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Baucus appointed Ambassador to China; Walsh fills Senate seat

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HELENA – Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has appointed his Lt. Gov. John Walsh to fill outgoing Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’s Senate seat.

Baucus yesterday was officially confirmed as the next U.S. Ambassador to China, approved in a unanimous vote by the Senate. He held his Senate seat for six terms and was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Walsh, 53, will be sworn in on Tuesday and serve the remainder of Baucus’s term, which ends in January 2015.

“I wanted to appoint someone who I believed would represent the values Montanans hold important,” Gov. Bullock said in a press conference this morning. “I wanted to appoint someone who I believed would be working to find solutions, not further dividing our state and nation. And I wanted to appoint someone who I truly believed would wake up each day focused on putting Montana – and Montanans – first.”

A Butte native, Walsh is a 1979 graduate of Butte High School and a veteran of the Montana Army National Guard, where he served for more than 33 years. Walsh has a B.S. from the State University of New York and a master’s in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He served as Montana Adjutant General under Gov. Brian Schweitzer until March 2012, when he stepped down to pursue the office of lieutenant governor.

In 2004-2005, Walsh commanded Montana’s 1-163rd Infantry Battalion during combat operations in Iraq, earning the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman’s badge. There, he led more than 700 Montanans into combat – the largest deployment of Montana soldiers since World War II. The battalion was awarded the Valorous Unit Citation for outstanding performance in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III.

Walsh and his wife Janet have two sons, both born and raised in Helena. Their elder son Michael is a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft pilot with the Montana National Guard and has served two tours of duty in Iraq and Kuwait.

Walsh plans to run as a Democrat in this fall’s midterm elections for the U.S. Senate seat. Some of his beliefs, however, are not aligned with the mainstream Democratic Party, most notably that additional background checks for those purchasing guns are not effective, and that the U.S. should not support increasing sanctions in Iran.

Also atop his list of talking points are lowering the federal deficit, defending the second amendment, and supporting agriculture and military troops.

Walsh has been in the public hot seat recently, gaining attention through reports of having been reprimanded in 2010 by the U.S. Army for pressuring Montana National Guard troops to join the National Guard Association of the U.S., a private association where he had interests in gaining a leadership position. Walsh has since released 400-plus pages of his military records, arguing that his actions benefitted the Guard.

Other Democrats seeking election to Baucus’s vacated Senate set are former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger (who served the state office as a Republican), and Wilsall rancher and attorney Dirk Adams. Republicans Champ Edmunds of Missoula, a state representative, and David Leaser, a political unknown and air traffic manager at the Kalispell airport, have also thrown their hats in the ring.

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