A conversation with Governor Steve Bullock '88 P'24

The same day that he announced a statewide directive requiring face coverings in Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock '88 P'24, shared his experience and lessons learned while governing his state during a global pandemic.

The virtual conversation with an audience of CMC alumni was hosted by CMC’s Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement on July 15. More than 200 alumni and parents joined the Zoom call from across the country.

The past four and a half months, the Governor acknowledged, “have been a blur.”

While he said there is no guidebook to managing the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bullock shared that he is focusing on “How we can do the best for our citizens and our economy.”

Bullock detailed how he made a set of decisions in March to guide Montana’s approach, including closing the state’s schools.

“A governor has lots of power under state laws,” Bullock said. “But more than me making these orders, Montanans took this seriously.”

Bullock majored in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics while at CMC and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1994. Currently in his second and final term as Governor, Bullock also served as Montana’s attorney general for four years prior to his gubernatorial election. In May 2019, he announced that he was running for President as a Democratic candidate. Bullock pulled out of the race in December 2019, and is now a candidate for U.S. Senate, running against incumbent Steve Daines, a Republican.

As the pandemic began to spread across the U.S., Bullock recalled he spent as much time “as a supply clerk as I did a governor, searching for N95 masks because the people on the front lines needed adequate protection.”

Bullock also set a goal to provide COVID-19 testing to vulnerable populations, such as residents of senior homes and Native American reservations.

“We learned how to manufacture our own swabs with 3D printers because we couldn’t get basic test kits,” he said. He also sought help from other governors, including those of neighboring states, taking advice on their states’ best practices and accepting donated supplies.

Bullock recalled how Jack Pitney, the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics,

who was Bullock’s senior thesis adviser, taught him about federalism. “And I do believe that good ideas come from the labs of democracies, also known as the states,” Bullock said.

While Bullock described his state as “generally Libertarian,” he’s a Democrat who managed to win re-election in the year President Donald Trump won the state by 20 points.

“As governor, if I don’t work with people who don’t share my views, I wouldn’t get things done,” Bullock explained. “Not everyone is going to agree with you. Buy a dog if you want a friend, because there is always going to be someone who will tell you that you haven’t done enough.”

Toward the end of the conversation, Bullock, whose oldest daughter will be a CMC freshman this fall, reminisced about his time at the College. The native Montanan had never visited the campus before showing up on the first day “wondering why the swimming pools were outside.”

“I got a great education at CMC, competing with the best and brightest all the way,” he said. Bullock added that he still keeps in touch with his classmates, as well as Prof. Pitney and a few of his other professors, whom he described as being supportive throughout his career in government.

Bullock strives to return the support he received.

“If a CMC student calls me, I’ll find a way to try to help them and have a conversation and see what I can do,” he said. “Because of what CMC and my classmates have given me, I also want to give back to anyone with that shared experience.”

The complete conversation is archived here.

- Anne Bergman