Raph Graybill Is Running To Be A Better Attorney General For Montana
Graybill’s experience with suing the state’s current AG, Tim Fox, to protect a land easement program “really pushed me over the edge,” he told The Appeal.
After spending the past three years doing the job he feels his state’s attorney general should be doing, Raph Graybill of Great Falls, Montana, decided it was time to run for the job himself.
The case that “really pushed me over the edge,” Graybill said, happened in 2018 when Graybill, representing the state in his role as chief legal counsel to Governor Steve Bullock, went to court against Attorney General Tim Fox to protect a land easement program that pays for public access and curbs development on private land in the state.
“It was really that experience of having to sue our own state’s attorney general that got me thinking, ‘We can do better in this job,’” Graybill told The Appeal.
The land conservation case is one of several examples in which Graybill says he had to “step up where our attorney general has not.” Graybill has also defended a temporary ban on flavored e-cigarettes against a challenge from the state’s tobacco industry. He partnered with Governor Bullock in a successful lawsuit against the IRS to reinstate disclosure rules on “dark money” funding political campaigns. And he has sought to keep a state tax credit program from being used to encourage taxpayers to fund private religious schools, though he lost the Supreme Court case.
Most recently, on Oct. 14, Graybill successfully pushed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to agree to a federal court settlement that reversed controversial changes to the postal service, which critics maintained had resulted in substantial lapses in service. The settlement applies nationwide.
“In a rural state like Montana, [the Postal Service] is probably the engine of economic life,” Graybill said, affecting everything from delivery of prescriptions to seniors to voting and essential business functions. The decision, Graybill added, is “an incredible win for Montana.”
Whether it’s fighting against the state’s current AG or taking on the Trump administration, Graybill said, “there is a need for advocacy, especially in these challenging times. And if the advocacy won’t come from the attorney general, we either need to have other folks step in, or we need a new attorney general.”
Graybill also sees a “need for advocacy” against his opponent in the race: former speaker of the Montana House and current Roosevelt County Attorney Austin Knudsen. Fox, the current AG, has been term-limited out of office and lost his primary bid to be the Republican candidate for governor.
Graybill calls Knudsen’s “extremist” opposition to the Affordable Care Act “the biggest issue in our race.” From 2013-2016, the number of uninsured Montanans declined by nearly 50 percent, to 8.1 percent. Far more Montanans are also insured through the state’s Medicaid and CHIP expansion—260,212 in May 2017 versus 149,000 before the passage of Obamacare.
Despite the marked increase in the number of people with health insurance under the act, Knudsen said in a 2019 interview that the law has “done vastly greater harm to the state of Montana than it’s done good.” Knudsen has criticized the current AG, Fox, for not joining the Trump administration’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the act.
Graybill said Knudsen’s position on Obamacare “disqualifies him” from becoming the next attorney general. When Graybill thinks about the people in his own life with pre-existing health conditions, he said, “the idea that my opponent wakes up every morning, brushes his teeth, and goes out to campaign in order to rip away their healthcare is astonishing and offensive.”
In addition to protecting Montanans’ access to the Affordable Care Act, Graybill acknowledged both the size and the marked racial disparities in his state’s incarcerated population. Montana has an incarceration rate of 726 per 100,000 people, according to data compiled in 2018 by the Prison Policy Initiative—surpassing the overall national rate of 698 per 100,000. As of 2015, Black Montanans were incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white residents, and Indigenous people were incarcerated at 5.1 times the rate of whites, according to the Vera Institute.
“It’s a huge disparity and a huge issue,” Graybill said, adding that there are two factors contributing to the problem.
“You have to acknowledge it’s a problem, and we haven’t seen that. We haven’t seen that kind of leadership throughout the department.” In addition, Graybill said, the state lacks good data on factors such as sentencing disparities, length of prison sentences, or the way charging or frontline enforcement decisions are being made. “There really is not great data other than just the fact of the incarceration rate,” he said.
Graybill said his approach to the problem would be grounded in the declaration from Montana’s state constitution that “the dignity of the human being is inviolable,” and that “no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
“I try to bring that constitutional value to every conversation I have about disparities in our criminal justice system and the ways that over time, really, a colonial mindset and systemic racism have produced disproportionate outcomes for people of color in our state, particularly indigenous people in Montana,” he said. “I hope to be the kind of attorney general that gives voice to those concerns, that knows how to listen before talking and really makes this a priority.”