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Montana attorney general Knudsen announces reelection bid

Austin Knudsen
Posted at 10:00 PM, Nov 06, 2023

HELENA — Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen says he believes he’s made his office a leader on the national level, and he says he wants to continue that work with another four-year term.

Knudsen, a Republican, told MTN he’s going to file campaign paperwork this week to run for reelection.

“I like what I'm doing in the attorney general's office,” he said. “We've done some really exciting things –we're pushing back really hard on fentanyl, on methamphetamine – and we're making good headway. And I want to keep moving in that direction.”

Knudsen said, as attorney general, he’s focused on making the Montana Department of Justice more aggressive – both in its response to public safety issues and in its involvement with federal lawsuits, pushing back against the Biden administration. He said, if he’s reelected, he wants to continue prioritizing a strong response to drugs and violent crime – and that Montanans will see him as the “law and order” candidate.

“I want to get us out of this kind-of-1991 law enforcement mentality that I think still kind of pervades in Montana,” he said. “It's 2023, we've got a lot of stuff going on, we've got a lot of new threats coming into the country and coming into the state, and I think we need to respond to those.”

Knudsen was elected attorney general in 2020. Prior to that, he served as Roosevelt County attorney for two years. He had previously spent eight years in the Montana House, including two terms as speaker.

Knudsen told MTN a lot of people approached him about running for other offices in 2024, including U.S. Senate and U.S. House, but that he never seriously considered it.

As Knudsen begins his reelection campaign, he is currently facing a formal complaint, accusing him of professional misconduct for his handling of a dispute between the Montana Legislature and the state judicial branch. The complaint claims he and other DOJ lawyers undermined public confidence in the judiciary through their actions.

Knudsen called the complaint “frivolous and silly,” and said he expected his opponents to bring it up during the campaign, but he didn’t believe it would be a big issue for voters. He told MTN the dispute between the two branches was an unprecedented situation, and he stood by his contention that members of the judiciary had made mistakes.

“I think hindsight is always useful, and in hindsight, I think maybe some cooler heads would have probably helped a little bit, but I'm still really passionate about the issue,” he said. “I think the judiciary does have some problems here, I think they probably overstepped a little bit, I think the Legislature was right to assert its authority.”

So far, one candidate has announced they’re challenging Knudsen. Ben Alke, a Bozeman attorney, has filed as a Democrat. He told MTN earlier this year that he’s running for attorney general because Knudsen has politicized the office.