Republican Attorney General Candidate Austin Knudsen Plans to Expand Failed Drug Control Policy Statewide

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Fake Uzi or not (it’s a MAC), anyone who believes they can prosecute their way out of a consumer-driven drug regime has spent the last 30 years with her/his eyes somewhere dark. Similarly to DIA’s and other LE’s claim that more and bigger seizures (and lowering street prices) means fewer drugs on the street has it exactly ass-backwards. Anyone who understands the rules of inference or even markets knows. But this is Montana . . .

  • At least he is concerned about it.

    The current solutions are a joke. For example, if you go to CVS to buy some Sudafed tablets they copy your DL, and enter it in a database, to make sure you aren’t buying out all the stores and cooking meth.

    The problem is that there are almost zero meth labs anymore, because there is an unlimited flow of pure meth rolling up I-90, from Mexico, and even though they stop a fair number of those vehicles, huge amounts roll right through, to eager consumers.

    It’s time to get serious. Meth producers, transporters, or pushers already are looking at 10 years in prison, and it’s not enough deterrent, so I’m thinking a tall tree, and a short rope in true frontier justice fashion.

    I haven’t looked at the crime statistics in Helena, which probably aren’t as bad as ours, but I’m guessing it’s changing life there too.

    • Literally everything about this comment is wrong.

      Even if I throw aside your notion of extra-constitutional murder as a solution to crime as hyperbole, the idea that we can punish our way out of this problem has been disproven over and over again.

      Knudsen might be concerned, but his approach has failed, not just in his county, but for decades.

      We need to elect someone to the AG’s office who understands that.

    • Anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows that even numbered interstates flow west to east. Odd numbered interstates flow south to north. So please tell me where I90 intersects with the Mexican border?

      • I-15 North to I-90.

        If you are doubting that Montana has a meth epidemic you are not worth having a conversation with.

        I’m quoting Sheriff Linder about the meth supply.

        30 years ago in Billings we might have had a shooting scrape, or drug deal gone bad every couple of months, now it’s almost a daily basis and we’re getting numbed to it.

        Maybe the ancient Chinese solution is the only way – eliminate the pushers, and the addicts.

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