The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought many aspects of daily life to a halt, but Montana’s June 2 primary election is steadily approaching. While this year’s candidates launched their campaigns under relatively normal circumstances, facing off on issues including health care, prescription drug prices, public lands and jobs, the public health crisis has dramatically transformed the political, economic and social landscapes that will be at the forefront of voters’ minds when they begin mailing in their ballots.
“We’re going to see, probably, some very interesting things happening as a result of COVID. I think Montanans are going to be very interested in making sure the next governor isn’t going to have to be trained on the job,” says Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, one of two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination for November’s general election. “And when I’m elected, on day one, I will be able to hit the ground running.”
Cooney and his primary opponent, Missoula businesswoman Whitney Williams, staked out similar policy positions prior to the pandemic. But the economic downturn caused by COVID closures has offered Cooney, who began his political career in the early 1970s, an opportunity to highlight his years of experience in both the legislative and executive branches of government, characterizing that experience as a vital asset at a time when the public may be looking for steady leadership to guide the state’s recovery.
In separate interviews with Montana Free Press, both Cooney and Williams anticipated that Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte will be the Republican nominee. To that point, Cooney notes his presence on the 2016 Democratic ticket, with Gov. Steve Bullock, that bested Gianforte’s first gubernatorial bid.
“I’ve already been on a team that’s beaten Greg Gianforte, and I think that’s going to be very important when it comes to the primary election,” Cooney says. “We want somebody who’s going to be successful in November.”
Asked whether a Cooney administration would be a continuation of Bullock’s, Cooney said he intends to forge his own path: “It will be a Cooney administration. It’s not going to just be a Bullock 2.0.”
Cooney’s conversation with Montana Free Press editor-in-chief John S. Adams is featured on the latest episode of the Montana Lowdown podcast, a weekly publication of Montana Free Press.