Our Interview with Attorney General Candidate Raph Graybill, A Fierce Advocate for the Rights of All Montanans

Raph Graybill has a vision for the Attorney General that runs counter to the “law and order” talk that so often characterizes campaigns for the office. Eschewing the traditional approach of emphasizing the criminal enforcement side of the office, Graybill instead passionately argues that Montanans should see the Attorney General as their attorney, one charged with vindicating and defending the rights all Montanans enjoy under our constitution. From issues ranging from the right to privacy online and in our homes to prescription drug costs, Graybill argued that the Attorney General should be fighting for us.

In his interview with The Montana Post (available on all your favorite podcast sites), Graybill, who currently serves as chief legal counsel for Governor Bullock, laid out a role for the Attorney General centered around advocacy for the people of the state:

The Attorney General is the person who’s whose principal job is to take all of the rights and the protections that we have in the law now, in our state constitution, and on our state statutes and gives those rights and those protections meaning and force. And that means going to court, following through to make sure those rights mean something. You know, we have this very progressive, forward-looking state constitution that guarantees things like the right to privacy, the right to a clean and healthy environment, the right to individual dignity, the right to a quality public education. Those are all just words on paper unless you have an attorney general who’s willing to put their work, their effort there in the full force of the Department of Justice behind going to court to act, to advocate for those policies and to make sure that those rights are vindicated and reflected in the way we live our lives.

When asked why he decided to run for Attorney General, Graybill pointed to frustration that the current Attorney General Tim Fox was often taking positions at odds with the rights of Montanans.

The reason I ran for A.G. really is rooted in watching our current attorney general and the ways in which he has either chosen to sit out some really important legal fights that I think would have made a difference for Montanans or alternatively, the way that Tim Fox has been on the wrong side of some of those fights. And it was actually a fight over public land access that got me into this case. Well, I’ve actually gone to court and litigated to protect access to public lands. And unfortunately, the person I litigated against and fortunately ended up beating was our Attorney General, Tim Fox, who decided to make it harder for Montanans to access public lands and for farmers and ranchers to make their lands available for access in Montana. And it was the experience of having to litigate against my own attorney general over an issue that I think there was broad consensus on that got me thinking that… we can do better in this office and we can return advocacy to this office and use the law to make people’s lives better.

Given that Graybill has played a central role in helping the Governor’s team craft a response to the COVID-19 crisis, we spent time at the beginning of the interview talking about the executive orders to protect public health he helped craft:

It’s a high honor, but it’s also a very sobering task to be so involved in the COVID-19 response. I really commend Governor Bullock for his leadership and the things he has done to help slow the growth of infections here in Montana. And I know it’s early in the epidemiology to see precisely what the effect of the interventions will be, but I’m really proud that that at least initially, it seems that, in Montana we’ve gotten to before other states were able to. Meaning we’re sort of ahead of the curve on a lot of these issues. It’s a time of crisis, and fortunately, Montana law contemplates that crises will emerge and provides people like the governor with a range of tools to help reorder bits of state business to help make people’s lives safer.

Graybill also argued that the Attorney General could improve public health by challenging prescription drug companies:

A lot of people don’t know the outsize role that the attorney general could play but does not play when it comes to whether or not we’re treated fairly in the health care system and when it comes to the price we pay for prescription drugs. Attorneys general across the country have taken leading roles in making our law, making people’s lives better in a tangible way. But in Montana, we’ve been largely absent and the work we have done has largely been consigned to lending the name of Montana to some brief and some lawsuit that another state is doing. I think there are things that we could do on the health care issue in Montana as through the Attorney General’s office that would make a tremendous difference.

When asked how to balance the competing impulses between criminal law enforcement and rehabilitation, Graybill argued for addressing the problem holistically:

Law enforcement also requires a holistic view of the sort of way that crime is wrapped up into larger social forces. And I don’t mean to sound like a sociologist here, but a tremendous amount of the crime in Montana and Republicans agree with this, too, is driven by substance abuse. Well, you’re not just going to fix someone’s substance abuse problem, which has led to property crime or violent crime by tossing him in the can for some period of time and letting you back out with absolutely no support. One of my favorite endorsements is a guy named Craig, who is a former sheriff in eastern Montana. And the way he put it to me is when you’re talking about substance abuse in Montana, it’s a three-legged stool. Enforcement is obviously important. You know, if you pull someone over with 100 pounds of meth on I-90, as happened the week I was out there with him. That’s a serious violation of the criminal law, and there are appropriate tools for that. But there’s also treatment. There’s also prevention.

When asked about why he’s the strongest candidate for the race, Graybill argued that his commitment to progressive values will carry him to a win in the June primary and a victory in the fall:

Winning is about do you really have a statewide movement that can propel you to win in November? I think the other differentiator in this race is a bit harder. But I remember back in January and February before I’d gotten in the race hearing a lot from Representative Dudik about how in the early days of her campaign it was about continuing the good work of Tim Fox. And as recently as last month, we had a debate in Missoula where we talked. She talked about how Tim Fox, in her words, would be a great governor.

I really disagree with the way Tim Fox has been attorney general. I think he might be a nice guy. I have nothing against him personally, but I think Tim Fox has largely either sat out the fights that are important or taken the wrong side. I think I disagree with the way Tim Fox signed onto the brief for a 20-week abortion that I disagree with Tim Fox’s opposition to gay marriage and gay rights and the trans rights in Montana. And I think that Montana can do a heck of a lot better than Tim Fox and his politics. And I really felt that we needed a progressive voice in this race that was both consistent with progressive values and running the kind of race that could reach out to independents, reach out to moderates, bring them into our movement,  and keep [Republican AG candidate] Austin Knudsen from becoming the conservative activist attorney general. He promises to be.

For more, be sure to listen to the entire interview, in which Graybill expands on the state’s response to COVID-19 and the priorities he’d bring to the Attorney General’s office, including topics like voting rights and public schools.

You can listen here or anywhere you get podcasts.

For more information about Graybill and his campaign, be sure to visit his webpage, Facebook, or Twitter.

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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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