Long-time Montana politician seeks governor’s seat
By Bella Butler EBS EDITORIAL ASSISTANT
HELENA—As an undergraduate student at the University of Montana, a young Mike Cooney embarked on an internship with the Montana Legislature that would mark the start of a multi-decade spanning career in politics. At the time it was simply part of his curriculum. He had grown up in what he considered to be a political family and grasped the relevancy and role of public service and community engagement, but the immersion he experienced in local government was what really set the hook.
“I understood very quickly just how important the legislature was; how it affected people’s lives and their futures,” Cooney, who currently serves as lieutenant governor of Montana, reflected back on his entrance to the political arena. Inspired and hoping to add a youthful voice to what he recounts as an already diverse legislature, he ran for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives. . .and won. Cooney served his first of two sessions in 1977 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1979.
Cooney’s resume is robust with political experience, most of which takes place within the state of Montana. After working for Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in Washington D.C., the Butte native returned to his home state, where he served as secretary of state from 1989-2001, focusing on protecting voting rights and opening up public access throughout Montana. He continued on to serve in the Montana state senate and as what he described as a ‘proud bureaucrat’ in the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, where he was plucked from by Gov. Steve Bullock to serve as lieutenant governor.
According to Cooney, his experience has given him insight into the issues of utmost importance for Montanans across the board. A passion reinforced by his work for the Montana non-profit Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, access to good, affordable health care and prescriptions is something Cooney has identified as both a primary platform issue as well as high-level concern for Montanans. Cooney’s also identified education and access to public lands as key components to his campaign.
In recent weeks, Cooney believes these issues have only garnered more relevancy and urgency as Montana is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Those are things that we talked about from day one, they continue to be important today, and in some respect are even more important than they were a month ago,” he said.
The relationships and connections Cooney acquired as a fresh-faced Montana legislator are what have carried him throughout his career, he said, and they are what he says will make him a capable governor.
Aside from a brief stint in Washington D.C., Cooney said he and his wife, DeeAnn, chose to live in Montana and raise their children in the state because of the tenants they believe are held by the state as well as their family.
“We have a great work ethic, but [Montanans] don’t ask for a lot. . .They want to have a good job, raise their family and give their kids a better life than what they’ve been given,” he said. “We need to make sure Montanans have that opportunity.”
During this unprecedented period of pandemic, Cooney said while his campaign has been shaken up, it’s his day job as lieutenant governor that has really picked up intensity.
“Is this a time to choose somebody who brings a lot of experience and has really a background that lends itself to leadership and proven leadership?” Cooney asked rhetorically. “I hope that’s the one thing Montanans would consider as they’re casting their mail-in ballot.”
Cooney will oppose business woman Whitney Williams in the Montana primary election, which will take the form of mail-in ballots. Ballots will be mailed on May 8.