Democratic candidate for Montana Attorney General
Pam Bucy studied law at the University of Montana and immediately after receiving her degree, went to work as a criminal prosecutor with the Lewis & Clark County Attorney's office. In that role, she gained an understanding of the various issues surrounding the criminal justice system and successfully prosecuted hundreds of cases, including DUI, domestic violence, theft and homicide.
During her seven years as Executive Assistant Attorney General under former AG and current Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath, Pam represented the State of Montana in civil and criminal matters before the Montana Supreme Court. She also spearheaded the Department of Justice's efforts to pass legislation to register sexual and violent offenders, help senior citizens protect their identity and credit information and ensure protective orders, such as restraining orders, can be more easily enforced.
Bucy graduated with honors from the University of Montana School of Law in 1998. She graduated with honors from Rocky Mountain College in Billings in 1991 with degrees in history, political science and English.
She lives in Helena with her husband, Mark Piskolich, and their three children. She was born and raised in Townsend and is the oldest of five children.
For a full profile go to pambucy.com.
The lone Peak Lookout posed the following questions:
1. Let's assume it's Nov. 7 and you've been successful with the election. What are your priorities?
First thing when I take office the legislature will be started. Attorney General Bullock will already have his budget proposed, so I'll be working on that with the staff there. As you know, I was chief deputy under Attorney General Mike McGrath and I felt like I was drinking out of a fire hose that first couple of days because we walked in to someone else's budget, so if I'm elected, I'll be doing some transition work to be sure I understand the budget they are proposing. I think right now, particularly with what's been happening in eastern Montana and the growth associated with developing the Bakken oil reserves, ensuring that the department has the resources it needs to help communities there that have grown so exponentially over the last couple of years. And they really are having public safety troubles. Many of those chiefs and sheriffs are managing communities that are two-and-a-half times to five-times bigger than they were two and a half years ago with the same amount of people. I'm going to spend some time making sure the department has the resources to transfer there and get to the Legislature to get some impact resources that they need to deal with that population growth.
I'm not about creating more laws; I think we have effective laws on the books. We just need to focus on prevention. Having been a prosecutor, that's what I care most about. Most of my initiatives are preventive: I have the Smart Kids initiative which is primarily teaching kids and parents how to be safe on line, because that's the fasting growing type of crime affecting children. My goal is to get the Smart Kids initiative into every middle school in the state. I have a similar program I'd like to roll out for seniors that also trains senior volunteers in every community in the area of consumer protection, focusing on the newest scams that are going on so senior citizens will be able to identify the threat. It really does just take getting out to senior citizens centers and reporting on new fraud threats they are likely to encounter. My focus will be on prevention since in the current economic climate hiring additional staff to prosecute such crimes is not possible since many of the offenders operate far beyond Montana's borders. It's better off to prevent a crime from happening than trying to get a retired person's money back after the fact.
2. As Attorney General do you expect to be coping with national "hot-button" issues like the Affordable Care Act and Citizens United?
Those are really significant policy discussions and those decisions should be being made by the Legislature and by the governor, but it's not happening, and it's not happening due to a really adversarial political climate. It's unfortunate, but as much as most folks don't like courts, when you can't work out an agreement among yourselves, a courtroom is where that happens. I have firmly stated, having been at the AG's office in Montana, most AGs are there to defend laws passed by the people and avoid politics. That's your Constitutional mission. I believe strongly in that and you shouldn't be talking issues from a political perspective. I will look at every case and make a legal analysis of what kind of case it is, and that's how the Attorney General should proceed. As the Affordable Care Act progresses, if it turns out that some of it conflicts with state law or has a dramatic negative impact on Montana, I think it's up to the Attorney General to work with the state agencies that are impacted and with the governor to represent Montana's interests -- and that's what I'll do.
3. Have you ever been involved professionally in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court?
I've never argued in front of the United States Supreme Court, but I'm the only candidate in this election who's argued in front of the Montana Supreme Court, and I've been to the Ninth Circuit Court. As chief deputy at the AG's office I've handled elections cases including in 2006 when we encountered the problem of illegal signature gathering. We conducted an investigation and I pursued those claims, and the balanced budget initiative and eminent domain initiatives were deemed to be invalid due to illegal signature gathering.
