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Tim Sheehy must earn the public’s trust

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Tim Sheehy must earn the public’s trust

May 29, 2024 | 6:51 am ET
By Peter D. Fox
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Tim Sheehy must earn the public’s trust
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Tim Sheehy, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2024, speaks at the Montana GOP 2024 kick-off event on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

Men and women presenting themselves as candidates to strengthen and uphold public trust in their elected representatives would do well to remember two things:

First, doing so immediately makes them a “public figure” defined as “someone who has taken on a prominent role in society or has inserted themselves into a public debate in order to influence its outcome” – such as politicians, actual or aspiring. 

Second, a good communications adage to follow is, “Maximum disclosure, minimum delay.”

Candidate Tim Sheehy, wanting to be Montana’s next U.S. senator, seems to be having trouble with both.

By asking to be hired as a Senate representative of Montana’s 1.1 million people, Sheehy is saying “trust me” to be your voice and act in your best interest.  As in any job interview, whoever is doing the hiring has questions to ask of the applicant. Inquiry into the applicant’s history and qualifications for the job can go anywhere, and the future employers have a huge stake in direct, complete and honest answers so they can determine the applicant’s qualifications.

Sheehy draws a distinction between the “fawning” (his word) news coverage of him and his Bridger Aerospace company before he announced for office and afterwards.

“The press turned against my businesses and has been trying to harm us every single day,” he said in an NBC Montana interview on April 29 that can be viewed on YouTube.

To blame for his difficulties, he named The Washington Post, the Montana Free Press, national online tabloid newspaper The Daily Beast, saying the latter two were not news organizations – at least in his mind.

Clearly uncomfortable in portions of the interview and asked to explain the Glacier Park gunshot incident, Sheehy launched into excessive detail about why his personal judgment outweighed standard operating procedure he was bound as the unit commander to follow.

There are other trust issues.

His “denial” of his paternal grandparents, for example.

In a Nov. 7, 2023, podcast interview with Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter, he was asked to describe his growing up, the size of his family and what his parents did.  Sheehy segued to describing a tight nuclear family of two parents and two children but then mentioned his grandparents: 

“I really didn’t have … most of my grandparents had died before I was a kid or really young. Just didn’t have really grandparent involvement but my neighbor growing up was a Korean War Navy pilot.” 

What Sheehy omitted was public record information that shows his father, Richard, was actively employed as a property management and financial services executive, handling much of his wealthy grandfather Cyril’s extensive real estate projects. Sheehy’s mother, Denise, had skills as an interior designer and even worked in modeling.

It is worth noting that grandfather Cyril Sheehy died in June 2010 when his grandson was 25. Cyril’s wife, grandmother Elvira, died in July of 2014 when her grandson was 29. Together the senior Sheehys had four sons and a daughter and 13 grandchildren, including Tim. A fairly extended family.

Only Sheehy knows what was going through his mind during the interview with Slaughter, but it seems clear he wanted to obscure aspects of his youth and family wealth in presenting himself to Montana voters. (One wonders what Cyril and Elvira would have thought of their grandson’s denial.)

Earlier in the interview, Slaughter asked him where in Minnesota he grew up. Sheehy replied, “A place up near Anoka County, rural part of the state, grew up right across from an old, abandoned Army base.” Actually, it was the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition plant, now a Superfund site.

The reference to Anoka County appears to be untruthful. Again, public information shows that both of his boyhood homes were in Ramsey County, immediately to the east of Anoka County which by no means is rural as it is just north of Minneapolis and along a four-lane highway.

His first home was at 5280 Oxford Street on Turtle Lake in Shoreview, a community just 11 miles north of St. Paul.  His second home, larger and more elaborate, was a short walk away, also on Turtle Lake at 5150 N. Lexington Avenue. 

Why in the world would Sheehy “cancel” his family history?  His parents and paternal grandparents were justifiably proud of him. His parents now live near him and his family in Bozeman.

Immediately after Sheehy’s June 27, 2023, announcement to run for the Senate, it wasn’t clear to the public whether he was a Montanan or from somewhere else. Even some of his Republican backers and some early news reports erroneously indicated he was from the Bozeman-Belgrade area.  It took reporters researching his biography to determine his home state was Minnesota while he was promoting himself as a Montana businessman and cattle rancher.

By the time of the Slaughter podcast, Sheehy was forthcoming about his roots. Nonetheless, why the initial obfuscation?

There’s another curious situation surrounding the pinning by his new friend and Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of his Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor and his award of the Purple Heart for injuries suffered.  Both speak to his heroism in combat; he recently posted online the award certificates and the Bronze Star citation.

His Bronze Star citation for “heroic achievement” is dated June 24, 2014, before he was separated from active duty in Hawaii.  By custom, the military conducts such an award ceremony prior to a serviceperson’s separation or departure from a duty station.  Sheehy’s resume shows he left Hawaii in October 2014, four months later.

The Purple Heart citation is dated June 5, 2015, when Sheehy was already in business in Belgrade. The citation was for wounds received in action on April 25, 2012, so it obviously was late in its issuance and appropriate for Zinke to present it to Sheehy on Aug. 27, 2015.

But the Bronze Star? Perhaps Lieutenant Sheehy can clear this up by clarifying whether his initial Bronze Star award ceremony was in Hawaii or whether its award was to highlight the Purple Heart – and his entry into Montana politics. Maximum disclosure and minimum delay applies.

And now it is up to the courts to determine the truth behind the breach of contract suit filed by two former employees in April against Sheehy and his brother Matthew.

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