By Matthew Brown Associated Press
BILLINGS (AP) – Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Wednesday named a former secretary of state as his third lieutenant governor in three years as Democrats sought to shore up the party’s gubernatorial ticket ahead of the 2016 elections.
Bullock announced the appointment of Mike Cooney, 61, of Helena to replace Angela McLean, who resigned last month amid tensions with the governor and his staff as revealed in their emails.
Bullock said Cooney is a proven leader with a four-decade political track record.
“I’m impressed by Mike’s hard work and his commitment to public service,” Bullock said in a statement from his office.
Cooney served as a state representative from Butte in the 1970s. After working as an aide to former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus for six years, Cooney was elected Montana secretary of state in 1989, serving three terms.
He served as a state senator from Helena between 2003 and 2010, including a short stint as senate president in 2007.
Conney said it was an honor to be named as Bullock’s second-in-command. His appointment is effective Jan. 4.
“I look forward to working with Governor Bullock to make responsible decisions about the future of our state,” he said in a statement.
Republican Party spokesman Shane Scanlon criticized the choice of Cooney, calling him “a Helena insider and career bureaucrat” who was picked without public input.
Republicans have sought to capitalize on McLean’s resignation, saying it complicates Bullock’s re-election hopes, and that there was more to her resignation than has been publicly revealed.
Emails released by the governor’s office in response to public records requests from The Associated Press and other news outlets showed long-running discord between McLean, Bullock and members of his staff. That included threats by one Bullock aide to sideline McLean by taking away her policy initiatives.
Within weeks of that exchange, McLean applied for a job with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, where she begins work next month.
Carroll College political analyst Jeremy Johnson said Cooney was well-credentialed to be lieutenant governor because of his dual experiences as a legislator and member of the executive branch.
Bullock’s office said the governor and his staff reached out to dozens of civic leaders, elected officials and others for their input before settling on Cooney.
Cooney was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Butte. His grandfather, Frank Cooney, served as Montana’s eighth governor from 1933 to 1935. It was also the last time a Montana governor went through three lieutenant governors during a single term.
Bullock appointed his first lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to fill a U.S. senate post left vacant when Baucus was named Ambassador to China in 2014.
Walsh was seeking election to the post when he was forced to drop out following revelations that he plagiarized a research paper while attending the U.S. Army War College.
Republicans planning to challenge Bullock’s bid for a second term include Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte and state Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson.
Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.