By Josh Margolis
HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – Republicans from Hill and Blaine County hosted their annual Lincoln-Reagan fundraising dinner on Sunday night at the Duck Inn Olympic Room in Havre.
Attorney General Austin Knudsen provided the keynote speech.
Knudsen spoke for just over 18 minutes and began his speech by saying “it’s great being the most hated man in Helena,” and took pride in his litigation work.
The Attorney General touted his involvement in fighting four different federal government vaccine mandates, three of which have been struck down.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed the CMS Healthcare Worker vaccine mandate to be enforced while litigation continues.
“That’s where we are right now, literally,” said Knudsen. “The litigation is still ongoing. We’ve got an appeal in the 5th circuit, and we’ve got an appeal in the 6th circuit in front of a really really good Trump federal judge in Florida. But, lots of wrangling on this case, lots of legal procedures. We’re trying to get back onto the District Court level with an amended complaint, get that back in front of our District judge. But the 5th circuit has got us a little jammed up. So my point, this case is not over. We’re still fighting this case. I truly think the U.S. Supreme Court is gonna have no choice but to look at the constitution, look at what Joe Biden has done in this case, and say ‘this power doesn’t exist. You do not have the power to order this huge sector of our economy, healthcare workers, to get this mandate. So we’re still fighting that one tooth and nail.”
Knudsen touted his work dealing with the increase in drug trafficking and violent offenses in the state, claiming that 100 percent of the meth and fentanyl in Montana is coming from the Mexican drug cartel crossing the southern U.S. border.
Knudsen urged those in attendance at the sold out dinner to pay close attention to the upcoming judicial races in the 2022 election. Knudsen called out two of Montana’s Supreme Court Justices by name.
“Please, please pay attention. Judge Ingrid Gustafson is up. Hardcore leftist. She’s done a tremendous amount of damage to the judiciary and our criminal court system. Literally releasing criminals back on the streets. And there is no nice way for me to put that. We’ve also got Jim Rice is up. I could go on about him. He had some choice things to say about me in a few opinions. But former Republican legislator who I think now has Stockholm syndrome. Been on the Court for a long time and he just goes with the Democrats on the Court. Again, there’s just no nice way to say that.”
A request for comment to the Montana Supreme Court was not immediately responded to.
Knudsen spoke with New Media Broadcasters on Monday morning and defended his remarks.
“Regarding Justice Gustafson, she’s issued a number of very troubling opinions, just from a criminal procedure standpoint. It gets a little wonky and I don’t want to get too wonky. But as a former prosecutor, you’ve got certain criminal procedures that are in place in rule and have been for a long time. And she’s quietly kind of been upending these things with court opinions and she’s getting her colleagues to go along with them for sure. But very, very concerning to corrections professionals, to prosecution professionals. We’re talking about time served for criminals, frankly. When they are charged in multiple jurisdictions, she’s basically turned that whole traditional scheme on its ear, which creates a real conundrum for the corrections industry. Again, it gets fairly wonky, but she’s issued a number of these opinions that are quite, quite troubling. I think it comes to the fact there that you’ve got a Justice there in Ingrid Gustafson that truly does not believe in incarceration, she does not believe in the criminal justice system. She thinks we’re going to treat our way out of our drug problem. Treatment is great when you’ve got someone who wants treatment. But the fact is when you’ve got criminals that don’t want treatment and they just want more methamphetamine, treatment is not going to work for that person and they are probably going to need some jail time.
My comments about Justice Rice: again, he’s been on the bench for a long time. This was a Justice who was a former Republican legislator years ago. And the longer he’s been on the Supreme Court, the worse his decisions have gotten. He’s gotten further and further left and votes with the left that’s on the court. I think his court opinions speak for themselves. So that’s the impetus for my comments.”
According to the Secretary of State’s website, Gustafson is the only candidate to file so far for her seat on the Supreme Court, while no candidates have filed for Rice’s seat.
Montana Supreme Court elections are non-partisan, and Knudsen told New Media Broadcasters he is not concerned about his comments making the court politicized.
“The Montana Supreme Court has been politicized for a long time. I think we’re seeing more of a spotlight put on it now because we have had some high profile cases go before them. And look, the Democrat party and liberals in Montana used to have a buffer in the Governor that would veto legislation. They don’t have that anymore. So more and more conservative legislation is making it through the legislative process. The Governor is signing these things into law and kind of the last holdout for the Democrat party is to run to the courts and have their buddies on the court take care of it for them. That’s what we’re seeing. So unfortunately, that means there is more of a spotlight put on the Montana Supreme Court. They are going to have to make some tough decisions on some of these cases. They’re actually going to have to decide them. Where as before, I think they were kind of able to fly under the radar and avoid a lot of these real controversial issues.”
Senate District 14
One piece of news that came out of Sunday’s dinner is that there will be a contested primary for Senate District 14, which represents large portions of Hill, Liberty, and Chouteau County, as well as a small part of Cascade County.
Steve Chvilicek, a self-employed business owner who was born and raised north of Hingham, spoke briefly at Sunday’s dinner.
“I want to take my life to the next level. I feel like I’m not done pushing. I want to take care of people that are in District 14 with agriculture and running the small business. I believe in the constitution. I want freedom. I’m pro-life. I love guns. I believe in God and I have faith. One thing that I’ve tried to instill in our family is (to) know the difference between right and wrong. And viewing things as an opportunity, not a problem. So that’s what I’m going to take to Helena.”
Prior to Chvilecek’s official announcement, incumbent Russ Tempel spoke to the crowd.
Tempel said he has had to learn a lot about Chronic Wasting Disease and Invasive Mussels and has worked to mitigate their impacts.
He was one of many local legislators to express his appreciation to voters for electing a Republican governor in 2020.
“This last session, we were able to pick up bills that we could not pass for 16 years. And a number of them we would pass in the House and Senate, they would hit the governor’s office and get vetoed. This time, we fixed some of those bills up. And believe it or not, they hit the governor’s office and got signed. We (passed) I think it was six or seven voting bills that tighten up the voting thing where there was a lot of leeway. So those bills covered some of the voting issues.”
There are no Democrats currently entered in the race.
Other Local and Statewide Candidates
A number of other public officials and/or candidates spoke at the dinner, including Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci, Congressman Matt Rosendale, one of his primary opponents in James Boyette, Congressional Candidate Ryan Zinke, and State Legislators Casey Knudsen, Ed Hill, and Josh Kassmier, Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean, and Blaine County Commission candidate Shane Fox.
U.S. Senator Steve Daines and Governor Greg Gianforte were expected to also speak, but did not make it to the dinner. A staffer for Daines read a letter penned by the Senator on his behalf.
State Legislator Mike Lang was also unable to attend, and Hill County Republican Chair Andrew Brekke read a letter he provided.