If you want more failure in the effort to control the meth epidemic in Montana, look no further than the candidacy of Republican Austin Knudsen for Attorney General. In his announcement that he will file for the office, he told KGVO that he would double down on the failed law enforcement approach that has both failed to curb the use of meth and failed to address the crime that accompanies it.
In fact, crime has gotten worse under his watch.
From the interview:
“Mostly my experience in being County Attorney here in Roosevelt County,” began Knudsen. “I’ve really gotten a handle on the drug problems, specifically methamphetamine, how severe it is, and frankly how much it’s not being dealt with at the state level. That’s the biggest thing driving me to do this. I’ve been dealing with the meth problem over here for over a year and I think I understand it better than any of the other candidates. I’ve been very aggressive in prosecuting and dealing with it and I think that’s important when you’ve got a situation where violent crime has increased by 30 percent in the last five years.”
It’s hard to understand how Knudsen believes that his claim that violent crime has increased 30 percent over the past five years is an argument to elect him. Knudsen, who served as Speaker of the Montana House in both 2015 and 2017 before becoming Roosevelt County attorney, has served in two positions where he had the power to work on solutions to the meth problem—and failed in both.
In 2015, he introduced four bills, none of them related to meth or crime control. In 2015, he introduced two, one to give benefits to oil and gas companies and one to undermine public schools. The Speaker presided over two sessions as one of the most powerful figures in Montana politics and accomplished nothing legislatively to address what he now calls a crisis.
And he’s failed, by his own admission, as County Attorney. For all the “very aggressive” prosecution he boasts about, Knudsen has only made the problem worse. Roosevelt County is by far the most dangerous county in Montana, with a violent crime rate of 10.7 per 1,000 people.
The truth, of course, is that the reason violent crime has increased under Knudsen’s watch is that he’s wrong about how to solve the meth problem that fuels crime. Every bit of credible research in the past two decades has shown that a “lock ’em up” mentality will never solve the drug crisis in our country. Only a comprehensive approach that focuses on poverty, mental health, addiction services, and community health can put a dent in the meth crisis that is wracking some of Montana’s poorest communities.
More “aggressive prosecution” might seem like a policy answer for someone who poses with an Uzi to bolster his campaign, but it’s a recipe for a policy disaster in Montana.
The last thing Montana needs is an Attorney General who is more interested in macho posturing than in developing real solutions. We can’t afford to let Austin Knudsen take the failed policies he’s implemented in his own county and adopt them statewide.