The former chair of the Montana Republican Party filed as a Libertarian for this year’s U.S. Senate race Wednesday, citing differences with leaders of her former party and concerns about toxicity of today’s partisan politics.
Lewis and Clark County Commission Chair Susan Good Geise, 70, of Augusta, announced her last-minute candidacy on KCAP radio Wednesday morning. Geise says she was selected by the Libertarian Party Tuesday to replace Eric Fulton of Bozeman, who withdrew on the last day of regular filing. Because he withdrew, the Libertarians had until Wednesday to nominate a replacement.
Geise said in an interview with the Independent Record that she became concerned by allegations from Libertarians (to Montana News Network) that Fulton was linked to Republicans and that his filing and then dropping out was a possible political move to keep the Libertarians from fielding a candidate. Third-party candidates can draw votes from the major parties, with the Green Party seen as siphoning votes from Democrats while Libertarians, who are qualified to appear on the ballot already, can take votes that might otherwise go to Republicans.
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“It didn’t smell quite right to me,” she said. “I have read the allegations, I don’t have any facts about it and I hope that’s not true, that this individual was a Republican and it was maybe a tactic, or what I might call a dirty trick, so that suddenly the Libertarians would have no one.”
Fulton previously ran as a Republican for the Legislature, but said in an email he chose to withdraw after Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, entered the race to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines. Green Party candidates Wendie Fredrickson of Helena and Dennis Daneke of Lolo are also running.
Fulton said he intended to run on limiting domestic surveillance and the national debt, but felt his platform would be “drastically reduced” by Bullock’s candidacy. He also reconsidered the time and effort needed to run a campaign, he said.
Geise has served on the Lewis and Clark County Commission as a Republican since 2013, although she led the recent charge to make the commission elections nonpartisan in the future, and announced she would not run again. She served as chair of the Montana GOP in the 1990s and also as a state lawmaker from Great Falls roughly 30 years ago.
The current tenor of partisan politics, including rhetoric of the high-profile race between Bullock and Daines, also motivated her to run.
“I have grandchildren and I want them to live in a nation of laws and I fear that partisan politics has devolved into tribalism,” Geise said. “It is not healthy, it is dangerous and we need to step back from this precipice and I am willing to go up against a sitting United States senator, and a sitting two-term governor to stop this madness.”
Geise indicated she has felt alienated by her former party and disagrees with its current direction under the Trump administration.
“I want to be very clear, the Republicans and I have been unhappy with each other for a very long time, certainly since the 2016 election,” she said. “I have urged Republicans for years to clean our house, clean our house, don’t do this, don’t become a part of a cult. Apparently 94% of Republicans support President Trump. I don’t.”
Geise said she has raised concerns with the party and believes she has been singled out for the criticism.
“It was made pretty clear to me by, I’m a 'RINO' (Republican in Name Only), the president calls me human scum and nobody likes to hear that because I’ve been a faithful Republican since 1988,” she said. “I have elected dozens and dozens if not a hundred Republicans to elected office. I have invested my life to this and I feel that the Republican leadership profanes what we used to stand for and I can’t stomach it.”
The Montana Republican Party responded to Geise’s entry into the race and criticism of the party.
“The Montana Republican Party's mission is to support Republican candidates from the top of the ticket to the bottom, and our Chairman, Don "K", has been incredibly successful in uniting and energizing Republicans across Montana for the 2020 election,” party spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke said in a statement.
“We proudly support President Trump and Senator Daines, as do a majority of Montanans, because we can count on them to preserve our freedoms and liberties and protect our treasured way of life.”
Geise was particularly critical of Daines’ use of tele-town halls, believing he should spend more time meeting face to face with constituents by offering in-person town halls.
“Every Tuesday and Thursday my colleagues and I sit in our chairs in the county commission chambers and we meet with the public face to face,” she said. “We disappoint people, we anger people from time to time, but we meet with people face to face, regularly scheduled televised public meetings. If I as a 70-year-old slow woman am willing to put myself out there meeting the public, I don’t know why Sen. Daines doesn’t have the guts to do that because I do.”
Daines’ campaign responded Wednesday, saying, “The Senator loves visiting and hearing from Montanans of all perspectives – it's what he does every day in his job and will continue to do.”
Geise is unsure given the newness of her candidacy how she will campaign but says she will rely on creativity. She hopes to participate in the debates and says she wants to be “respectful and truthful” in her outreach to voters.
Lee Newspapers' state reporter Holly Michels contributed to this story.