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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock Balances Concern For Constituents With Bid For 202007:05
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Democratic presidential candidate Montana Gov. Steve Bullock answers a question during a news conference in Helena, Mont., Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (Matt Volz/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Montana Gov. Steve Bullock answers a question during a news conference in Helena, Mont., Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (Matt Volz/AP)

With David Folkenflik

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, is in danger of missing the first debate. But he says the debate rules are arbitrary — and he's also got "a job to do" for the people of Montana.

"At the end of the day, it's the voters that make that decision. It shouldn't be party rules," Gov. Bullock told On Point's David Folkenflik on Friday. "And I'm gonna keep going out — just like this weekend, I'll start a rural swing through Iowa, actually talking to voters, because it's the voters that make these decisions."

Interview Highlights

On his priorities for the office of the president: What would he like to accomplish in the first 100 days of his administration?

"On Day 1, sign an executive order that gets the corrupting dollars out of our elections. I mean, at least add sunshine — there's been a billion dollars spent, since Citizens United, of money that we don't even know where that's coming from. And if we don't address the corrosive influence of money in politics, which has really been the fight of my entire career, we're not going to address all the other big issues that we need to.

"I'd get back into [the] Paris [Agreement], Day 1, as well. We have to take a global leadership role on climate change, and I think that we could do that. There's going to be a lot of work to be done around the world when you actually address — the Trump reflex has been to sort of treat our allies as adversaries and our adversaries as allies. So I think that there's going to be a lot of work to be done there as well."

"I'm the only one in the field who won in a Trump state in 2016. He took Montana by 20 points. I won by four. ... We've got to win back places that voted for him. And I know it's possible, I've done it before."

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock

Why should voters choose Gov. Bullock?

"I'm certainly running to defeat Donald Trump, but also make sure that the economy works for everyone. I'm the only one in the field who won in a Trump state in 2016. He took Montana by 20 points. I won by four. And in order to win in 2020, we've got to bring out our core Democratic Party, but we've got to win back places that voted for him. And I know it's possible, I've done it before.

"I also have, in a very divisive time, passed significant progressive legislation, passed through a majority Republican legislature. And I think if we can't bridge some of those divides, and make people understand and believe the government can actually work and give them a fair shot, a lot of this is going to be a good futile exercise."

On why he's not choosing to run for the Senate instead, as someone who can win in a state that Trump won

"I know that we're going to have some great candidates, Montana Democratic candidates, to compete in the Senate in 2020. For me, this was never really an either/or proposition. My whole career I've spent on an executive side — that's both as attorney general, when we led all of the states' fights against Citizens United, to my time as governor. So this is where I think that my skills are best. I'm certainly confident that we'll have somebody in Montana, and I'll do everything that I can to make sure that he or she wins in 2020."

On immigration

"I think Democrats believe in border security, keeping families safe, but also not using immigration to divide our country. This is a humanitarian crisis. You don't end up taking an 18th-century solution called a 'wall' to a 21st-century problem. And we've got to figure out a way both for 'Dreamers' to make sure that they have a path, and the other 8 million people living without documentation in this country. Two-thirds of them have been here for over 10 years. So let's actually use it to continue to build our economy, not divide people."

On abortion: Governors in North Carolina and Wisconsin recently vetoed or pledged to veto bills that would restrict access to the procedure.

In Louisiana, a Democratic governor signed legislation that would restrict access to the procedure.

Where is Gov. Bullock on this issue?

"Every time when a bill's been brought to my desk — I mean I believe a woman should make these health care decisions in consultation with a doctor, family and faith, if she so chooses, so I've blocked every effort to restrict that right."

"If I ever had to choose again between campaigning for 100,000 donors and securing health care for 100,000 people, it's the easiest decision I'll ever make."

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock

On the first Democratic National Committee sanctioned debate — Gov. Bullock is at risk of not qualifying.

The first primary debates will take place over June 26 and 27. In order to qualify, candidates must, "earn at least 1% support in three separate national or early-state polls conducted from Jan. 1 to two weeks before the given debate, or receive donations from at least 65,000 people across 20 different states, with a minimum of 200 unique donors per state."

Gov. Bullock takes issues with the rules.

"Until yesterday, there were three nationally qualified [polls] that everybody was saying count, and then they announced they weren't going to count one. But look — I only got in about a month ago, and I could have gotten in earlier, but my legislature was still moving. I had to get Medicaid expansion passed to ensure health coverage for nearly 100,000 people. If I ever had to choose again between campaigning for 100,000 donors and securing health care for 100,000 people, it's the easiest decision I'll ever make."

From The Reading List

BuzzFeed News: "The Only Democratic Presidential Candidate To Win A Trump State Said The DNC Is 'Trying To Shape' The Race" — "In a field of 23 Democratic presidential candidates, Steve Bullock stands out. He is a popular Democratic governor in a state that voted for Donald Trump by 20 points. And on Thursday, after the Democratic National Committee clarified rules to qualify for the first 2020 debate next month, he learned that he will most likely not make the stage.

"Bullock, the 53-year-old, two-term governor of Montana, accused the DNC of 'trying to shape who’s going to be in this campaign,' with rules he described as arbitrary and limiting to the only candidate who won statewide in a state that voted for the president.

"'That’s an important voice to be on that stage,' he said Thursday, speaking by phone from Helena, Montana, where he’s been able to push Democratic priorities like Medicaid expansion and campaign finance reform while remaining popular as the state’s chief executive. 'If the DNC rules are trying to shape who’s going to be in this campaign against Donald Trump in 2020, when voters are still 250 days away from even expressing a preference, democracy suffers.'

"The Democratic National Committee months ago set two ways for candidates to make it into the first debates in June: Hit at least 1% in three qualifying polls or get at least 65,000 unique donors, with a deadline of June 12 for both. But the DNC publicly clarified it had tweaked its rules, dropping a poll that would have helped Bullock get in.

"A set of polls done by the Washington Post/ABC News, which asked voters to volunteer the name of their preferred candidates, will not be considered eligible to qualify campaigns for the debate stage, according to an article published Thursday morning in Politico. Bullock aides said they were relying on one of those polls to meet the DNC’s debate certification rules."

Karen Shiffman and Tania Ralli produced this segment for broadcast. Alex Schroeder adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on June 7, 2019.

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