Gov. Steve Bullock Friday released nearly 400 pages of emails from his private account, revealing more details about his schism with former Lt. Gov. Angela McLean.
But the emails primarily confirmed what the Bullock administration and previously released email documents from state accounts revealed last December: That the pair had a falling out, which led to Bullock considering whether to find a new running mate in 2016 and freezing McLean out of key meetings and initiatives.
One of the emails released Friday, from McLean to Bullock, seemed to pinpoint what sparked the souring of their professional relationship: A “conversation in December” 2014.
Bullock, however, declined to discuss the subject of that conversation and McLean also declined to comment.
“I can’t interpret her emails for you,” Bullock said in a written response to MTN News on Friday. “And generally I think it’s wrong to start discussing private conversations in public.”
McLean, chosen by Bullock as his lieutenant governor in February 2014, unexpectedly announced last November that she was quitting to take a new job with the state university system.
McLean’s reference to the December 2014 conversation came in a May 20 email last year to the governor, after she’d been told by staffers that Bullock was considering a new running mate for the 2016 election. In Montana, the governor and lieutenant governor run as a single ticket.
“From what I understand, this goes back to our conversation in December,” McLean wrote. “I am deeply saddened that you weren’t able to bring this conversation (about a running mate) to me personally.
“ … I guess I am learning that ambition is a funny thing and realizing the full consequences of standing up for what you believe is right. It really is the hardest thing.”
Four months later, a Bullock aide told McLean that if she decided to stay in her job, that she should “imagine a workplace (where) the governor took away my initiatives and my ability to serve the citizens of Montana,” she wrote in an Oct. 2 email to the governor.
A month later, she would apply for the job of director of American Indian and minority achievement at the state university system. She was hired in late November, and on Nov. 30, she announced her resignation as lieutenant governor.
Bullock and McLean initially deflected media questions about a rift between them. But emails from McLean’s and the governor’s state email accounts released Dec. 11, at the request of MTN News, revealed the deterioration in their professional relationship.
MTN News and two other news organizations, The Associated Press and Lee Newspapers, then asked for emails from the private accounts of the governor and key staffers, arguing that public business discussed on those accounts should be public information.
MTN News asked for emails from June 2015-October 2015; at least one of the other organizations asked for emails going back three years, to the beginning of the Bullock administration in 2013.
Andrew Huff, the governor’s chief legal counsel, said Friday he spent at least 150 hours going through the governor’s private-account emails, to find ones that included discussion of public business.
The governor’s office did not release emails from the private accounts of key staffers.
A spokeswoman for the governor told MTN News that neither the state constitution nor the law allowed access to private emails of a governor’s staffer – but that the governor chose to allow access to his private account “because of his strong belief in transparency.”
On many of the emails, Bullock, McLean and his staffers discussed a variety of political issues or official business, such as the 2015 Medicaid expansion bill, state rules on outfitters, the bill closing the Montana Developmental Center, the governor’s education initiatives and a crisis involving crops on Montana State University property.
The emails also revealed a convivial, chatty relationship between McLean and Bullock during the first nine months after she was appointed lieutenant governor in February 2014.
Bullock referred to her as “LG extraordinaire” in a May 2014 email and she called him “the greatest Governor Ever in the Milky Way” in a November 2014 email about his education initiatives. McLean is a former high school teacher and had been involved in education policy.
But emails indicated that the relationship turned chilly in 2015. After learning that Bullock might want a new running mate, McLean said on May 28 that she wanted a decision made soon, before any more fundraising for 2016 election occurred – but that she hoped they could still “move forward as a team.”
The governor and top aide David Parker then met with McLean on Sept. 27, according to her email of Oct. 2, and told her they didn’t think she could be “happy in (her) job.” Another email from McLean in October indicated that she had been locked out of her official lieutenant governor Twitter account.
Bullock staffers told MTN News last December that the hardening attitude toward McLean came after they learned she was considering challenging Bullock in the 2016 Democratic primary election.
McLean has not commented on this allegation.
Bullock appointed former state Sen. Mike Cooney of Helena as his new lieutenant governor in December. Bullock and Cooney are running as a team for election this year.