4. What is your assessment of secret campaign contributions and how they affect the political process in Montana?
I'm a fourth generation Montanan and I have a lot of faith in Montanans. They are independent and fair at heart and I think they don't like to see people cheat, and I think that's what they see happening with all this outside corporate money. I don't think this is a liberal vs. conservative issue. I think this is a fairness issue and I think that Montanans want to see politicians work and earn votes based what they believe. I think Montanans in general are fed up with the level of political adversarial discourse they are exposed to. Folks do want to hear who you are and what you have to say about the office you are seeking.
5. What is your position on maintaining public access to wilderness?
I had a great experience when I worked at the AG's office. A new administration came in -- the Martz administration -- and they were demanding the Clinton Roadless Initiative be challenged when there weren't really any legal grounds to base a challenge on, but there was a claim there hadn't been enough public participation in the matter. So we went about conducting an investigation. We gathered every transcript of every hearing and it turned out that there had been over 60 hearings in Montana, there had been something like 400,000 comments made. Based on this investigation, we drafted a brief that the Clinton Roadless Initiative had been overturned at the federal trial court level in Montana. We then went to the Ninth Circuit Court with that and demonstrated that in fact there had been a lot of public participation in Montana leading up to the roadless decision and the Ninth Circuit upheld that roadless initiative. I've also had the opportunity on numerous occasions to defend Montana's high-water-mark stream access law. I come from a background with close ties to wilderness. My whole family, myself included, are avid hunters so watching more and more of Montana being gated out --places I've hunted my entire life -- now there's just no access. I have been very diligent in my career, both at the county level and at the state level of helping folks defend public access. Private property is private property so we have to ensure that people respect that, but we have to fight for the right for the public to continue their historic right to access.
6. Do you believe the Montana Attorney General's office will ever be called upon to make a ruling on control of wolves in the state?
I wouldn't be surprised. The eight years that I was at the AG's office, we were working diligently with neighbor states on wolf management issues so they could be removed from the Endangered Species List. I am hopeful that we can comply with the wolf management plan. Now we have a wolf management plan and the issue of trapping wolves; that's a tough one, an emotional one, but my concern is that we follow the wolf management plan, that we actually manage our wildlife. We let the folks who manage wildlife do their jobs. We must keep the wolf population at a level that's required by the management plan. Otherwise, wolves will go right back on the Endangered Species List. I am a very big believer in the Teddy Roosevelt conservation philosophy. I believe if you let local people sit down and consider the wolf problem in a community or a region, those people know how to solve it.
7. What was your first job and what did you learn from it and other private-sector experience you have had?
My first business was a live theater in Livingston, and I do understand what it takes to run a successful business in Montana. We've heard a lot about natural resource jobs and I know those jobs are important. My father is a union coal miner and it wasn't until he got that job at a mine did my family of seven have health insurance. That really did raise my family to the middle class in a way that they had never been before. With my theater business, having a job that was 100 percent reliant on tourists, like many Livingston businesses, I came to realize that people visit Montana because of the beauty of the state, because of the wildlife and the unique Montana lifestyle. Those values and the values of resource extraction industries have to coexist and that's a challenge we all face. We do have to make sure we have blue-ribbon trout streams and wildlife habitat that supports the animals people want to come here to hunt or photograph. My experience in the private sector gave me a really balanced perspective about what's important and how you grow businesses in Montana. My very first job was washing dishes at the local café in Townsend when I was 13, and I've been working ever since. It taught me the value of hard work and the value of a dollar when you start measuring your time with the dollars you earn at a job. I worked my way though college; I worked my way through law school. And I feel the same way about this campaign. I had a tough primary against a 10-year legislator. I think people were doubtful that I could win that, but I think getting out there doing the hard work that you have to do makes the difference.
8. What's your view on capital punishment?
The role of the Attorney General is to defend the laws of the state of Montana whether you personally agree with them or not. Capital punishment is one of those issues where there are strong emotions on either side. What I will care most about as Attorney General is defending the death penalty. I will continue to work on death penalty cases. There's a special unit -- an elite unit -- that works on those cases at the Attorney General's office. I worked on a couple of those cases when I was there. But what's the most important to me as someone who's very passionate to access to justice -- and to equal justice -- in that it's a process that's fair, consistent and not biased. That's the complaint about capital punishment -- and it's a legitimate complaint. When I joined Attorney General Mike McGrath's office -- we came from criminal prosecution -- and not all AGs have -- he implemented a process that all death penalty cases go through the AG's office through a panel so there can be a lot more consistent implementation of the death penalty. There are huge philosophical differences depending on the region of the state so what might be a death-eligible case in Kalispell might not be a death-eligible case in Missoula or Helena, and I think that's highly problematic. It's the Attorney General's responsibility to ensure sentences are equal, regardless what part of the state you are in. Those are the kinds of things I will work on in the AG's office.
