Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday appointed Lt. Gov. John Walsh to serve out the term of Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who will be the next U.S. ambassador to China.
Bullock vowed that fellow Democrat Walsh will "represent the values Montanans hold important."
Walsh, 53, already was running for the seat, as Baucus initially had planned not to seek re-election this year. Democrats, desperate to hang onto the seat, are hoping the exposure Walsh will receive from his interim appointment will boost his election chances in November. Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and political newcomer Dirk Adams also are running for the Democratic nomination.
Freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Daines is the early front-runner for the Republican bid.
State law leaves the decision of an interim appointment to the governor, without any mention of how to go about doing it.
"I wanted to appoint someone who I truly believed would wake up each and every day wanting to put Montana and Montanans first," Bullock said in a news conference to announce the appointment.
Walsh suggested that he won't get tangled in the bitter partisanship that has wracked Capitol Hill recently.
"Growing up in Butte, I learned from early on that this nation was built by people working together — regardless of what they believe," he said. "That’s why I believe this isn’t about party — it’s about having leaders who will put Montana first."
Walsh served in the Montana National Guard for 33 years, rising to the rank of adjutant general before retiring in 2012. He led combat operations in the Iraq war, earning the Bronze Star.
But he has received some negative attention recently amid reports that he was reprimanded in 2010 by the U.S. Army for pressuring Montana National Guard troops to join the National Guard Association of the United States, a private association for which he was seeking a leadership position, according to the Associated Press. Walsh has since said that he acted in the best interest of the organization.
The Senate on Thursday confirmed Baucus' nomination 96-0. The Montanan had served in the Senate since 1978 and spent the past seven years as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is expected to take over control of the panel.