By AMY BETH HANSON, Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton on Wednesday became the first major candidate to enter the 2020 race for governor when he announced his second run for the office.
Stapleton finished second in 2012 to Rick Hill in a seven-candidate Republican primary.
Stapleton also ran for Montana's lone U.S. House seat in 2014, finishing second in a five-way primary to eventual winner Ryan Zinke.
"As governor, I'd like to lead the conversation on how we steer towards a Montana that has stronger families and higher wages, lower taxes and smaller government," Stapleton said in a statement. "I'll work with anyone and everyone to help get us there."
Current Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who won the general election in 2012 and 2016, is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.
Stapleton, 51, a U.S. Navy veteran and financial adviser from Billings, is trying to be the first Republican elected governor in the state since Judy Martz in 2000. He served in the state Senate from 2001 through 2008.
Stapleton was elected secretary of state in 2016 and says the office has reduced spending while increasing election security and making it easier for small businesses to operate.
In October, he was criticized for awarding a $265,000 contract to print a correction to the voter information pamphlet to a company owned by Jake Eaton, former executive director of the state Republican Party.
Stapleton also hired Eaton's wife, attorney Emily Jones, to defend the secretary of state's office in a ballot access lawsuit.
Stapleton said Eaton's company was the only one that could do the print job in time to get the information to voters using absentee ballots.
He defended hiring Jones in the Green Party ballot access case, saying he considered it a political case and wanted someone he could trust in the courtroom.
Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican who has said he's considering running for governor, fired back by saying Stapleton made a political decision and needlessly spent $60,000 on a case that he lost.
Stapleton's announcement about running for governor was sent by an employee of the secretary of state's office using a state email address.
State law prohibits public officers and employees from using public time, facilities, equipment, personnel or funds to solicit support for the nomination or election of any person to public office.
Stapleton did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment. He told Lee Newspapers of Montana via text that he wasn't concerned about the emailed announcement, saying it wasn't campaigning.