9. How's the campaign going?
This is a tough election cycle, especially for a down-ticket candidate. The Tester-Rehberg race is consuming the airwaves. Everybody I talk to says they plan to start turning off their TVs because they are already tired of campaigning. I will be traveling around a lot so if I'm in Bozeman, I'll be making trips to the smaller communities to be sure I'm talking to folks out there because I do think I'm a pretty appealing moderate candidate with a lot of experience in the office. I want to be sure I get that message out there. With my campaign, you'll see a lot of travel, and doing what you have to do -- raise money, put a lot of miles on my car, having a lot of fundraisers, making a lot of phone calls to raise money. This has been a very new experience for me, transitioning from being a lawyer to a candidate, but I really enjoyed meeting people and talking about the office. It's a little harder learning how to raise the money necessary to campaign. Running for office is really time consuming. Becoming a candidate and talking about yourself rather than talking about your work is very different.
10. What's your perspective on the state of law enforcement in Montana?
Having spent most of my career working with Montana's law enforcement community -- local, state and federal -- I think we are fortunate in Montana. We have a professional and thoughtful group. Certainly, just like anywhere else, there are some bad apples but the vast majority are competent and professional. They are Montana folks, they care about their communities, they invest in their communities and they've chose to be law enforcement officers because they want to have safer, better communities. I always feel lucky when I travel to national conventions in bigger states; there are states that don't allow their officers to testify at a trial in uniform because there's such a distrust of law enforcement. Nobody likes to be stopped and given a speeding ticket, but every one wants a cop to be there if something happens. They want the officers to be prepared and to have the resources they need to do their jobs. When I started at the AGs office here were a lot of problems -- relationship problems -- be they real or perceived between Montana's tribal communities and the Montana Highway Patrol and local law enforcement communities around the reservations. We worked really hard on that, worked very hard for the Highway Patrol to recruit minorities, to recruit Native Americans to actually be state troopers. We also held meetings all around the reservation communities and included all state and local law enforcement officers who were stationed there. We emphasized the importance of fostering relationships there and making sure those folks in uniform were parts of those communities, and it has made a tremendous amount of difference. The last change we made was implementing into our basic law enforcement academy anti-biased policing training and cultural awareness training. It was pretty controversial at first. We started talking to old-time small town sheriffs and explain how we had to add this cultural awareness training. And it's worked out well. This interim they presented a report to the Indian Affairs Committee that shows reports of racial profiling are down 82 percent in the last 10 years. I'm proud of this work and I'm really proud of law enforcement around the state for stepping up to the challenge. Building those kinds of trusting community relationships are the key to success for law enforcement, and we have a law enforcement community that's willing to do it.
11. How do you perceive Montana's relationship with federal law enforcement agencies, specifically the Dept. of Homeland Security vis-a-vie border security?
Interagency cooperation is critical, because a lot of Montana's really important law enforcement work is done in cooperation with the feds. A lot of our drug enforcement efforts, overtime and DUI enforcement are federally funded. All of our child protection units, specifically the necessary technology, are federally funded. We have a great relationship with federal law enforcement agencies, and we rely on those relationships to fund what I consider some of the state's most important law enforcement work. We do provide a lot of back up to the Department of Homeland Security for border patrol. We've seen lots of examples of drug trafficking that goes on across our border. We've done really well working with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and DHS in addressing those kinds of issues. State law enforcement officers don't play a very significant role in immigration issues because we're just not trained in those areas. We will provide any back up needed, and I think that's the critical role of state and local law enforcement as far as the Department of Homeland Security is concerned.
12. What's your perspective on citizen created ballot initiatives?
To be honest, I love the process. It's such a grassroots way for people to participate in making policy. It is direct legislation by the people. It is refreshing and you don't find that everywhere. I really do support it but it allows some reactionary issues to make their way to the ballot. Because some of them haven't been necessarily well vetted, there are often problems. But, I spent a lot of my time in the Attorney General's office defending citizen initiatives, and I will continue to do that because I think it's an important role in Montana, to make sure people continue to have direct access to legislating. I do think some pretty sound challenges will be made about whether some initiatives are constitutional or are in statutory conflict.