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'I've Been Able To Bridge Divides' Says 2020 Democrat Steve Bullock


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're starting the program today with Steve Bullock. If the name is not familiar, he hopes it will be soon. He is the governor of Montana. And last week, he joined the 21 other Democrats plus one independent who want to take on President Trump in 2020. And Governor Bullock is with us today in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Welcome. Thank you so much for coming.

STEVE BULLOCK: It's great to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So there's the substance of your message, and then there's the politics. So why don't we take the substance first? What's your elevator pitch to voters? What have you accomplished in Montana that you think you can take nationwide?

BULLOCK: Yeah. And in Montana, which is a deeply divided state - I mean, 60% Republican legislature - we expanded Medicaid for 10% of my population - 100,000 folks. We've actually made record investments in education. We passed one of the most progressive laws when it comes to getting dark money out of our elections and making elections about people not others. And we've been able to do all this by bringing people together. That and more - a frozen college tuition, trying to make college more affordable.

MARTIN: What do you think you add to this race, to the Democratic field, that isn't already there?


MARTIN: Because there are already a number of candidates who think...

BULLOCK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...Who are from the West...


MARTIN: ....Who have a record of accomplishment, who think that they can appeal to a broad range of voters. So what do you think you add to the race that isn't already there?

BULLOCK: No, you bet. And why would I be the 37th or 24th (laughter) candidate or whatever it is? And I just got in now because I literally signed my last bill on Monday and had a job to do, getting Medicaid expansion and other things reauthorized. So I think I bring to the race - I think I'm probably the only one in the race that actually won in a Trump state. I mean, I got reelected in 2016. Donald Trump took Montana by 20 points. I won by four. Twenty-five to 30% of my voters voted for Donald Trump. And that's not, for me, changing who I am. I think I add to the race inasmuch as that people want government to function. I've been able to bridge divides in a very partisan time and get Republicans and Democrats to work with me to try to improve people's lives.

MARTIN: I think Joe Biden thinks the same. I mean, the former Vice President Joe Biden, who, obviously, has broad name recognition, you know, everywhere, who has been elected many times in his own right, never ran successfully for president. But I think he could argue that he ran successfully in Trump states - states that became Trump states - twice. And in addition to that, he's raising millions of dollars on his past name recognition. How are you going to compete with that?

BULLOCK: Well - and I think I'll compete by getting out there, by talking to folks like I always do. I think I've also done more on sort of the original sin of where we are in a post-Citizens United world, getting rid of dark money and the outside influences of dollars. When laws are literally written now to make donors happy, we've got a problem.

MARTIN: We do know that voters are very concerned about health care. We certainly saw that in the midterm elections. And you recently expanded Medicaid in your state - something that you've just mentioned.

BULLOCK: We got it reauthorized, yeah.

MARTIN: But you haven't publicly supported single-payer health care. That seems to be a very popular position in the Democratic Party now, along with the Green New Deal. What is your position on single-payer and the Green New Deal?

BULLOCK: You bet. You bet. First, starting, like, everyone should have access to health care. And it should be affordable. And that is what I've been working on in Montana, both through Medicaid expansion, through high-risk pools, through other things. And I think that you can get to universal accessibility and affordability in a way that isn't necessarily Medicare for all because you'd be disrupting - I don't know - 155 million people that have employer-sponsored health care. You do it by having a public option, no Medicare buy-in. It's about time when we can negotiate prescription drug prices with the biggest payer, which is Medicare. But it's that corrupting dollars that keep us out of that.

If you look at the 25 million people that don't have any health care right now, about half of it could be automatically enrolled if we could have Medicaid everywhere or even that they'd be eligible for the full subsidies on the exchange. I mean, there are ways to get to access and affordability without full disruption of the existing system that we have.

MARTIN: You do get the sense from Democratic voters that what they really care about is beating Donald Trump in 2020. And they all say or they say in various ways that they're looking for somebody who's - not only inspires them but who they think has the ability to take on Donald Trump and win. And you point to your record with being persuasive in a state where voters like Donald Trump. But what do you say to people who say, no, I want somebody who can take the fight to him? Why are you that guy?

BULLOCK: Well, I think you can - you know, you don't have to out-Trump (ph) Trump to win. You can do it in a way that wouldn't embarrass your kids and your grandkids. And you can stay consistent with your values in a way that can actually elevate the system not further bring it down. So from that perspective, I think I could absolutely beat Donald Trump and stand up to him but in a way that's, hopefully, going to - this 243-year experiment called representative democracy - add to it not further dilute it or destroy it.

MARTIN: Well, what's your evidence that that can be done? I mean, what is your evidence that you can?

BULLOCK: What's the evidence that I could beat Donald Trump?


BULLOCK: (Laughter) Well, I think there's 37 people trying to figure out how they can do it right now.

MARTIN: And to that point...


MARTIN: I did want to ask you about that. What do you think - does it say something that there are, at the moment, two dozen candidates in the Democratic field? I mean, does that say anything about - does it say anything about the party? Does it say something?

BULLOCK: Well, I think it says that there's a whole lot of energy and engagement to make sure that this guy isn't reelected come 2020. And that is goal number one. And for folks that say, all right, we have to bring back some of the voters that voted with us, well, I've done that. I've won in some of the difficult places. When you talk about actually standing up with records, so many of the things that we're talking about in this field of 35 I've had direct influence and impact on as governor.

MARTIN: And finally, you've rejected the possibility of a Senate run, OK? And this has inspired, as I understand it - the Senate minority leader from New York, Chuck Schumer, has been aggressively trying to recruit candidates to take on these Senate races because the Democrats would very much like to take back the Senate. What do you say to people who say - forgive me, I'll just be blunt...

BULLOCK: No, sure.

MARTIN: ...That it's just selfish? It's just selfish to run for president as a longshot when you would have a very good chance...


MARTIN: ...Of taking a seat in the Senate and helping the Democrats enact the policy goals that you say you support. What do you say to that?

BULLOCK: Sure, Michel. I have no doubt we're going to have some real strong candidates in 2020 to run against Senator Daines, and I'll support them every step of the way. But for me, this was never a either/or. I want to give where I think I can give best. I mean, I've - I and my family have given for the last decade in public office. And there's some sacrifices there as well. So, hopefully, people wouldn't view it as selfish. They'd view it as, this is where Bullock's passion lies and where Bullock thinks he can make a meaningful, meaningful difference. I've never served in a legislative role. That doesn't mean that - you know, that I or others couldn't be good. But I know that we'll have good candidates there, and I'll do everything I can to make sure they win.

MARTIN: That is the governor of Montana, Democratic presidential hopeful Steve Bullock. He was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C., as he rolls out his presidential campaign.

Governor Bullock, thank you so much for talking to us. I hope we'll talk again.

BULLOCK: Thanks for having me, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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