Following the 2016 election, a person could reasonably have offered up the contention that Montana elected the worst trio of Tier B office holders since the 1972 convention. We somehow managed to elect a Superintendent of Public Instruction, Elsie Arntzen, who has command of neither language nor policy. We elected a State Auditor and Insurance Commissioner, Matt Rosendale, who seems not to believe that he should physically have to go to work or that Montanans should have insurance.
But for sheer, mind-blowing, unbridled incompetence, it’s hard to imagine anyone topping Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who, in his effort to turn his office into the headquarters of his next failed campaign for governor, has sullied his office and infuriated stakeholders who have seen him undermine elections, waste state resources, and complicate the business functions he promised to streamline.
Stapleton’s latest folly—his unconstitutional effort to override a governor’s veto by bureaucratic fiat—has all the hallmarks of a Stapleton decision. Most typically, it was self-aggrandizing. The same Secretary of State who hired his friends to run a failed, expensive legal defense against the wishes of the elected Attorney General, simply gave himself powers his office doesn’t hold.
Second, it was a transparently self-serving effort to draw attention to himself for political gain. While the attention of the Montana political world was focused on the old news (to readers of this blog, at least) that Greg Gianforte was close to announcing another bid for governor, Stapleton and his chief advisor surely felt the time was right to bring attention to himself. What’s always amazed me about Stapleton, though, is that he doesn’t seem to care what kind of attention he gets, as long as he gets it. In this case, like his absurd defense of the Green Party or his embarrassing contradictions on Montana’s election security, Stapleton just wants to be noticed, and he doesn’t seem to notice that we’re laughing at him.
Finally, and perhaps more significantly, he’s just wrong. Perhaps dreaming of being in the big chair he’ll never sit in, Stapleton gave himself big powers to block a gubernatorial veto, a power his office surely was never meant to have. As chief legal counsel for Governor Bullock, Raph Graybill noted:
“The Constitution is clear — the veto is effective when the governor’s pen touches the paper,” he said.
Section 10. Veto power. (1) Each bill passed by the legislature, except bills proposing amendments to the Montana constitution, bills ratifying proposed amendments to the United States constitution, resolutions, and initiative and referendum measures, shall be submitted to the governor for his signature. If he does not sign or veto the bill within 10 days after its delivery to him, it shall become law. The governor shall return a vetoed bill to the legislature with a statement of his reasons therefor.
It’s bad enough that Stapleton can’t manage the basic functions of his office, but even more upsetting that he is attempting to parlay his incompetence into political gain. I’m still expecting Stapleton to seriously consider slinking back into a bid for Secretary of State when even his own overpowering sense of self can’t outweigh the reality of his dim electoral prospects against Attorney General Tim Fox and Greg Gianforte, but no matter which office he ends up running for, let’s not forget that, bad as he is at politics, he’s even worse at holding office.