HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday he told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid it was "none of your damn business" who the Democratic governor appointed to fill Montana's vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Refuting claims by state Republican Party officials that his appointment of John Walsh last week was a ploy to give Democrats an advantage in retaining the seat in November's election, Bullock said he spoke with no other senators, White House officials or political party officials.
Bullock appointed Walsh to the seat a day after the Senate confirmed longtime Montana Democrat Max Baucus as the U.S. ambassador to China. Walsh is running to keep the seat in this year's election, where he will likely face Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.
Bullock said Reid called him before Baucus' nomination was made public to weigh in on who should serve the rest of Baucus' term.
"I said, 'It's none of your damn business,' " Bullock said.
Asked to elaborate, Bullock said, "I said, 'It's none of your business what I do and, respectfully, you are not part of state government. I am the governor, and this is the decision that I make.' "
Reid's press office did not immediately return a call for comment. Bullock declined to say who Reid had recommended for the appointment.
Montana Republican Party officials and GOP legislative leaders had called for an open process in selecting Baucus' replacement. Bullock deflected those requests, citing Montana law that leaves the decision to him alone.
Bullock interviewed no candidates, and he said he informed Walsh of his decision the day before his announcement.
Bullock said the last 10 Senate appointments from other states followed a similar process, and he did not want this appointment to become a three-ring circus that distracted him from governing.
"This isn't 'American Idol.' This is a very important decision to be made," Bullock said.
He also brushed off Montana Republican Party officials who labeled the appointment a "backroom deal" with officials in Washington, D.C.
"I'm not surprised the Republican Party disagrees that I appointed somebody to a seat that has been held by Democrats for 100 years, but it doesn't alter or change the fact that I made the right decision," Bullock said.
Republican Party Executive Director Bowen Greenwood said Bullock is now just trying to save face amid criticism about the appointment. The party and GOP leaders had called for an open selection process that interviewing candidates or allowing more public participation, he said.
"We think calling for openness and transparency is good citizenship, not partisanship," Greenwood said.