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We’ve all heard about Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s mismanagement of his office — like having to reprint and re-mail voter information pamphlets right before the 2018 election. Or the ethics violation he committed by using state resources to announce his campaign for Montana’s U.S. House seat, resulting in a $4,000 fine.

Unfortunately for my friend Corey, mistakes have morphed into malfeasance — and possibly something worse. News reports these past few weeks strongly suggest that between January 2017 and March 2019, Stapleton racked up nearly $19,000 in unauthorized charges by using a state truck for personal reasons.

When Gov. Steve Bullock used the state plane to whisk then-Commerce Director Meg O’Leary away to a Paul McCartney concert in 2014, I and other Republicans were outraged. Fair is fair — a Republican’s abuse of a state truck deserves the same condemnation as a Democrat’s abuse of a state plane.

The problem for Stapleton is worse than it was for Bullock, however, who counts on a sympathetic establishment to downplay his shortcomings. As the Billings Gazette and other newspapers have made clear in the past few days, Stapleton’s misuse of a state truck for personal business was so blatant, and lasted so long, he may have committed felony theft — a crime that has a five-year statute of limitations.

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That has ominous implications. If Stapleton were to win the GOP nomination in June 2020, he would be a sitting duck for a criminal complaint that could be filed weeks before the November 2020 election — too late for the party to replace him, but just in time for voters to read front-page headlines about how the GOP’s congressional nominee has been charged with a crime. Because a congressional seat is in play, Democrats around the nation would be cajoling the Lewis and Clark county attorney to charge Stapleton. And because that county attorney, Leo Gallagher, is a Democrat hack, Stapleton would be in grave danger.

Corey Stapleton is, of course, one of my opponents in Montana’s congressional race. Even so, I’m loath to criticize him so directly, but someone needs to because GOP leaders lack the courage to tell him what he needs to hear.

Stapleton has become like the psychologist played by Bruce Willis in the movie "The Sixth Sense" — he’s already dead, he just doesn’t know it yet. Someone needs to break the news to him, for his own good, the good of the Republican Party and the good of Montana.

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Joe Dooling is a farmer and rancher in the Helena Valley, and a Republican candidate for Congress. 

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