark opinion permitting public stream access when he was the State’s Attorney General in 2009.
He has maintained throughout his stellar public service career that, "Montana’s public lands, rivers and streams are the State’s Crown Jewel" and he will continue to work to "make sure hunters and anglers, and all outdoor enthusiasts have access to the blue ribbon rivers, lakes and streams and hiking trails the public enjoys.”
Unlike his opponent, Bullock leads by example, whether fighting for climate change initiatives or keeping Montana’s public lands public. He opposes the Republican platform that includes transferring federal public lands to states and the selling off those public lands to the highest bidder. His opponent remains silent on this issue.
Bullock always demonstrates conservation initiative and leadership while his opponent’s voting record has been one of the worst in Congress.
I find it important as an angler and hunter that Bullock brings folks together to do what’s right for Montanans, and all public hunters and anglers. He rises above partisan politics to protect our public lands, clean water and air. He never just tells us what we want to hear.
Our US Senate needs more leaders like Steve Bullock.
From Dan Vermillion, who owns and operates an exceptional fly fishing business in Livingston, Montana:
On conservation issues, Steve Daines is a follower not a leader. If you look at any significant conservation issue in Montana, whether it be the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act or the Great American Outdoors act, Senator Daines has consistently stayed on the sidelines until the political headwinds were so strong that he was forced to support these common sense pieces of legislation. Then, much like the Veterans’ Home he voted against, he takes credit when it finally passes. This is not leadership. It is politics at its worst.
When it comes to issues that are a bit more subtle such as timber management, public ownership of public lands, or wilderness study areas, Senator Daines consistently supports positions that undermine, in my opinion, Montanans’ right to hunt and fish.
Governor Bullock has consistently pushed to expand public access, support stream access, and public ownership of public lands. He has fought for Habitat Montana, for the purchase of conservation easements providing perpetual hunting access, and for ensuring that Montanans retain the majority of the licenses and permits to hunt here in our state.
It should always be remembered that the Republican Party platform still contains a plank that supports the transfer of public lands. Senator Daines did not repudiate that, and Republican Jennifer Fielder, one of the nation’s leading proponents of public lands transfer, has been the Chairwoman of the Senate Fish and Game Committee here in Montana for the past two legislative sessions. If Senator Daines really cares about Montana’s hunting and fishing future, he must lead on these issues. He has not and jumping on the Great American Outdoors Act bandwagon does not change his record on hunting, fishing, and conservation issues.
Governor Steve Bullock has led and, as a US Senator, will lead and greatly enhance Montanan’s future recreational opportunities. The choice is not even close. For Montanans that hunt, fish, or recreate on our public lands, Governor Bullock is the right choice for Montana.
From angler, hunter, scientist, ecologist and current board chair for Montana Conservation Voters, Jock Conyngham:
Until we pass real campaign reform and rescind Citizens United, everything else is broken. Steve Bullock argued against Citizens United in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and pushed for some of the strongest dark money laws in the country. For those reasons alone, he has my support.
Steve Daines has helped Trump and company weaken some of our most important environmental legislation and downplay climate change. He cosponsored one good bill, the GAOA — but only when he realized his chances of losing the 2020 race were excellent. Now he’s claiming he championed another, The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, that others developed and he sat on for years. Daines voted to enable transfer and sale of federal land like the Bob Marshall and the CMR. Sportsmen need to do their due diligence and look at his whole record; it’s a disaster.
There are plenty of conservatives who are engaged in sporting and environmental causes. Daines isn’t one of them.
Conyngham also recently appeared in this video about Senator Daines:
From respected Montana fly fisher and fly tyer John Wood:
I've seen some actual leadership from Bullock, especially in regards to the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than just follow the blunderings of the current administration, he made decisions to help Montana and Montanans get through this ongoing crisis a little easier, while Daines followed the lead of the White House at every turn.
Daines has little-to-no regard for preserving and protecting the environment or our access to public lands, again following the lead from the White House which has the most horrendous environmental record of my lifetime. By all appearances, he would much rather keep his standing with the RNC than protect the rights of the people of Montana.
From E. Donnall Thomas Jr., author, angler, hunter and retired physician:
Coming at the end of what has been a brutal year for all of us, the 2020 election promises to be the most significant in my lifetime (and possibly in the country’s as well). This year’s candidates are not the usual shades of gray. Their differences are stark and obvious.
Given the degree of polarization into which the country has fallen, the presidential race will likely dominate the discussion. However, for those of us living in Montana, the outcome of a number of state races will likely have more immediate impact on our lives than anything happening in the Beltway. This is especially true for the large number of Montanans who largely define themselves by what they do outdoors, since outdoor recreation is one of the few resources that our state enjoys in abundance. For us, topics such as public land access, fish and wildlife management, and upholding our widely admired Stream Access law are more important than arguments about finances and foreign policy.
No wonder so many candidates suddenly become hunters, anglers, and public land advocates a month prior to election. While everyone talks a good game, at least for the purposes of spot ads on television, it’s important to separate the grain from the chaff.
The Governor’s race exemplifies the contrast. An east coast billionaire who has shown a remarkable inability to respect Montana values in his adoptive home state, Greg Gianforte has blocked established stream access on his own property and openly supported the privatization of public lands. His greatest moment of fame came when he assaulted a reporter in a display of immaturity that made national news. Mike Cooney will make a far better governor.
The race for Montana’s junior senate seat provides a similar contrast. While Steve Daines can say the right things at the right time, he is no supporter of public land and water access, as demonstrated when he needlessly inserted himself into the shameful demotion of District Ranger Alex Seinkiewicz under pressure from Sweetgrass County landowners trying to obstruct established public access to the Crazy Mountains. During his two terms as Governor, Steve Bullock was consistently active in wildlife initiatives such as the Sage Grouse plan and demonstrated strong support for public lands.
Montana outdoorsmen and women also need to look closely at races for less prominent positions. The choice of an Attorney General is more important than it sounds, and Raph Graybill has been a consistent supporter of public lands. Laurie McKinnon is up for re-election to the Supreme Court as one of two dissenting votes in the court’s decision to uphold access rights to the Ruby River. A consistent supporter of public land transfer to private interests, and critic of the state’s Stream Access law, she is a terrible choice and deserves defeat.
Several others folks shared negative views about Senator Daines, but weren’t comfortable with seeing their names in print. Every single e-mail that came my way was pro-Bullock and anti-Daines.
Which doesn’t mean that all Montanans are against Senator Daines. If I had to guess, it’s pretty close to a 50/50 split — with polls showing the race a literal coin toss at this point. But none of the anglers who responded to my query favored Daines or found fault with Bullock.
And frankly, that’s not a surprise. Steve Bullock is a popular governor who fishes, hunts, cares about vital issues like public lands and climate change, and has a long history of working with folks on both sides of the political aisle. Daines, on the other hand, has tied himself to President Trump’s abysmal record on conservation and the environment, as well as to Trump’s dismal economic performance and unhinged pandemic response. Daines does have the strong support of the NRA — for whatever that’s worth in 2020 — as well as the support of the GOP base. Whether Trump’s authoritarian coattails will be enough to send Daines back to Washington for a second term, or whether Bullock will move on from the Governor’s mansion to the Senate … well, I suspect we'll all know soon enough.
In the meantime, whether or not you live in Montana, and regardless of whether you find yourself more aligned with candidates like Steve Bullock or Steve Daines, please exercise the crowning right and responsibility that we all share.