HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov.-elect Steve Bullock said he doesn't plan to make any big course corrections to the direction fellow Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer has steered the state for eight years but does want to make sure his own goals are reached.
"Gov. Schweitzer has done an amazing job and is a great person," Bullock said in a recent interview. "I will certainly bring my own style that is different than his. It will definitely be a different administration, and it is an administration that will hold the Main Street values of Montana."
Bullock, a Helena native, is preparing to move into a governor's mansion that he used to deliver newspapers to as a child.
The 46-year-old has risen quickly in Montana politics. He gained notoriety for leading a successful 2006 ballot initiative to raise the state's minimum wage and to tie future increases to inflation, a law whose effects was felt again on New Year's Day when the hourly wage went up another 15 cents to $7.80.
Bullock spent just one term as attorney general, where priorities included efforts to crack down on drunken driving and to fight legal attacks on the state's campaign finance laws. He beat Republican Rick Hill in the November election in a political year many had thought would favor the GOP.
He will be sworn into office on Monday and will hold an inauguration ball some time later in the month. Bullock will immediately begin work as lawmakers come to town with hundreds of bill proposals for the 2013 legislative session.
Like Schweitzer has in past sessions, Bullock will be negotiating his priorities with a Legislature run by Republicans who have some different priorities — especially on nitty-gritty details of taxation and spending.
Republicans are staking out big issues that include promotion of energy development and revamping school funding. There will be more than $400 million of projected surplus for both sides to fight over.
Bullock has already met with Republican legislative leaders in hopes that partisan tensions don't flare up as frequently — or as aggressively — as they have in recent years. But he said also wants to make sure that Republicans know he won't be a pushover if the legislative agenda swerves away from core issues of jobs, improved education funding and delivering a balanced budget.
"If you want to meet me halfway, then you will find a governor that will meet you halfway," Bullock said. "If what you are doing is about establishing gold standards and things like that, you will get a veto."
Bullock said his campaign pledge for tax rebates and reduced business equipment taxes remains a priority as he makes adjustments to Schweitzer's proposed budget. Bullock plans to release his own budget proposal to give lawmakers soon.
He said he has no plans to push gun rights or gun control issues since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Some are calling for stricter gun control, while gun advocates want other measures such as arming teachers or guards in schools.
Bullock isn't rushing to embrace either as a solution.
"I am hopeful positive things come out of what is a national tragedy," Bullock said. "Certainly, access to firearms is part of the discussion, but there are other aspects of that discussion, such as mental illness and how we enforce the laws that are currently on the books."
Bullock said a successful session will include investment in education and the "jobs of the future," implementation of his tax cut plans and other priorities.