This week’s episode of the Montana Lowdown podcast features an interview with Republican candidate for the U.S. House and current Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. He and Montana Free Press editor-in-chief John S. Adams discuss topics including Stapleton’s path into politics, his work as secretary of state, elections security, and his vision for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Stapleton grew up in the latter part of the Cold War era, and says he considered it his patriotic duty to enlist in the U.S. Navy — a duty that developed into political aspirations after campaigning for Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole in the mid-1990s.

Stapleton was elected to the Montana Senate in 2000, and was termed-out of office in 2008. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2012, and for the U.S. House in 2014, before being elected secretary of state in 2016, as elections security became a prominent national issue.

Stapleton says that he’s proud of his work safeguarding Montana’s election systems, and shares an anecdote about receiving a report from Gov. Bullock’s office regarding a spike in activity on a backup power supply for the state’s elections system associated with IP addresses in Ukraine. He also sees a pressing need to address economic threats from China. Stapleton says the current trade wars are emblematic of a global shift toward protectionism, and adds that he thinks free-market capitalism is key to addressing global issues like the warming climate and poverty.

Says Stapleton, “We’re trying to find a way to be a constitutional republic, keep our sovereignty, [and] at the same time, as a Republican, try to embrace free markets, which is kind of the opposite of that, right? You’re not supposed to tell people who to buy stuff from, and so it’s a balance.” He also posits a distinction between Republican and Democratic appeals to voters via populist sentiment, telling Adams, “We forget that it is capitalism, not socialism, that’s the most beneficial force in the history of the world. It’s the only system that brings the most people out of poverty, and so America should continue to be that beacon.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Stapleton is critical of the current U.S. Congress, and makes his case for why he believes he’s the best candidate to represent Montanans in the House. 

“I have never seen a more disappointing, dysfunctional United States Congress than exists now,” he says. “Montana still wants a common-sense conservative, fiscally conservative, congressman. We want someone who supports agriculture and energy, understands our way of life, shares our values, shows good judgment in dealing with leadership decisions, and I think that I’m that candidate.”

Stapleton had previously announced his candidacy in the Montana governor’s race, but pivoted to the House race shortly after incumbent U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte announced he would not seek reelection, opting instead to enter the governor’s race. Stapleton is now campaigning in a Republican primary that includes State Auditor Matt Rosendale, former state GOP party chair Debra Lamm, rancher and Lewis and Clark County GOP Central Committee chair Joe Dooling, and Corvallis School District Superintendent Tim Johnson. The Democatic primary candidates for the House seat are former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, Missoula state Rep. Tom Winter, and rancher Matt Rains.

Alex McKenzie has worked with a diverse array of start-ups and nonprofit organizations. He is a former record producer and music journalist, has additional experience working in agriculture and food security, and previously operated his own dairy business. He lives in southwest Montana. Follow him on Twitter.