Published Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 | 9:15 a.m.
Updated Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 | 9:16 a.m.
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday he is appointing Lt. Gov. John Walsh to serve out the term of Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who will be leaving the seat to become the next ambassador to China.
Walsh, 53, is a Butte native who spent 33 years in the Montana National Guard, rising to adjutant general in 2008. In 2012, he resigned from that post to run on the bottom half of the Bullock ticket.
"I wanted to appoint someone who I believed would represent the values Montanans hold important," the Democratic governor said in announcing his decision.
Walsh spent less than one year as lieutenant governor, his first elected office, before announcing his candidacy for Baucus' Senate seat.
The Senate confirmed Baucus Thursday as the ambassador to China with a 96-0 vote. Baucus has served in the Senate for 35 years, and he announced last year that he would not seek another term.
The interim appointee will serve the remainder of Baucus' current term until January 2015.
Bullock's choice has been the subject of much speculation since Baucus was nominated for the ambassadorship in December. Would the governor appoint Walsh and give a boost to the candidate he had already endorsed in the election this year, or would he pick a caretaker appointee who had no interest in running for the seat?
Walsh has said he asked the governor to appoint him if Baucus left, saying the appointment would help him gain name recognition and give him experience in the Senate.
State law leaves the decision of an interim appointment to the governor, without any mention of how to go about doing it. Bullock has spent weeks deflecting questions about Baucus' replacement, calling it a "hypothetical" situation until there is actually a vacancy.
Even after Republican legislative leaders asked Bullock for transparency in the selection process, Bullock kept a tight lid on his choice, saying only the person "will represent the interests of all Montanans."
Walsh has come under fire 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. In response, Walsh released more than 400 pages of his military records and said what he did was for the good of the Guard.
Besides Walsh, political newcomer Dirk Adams and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger also are running for the Democratic nomination. Walsh raised $583,113 in the final three months of 2013 for his campaign, outpacing Adams' $102,975 — $71,000 of which came from Adams himself, Bohlinger brought in $10,000 in donations, plus another $10,000 of his own money.
Freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Daines is the early front-runner for the Republican nomination and has raised more money than all the other candidates, with more than $1 million in the final three months of 2013.