Montana Secretary of State Stapleton announces his second bid for governor

First by Facebook then by official letter, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton on Wednesday announced his candidacy for governor, his second try for the office.

Stapleton, elected Secretary of State in 2016, said freedom and higher wages top his list as he gears up for the 2020 race.

“As governor, I’d like to lead the conversation on how we steer towards a Montana that has stronger families and higher wages, lower taxes and smaller government, and how we can lead the nation in having greater freedoms for all of us,” he wrote. “I’ll work with anyone and everyone to help get us there.”

Stapleton, 51, of Great Falls, is the first candidate to announce his intentions to seek the office. Incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock is termed out and is named among a long list of potential Democratic candidates for president. Incumbent Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, has said he also is considering running for governor.

In announcing his candidacy, Stapleton took credit for streamlining the way small businesses interact with state government, and for increasing “the integrity” of mail ballots and voter participation.

That issue placed him at odds with several state elections administrators, including Missoula, where county commissioners accused Stapleton of using artificial data to drive a personal agenda.

They called the tone of his emails on the issue “unprofessional” and “juvenile.”

“I can’t think of an instance where I’ve seen a statewide elected official treat a staff person with such contempt, and with such unprofessionalism in his approach,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said at the time.

Stapleton on Wednesday said his office has “tackled the most difficult issues in modern elections.”

“I’m proud to say that we have increased election security, increased the integrity of mail ballots, and increased voter participation. In short, we’ve made it easier to vote and harder to cheat!” he said in his announcement.

The Montana Democratic Party also issued a statement on Wednesday.

“From enriching his friends with $265,000 in state contracts to inventing claims of voter fraud, you’d be hard pressed to find a more corrupt and incompetent career politician than Corey Stapleton. During his time as Secretary of State, Stapleton has embarrassed his agency, denied protections for our public lands, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he is unqualified to serve as governor.”