Yesterday, the Montana Supreme Court decided 6-1 in favor of Governor Steve Bullock’s lawsuit against Attorney General Tim Fox, giving a major victory for landowners, hunters, and anglers. Only the bought and paid for dark money Justice Laurie McKinnon was on Tim Fox’s side.
In October of this year, at the request of Republican extremists, Tim Fox issued his Attorney General opinion that prevented Fish Wildlife and Parks from approving conservation easements without Land Board approval. An AG Opinion is considered law until a court overturns it.
This opinion effectively tied the hands of the Habitat Montana Program, a program Republicans have tried to repeatedly destroy and even froze its funds for conservation easements in 2015. Fox’s opinion put him in charge of FWP’s “Hen House” over Bullock and allowed the Republican members of the Land Board to vote down any conservation projects—effectively controlling the Habitat Montana Program.
Governor Bullock and his Chief Legal Counsel, Raph Graybill, quickly filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Fox’s opinion and asked the Montana Supreme Court to overturn it.
Last week, Attorney Graybill skillfully argued in front of the Montana Supreme Court that Tim Fox’s opinion overstepped the role of the Attorney General and needlessly created bureaucratic red tape for FWP and the Habitat Montana Program. Graybill tore apart Tim Fox’s argument that the Land Board had to approve all “land acquisitions” arguing that the state is not actually purchasing land when it acquires conservation easements. As a member of the Land Board for past 6 years, Tim Fox should have know this.
Attorney General Fox’s purposefully incorrect interpretation of the laws governing conservation easements was meant to do nothing more than the bidding of his Republican party and take away authority from Governor Bullock. But, the Montana Supreme Court agreed that Bullock was correct and that, well, Tim Fox is not a great legal mind and is merely a Republican Party hack.
Did Tim Fox think this move to take away the Governor’s authority and block public access easements would fend off a right-wing primary challenger in his bid for Governor? Probably. But the move backfired and showed how inept Fox is as a lawyer and how ineffective he is as a leader.
But out of this lawsuit, a possible 2020 candidate for Attorney General might have emerged. Raph Graybill.
Bullock’s Chief Legal counsel absolutely destroyed Attorney General Fox and his army of DOJ lawyers. Graybill was born and raised in Great Falls. Since coming on board with Bullock, Graybill has helped Bullock draft his executive orders that protected net neutrality and required companies to disclose their political donations when bidding on state contracts. Graybill also assisted Bullock in his recent lawsuit against the IRS to block their decision to no longer require non-profits, like the Koch Brother’s Americans for Prosperity, to disclose their donors.
Graybill understands what Montanans want from their government, someone who fights for them. Montanans want elected officials to defend their rights, their privacy, and jobs over the special interests of corporations. Raph Graybill will be someone to watch in the upcoming Legislative Session and throughout his continued work with Governor Bullock.