GOP Gubernatorial Hopefuls Look to Natural Resource Develoment for Montana

Developing natural resources, cutting property taxes, and standing up for states’ rights against the federal government are some of the messages coming from the republican candidates for Governor.

Five of the seven G-O-P hopefuls made their case in Whitefish yesterday about why they’re best suited to lead the state and to challenge Democrat Steve Bullock in November. Bullock faces a challenge from Heather Margolis but was considered the most likely Democratic nomination for Governor by the GOP candidates.

Many of the gubernatorial candidates have links to the Flathead. Rick Hill’s running mate is local businessman and state legislator Jon Sonju; Neil Livingstone’s is Ryan Zinke who is also a Flathead businessman and legislator.

Jim Lynch moved to the Flathead in the 19-80’s, Corey Stapleton chose former legislator Bob Keenan of Bigfork as a running mate, and Ken Miller is running with the Public Service Commissioner for the area Bill Gallagher who also has ties to Polson.

Republican candidates Bob Fanning, and Jim O’Hara were not at the debate.

A recurring theme among the candidates is natural resource development to boost the economy, take burden off property taxes, and to better fund schools. Moderators asked what the Governor can do to boost the state’s economy, also bringing up the boom across the border in the Baaken Oil Fields of North Dakota.

Corey Stapleton said the current administration may say it’s for natural resource development, but has appointed obstructionists to decision making positions.

“I think that the way we get to North Dakota, the way we get to Wyoming is start focusing on outcomes, and quit playing games. It’s not enough to simply walk the- talk the talk, we need to walk the walk. The way you do it as governor is also bring the economic value in terms of the bills and the legislation, but also appoint the people that are going to implement it,” Stapleton said.

Neil Livingstone said the problem is with what he calls “serial lawsuits,” and a regulatory process that doesn’t make it easy for businesses to propose projects that meet state compliance standards.

“Just submit the regulations- or submit your plans to us, and we’ll tell you if it’s in compliance or not. That is not the right way to run a railroad, it’s not the right way to run a state government, and we have got to move ahead and go to war with the environmentalists, and we also need to simplify our regulatory structure and put the right people in state government,” Livingstone said.

Jim Lynch said the problem isn’t Montana’s environmental regulations and tax structure as much as it’s geography, infrastructure, and the attitude of state environmental regulators.

“Those are the three things that are holding us back and two of them we can do something about. The governor went to Sydney, spent a whole entire day, and telling the town ‘oh, you’ve got real problems here, I’ll have to go back and talk to my budget director, maybe we can give you 2-million-dollar-loans.’ That’s crap. Right now, in our budget the Department of Transportation has enough money to make investments in infrastructure, needed investments in infrastructure that’s there,” Lynch said.

Ken Miller said Montana’s potential for resource development goes beyond the Baaken.

“Every County in this state should be enjoying a vigorous natural resource economy; creating those good paying jobs, lowering our tax base, there’s a number of things that we need to do. It is attitude. A huge portion of it is attitude that the Governor can have a lot to do with,” Miller said the state needs legal reform, including the constitutional statement guaranteeing Montanans the right to a “clean and healthy environment” which he describes as too vague.

Rick Hill said legal and regulatory reforms are how the Governor can encourage business development.

“And then obviously they’ve got to administer the agencies in a different way. It takes twice as long to permit something in Montana as it does in our neighboring states, and as a consequence of that, it costs almost 50 percent more. So, it’s going to take a comprehensive approach to build the climate that allows the private sector to succeed,” Hill said.

Another common thread from the different candidates involved cutting taxes, offering up examples like the business equipment tax, corporate income tax, and personal property taxes.

In making their pitches on why they’d be the best leader for the state each candidate pointed to their history in business or government.

Neil Livingstone comes to the race after running a business with a focus on international risk management and business solutions. Corey Stapleton spent two terms in the Montana Senate. Rick Hill represented Montana in the US- House in the 19-90’s. Jim Lynch touts both his business background, and his work as the head of the state Department of Transportation. Ken Miller is also coming into the governor’s race after working as a state legislator in the 19-90’s representing the Laurel area near Billings.

The primary is June 5th with early voting starting next Monday, May 7th.

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