Attorney General Tim Fox speaks

Attorney General Tim Fox speaks at a gathering of Montana nonprofits in the Capitol Rotunda recently.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said Friday that he won’t step aside from his gubernatorial campaign if U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte enters the race.

Fox, a Republican who is term-limited, announced his candidacy for governor in January. Gianforte, also a Republican, hasn’t said whether he plans to run for governor, and has filed a statement of candidacy for the House in 2020. But there’s widespread speculation that he will seek the governor’s office — a decision that could set off a scramble for his U.S. House seat, and further crowd the field of Republican candidates for governor.

Asked Friday whether he would step aside in the event that Gianforte enters the race, Fox replied, "no."

During a meeting with the Missoulian editorial board, Fox stressed his fitness for both the Republican nomination and the governor's office. "I've never compromised my conservative ideals, I've never compromised my faith, I've never compromised my personal morals, I've never violated an ethics code," he said.

Gianforte gained national notoriety for body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs just before the 2017 special election that brought him into Congress. He received a deferred sentence for assault of 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management.

Fox already faces a crowded field. The Republican contenders for governor include Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, former state senator Gary Perry of Manhattan, and Kalispell resident Pete Ziehli, all of whom have filed candidacy paperwork with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office. State Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, also told MTN News recently that he’s running.

During his interview, Fox discussed the five pieces of legislation that lawmakers had introduced at his office’s request this session. They revise DUI laws, prescription opioid abuse policy, sexual-assault kit testing, stalking laws, and state medical examiner funding. Three were introduced by Democrats. All of them, in Fox's view, address matters that “transcend partisan politics.”

“Being a statesman," he ventured, "it means sometimes taking transformational positions that are not always popular or at least not popular in your own party or (with) people that would support you or like you otherwise.”

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He said he hopes to continue that approach in the governor’s office. “I believe that Republicans and Democrats feel that there are things that we can agree on. I think all Montanans agree that our leaders need to work together when they can find consensus and they need to do it without compromising their ideals.

“That’s what I’ve been able to do” as attorney general, he said. “Will there be less room for agreement, perhaps, as governor? I think there will be plenty of opportunities to find a way forward.”

Asked whether he thought this call for consensus could win a primary, Fox replied, "I also have to lace it with some good red meat,” discussing his support for the Second Amendment and lawsuits against the Obama administration over the Clean Power Plan, transgender bathroom regulations and other matters.

When he launched his campaign, Fox told conservative radio host Aaron Flint in January that he looked forward to working with a Republican-held Legislature, and said that Gov. Steve Bullock has "thwarted some really conservative things that we've tried to do through the Legislature."

Fox was elected attorney general in 2012. He underwent treatment for colon cancer last year, and was declared cancer-free in September. “I had my six-month checkup in December and I had a clean bill of health,” he said. “I haven't felt better in years.”

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