Tonight on “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about the growing split in the Republican party, who won and lost what in this legislative session, and the week’s political stunner: Senator Baucus’s decision not to seek re-election…
The phrase, “The Last Best Place” has been associated with the state of Montana for decades.
Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office passed a provision permanently denying any trademark application for the slogan. Democratic Senator Max Baucus has been pushing for the block, saying the term should belong to all Montanans.
The Last Best Place first started gaining traction as the title of a 1988 Montana anthology. It’s this really thick collection of stories released in conjunction with Montana’s centennial in ’89. Editors William Kittredge and Annick Smith worked with multiple groups to assemble this book, The Montana Historical Society, the Arts Council, Humanities Montana and others.
Historical Society Spokesman Tom Cook says everybody was sitting up at Big Sky trying to think of a name.
“They were trying to figure out what to do, and they throw out ideas. They said, we’ve got so much here. You know what are we gonna call it we have such great people in History,” Cook said. Someone said ‘you know, this really is an amazing place.’ then Editor William Kittredge said, ‘You know what this really is? It’s the last best place.’
And it took off from there becoming synonymous with Montana’s wide open spaces. It appears in other books and songs. The state Tourism Office used it in a campaign and so did Hillary Clinton.
“By holding the last primary, the Last Best Place is going to help choose the next President of the United States,” said the 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate at the annual Mansfield-Metcalf dinner in Butte.
A lot of Montana businesses use the phrase too and in 2001, one of them tried to trademark it. Nevada businessman David Lipson sought exclusive rights to “The Last Best Place” for his Paws Up luxury ranch resort. Paws Up sits in Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley. Lipson would also use the phrase for a line of products like cookwear and clothing.
“I was just really ticked off,” Senator Baucus said in an interview Monday, “and I thought to myself, no way. This belongs to us as Montanans, it defines us who we are as Montanans.”
The New York Times reports Republican Senator Conrad Burns was the first to introduce legislation to prevent Lipson from trademarking “The Last Best Place” in 2004. Baucus took that a step further, banning the U.S Patent and Trademark Office from spending any money or resources to trademark the term for anyone. But that provision was included in a federal budget bill, and so it had to be re-approved every year. Senator Baucus strengthened that language again a couple years ago, seeking to make the ban permanent.
The Patent and Trademark Office just agreed to that–a permanent ban on trademarking “The Last Best Place.”
“It’s in a statute forever unless Congress changes it,” Baucus said, “and believe me as long as I’m here Congress is not going to change it.”
Representatives for Paws Up or David Lipson did not respond to requests for comment. That same New York Times article says legally banning a trademark on a phrase is extremely unusual.
So Montana, Big Sky Country, The Treasure State secures to its list one last best nickname.
The U.S. Post Master General was in Montana Thursday to hear concerns over the potential closure of about 85 small rural Post Offices in the state.
Mail processing centers in several Montana cities are also on the chopping block.
The closures are part of a nationwide effort to cut costs for the Postal Service. Post Master Patrick Donahoe expects his institution to lose $14 Billion this year as the nation depends more and more on the Internet.
People from some of Montana’s most isolated places are speaking out against the closures–saying their way of life still depends on their local Post Office.
A warm morning breeze whips an American Flag in Wolf Creek, about 40 miles North of Helena. It’s a tiny little town. I-15 cuts straight through the middle of it and the sound of cars zipping right by Wolf Creek is about all you’d hear right now, were it not for this flag whipping outside the Post Office.
“It is the hub of this community,” said 30-year resident Bonnie Young of the Post Office. She’s a substitute Postal carrier here –on a route that has 200 stops and stretches for miles.
She says locals need a reliable post office within a reasonable distance.
“There are so many elderly people here that don’t have a computer…they have to come to the Post Office and they do,” she said.
In a wide conference room at the Helena Airport there weren’t enough seats for all the people waiting to hear from Post Master General Patrick Donahoe.
“He has never been to Montana before. This is his first visit to the state,” said U.S. Senator Max Baucus. He pushed for the hearing with Donahoe. Afterwards the two would be heading off to visit a small Post Office in the eastern Montana town of Ingomar.
“Unfortunately the weather’s halfway decent. I was hoping we’d have a snowstorm and we could take you over to Ingomar so you could get a real sense of what people in our state have to go through,” Baucus said.
The people inside the conference room wasted no time in telling Post Master Donahoe exactly what they go through.
Donahoe sat alone at a long white table. He listened to some who would have to drive an extra 10 or 20 miles to get to a post office if the local one closed. He heard from top state officials and post office employees worried about their jobs—their towns.
Then a microphone was brought to over to an old man in an electric wheelchair, Francis M. Hill from Toston, Montana. He’s had two strokes and two heart attacks. He receives all his medication through his Post Office Box. He says this medication cannot freeze or it’s worthless. Without the local Post Office he’d have to travel to Townsend, 11 miles away.
Post Master Donahoe says he hears these types of stories all across the country. He says the Postal Service is not making these cuts because it wants to. Stamps are the agencies most profitable product and sales are dropping at a rate of 10 percent a year. He says some of these Post Offices cost much more to operate than they bring in. Cuts have to be made across the board, and Donahoe says they have to be made in a balanced way.
“So you can’t go and say raise the prices 10 percent, mail will go away. You can’t say, ‘Cut employee wages 10 percent’, that wouldn’t be a fair thing to do. You can’t go a wantonly close Post Offices—you’d come up to a state like Montana and it’d be devastating. You we’ve got to figure out a way to get ourselves through this in a way that people stick with the Postal Service, it’s done fairly and that we’re strong coming out the other side,” he said, adding he’s looking at whatever he can to limit the closures That could mean dropping from 6 days of service to 5. He’s hearing across the nation people prefer that to the loss of infrastructure, like the local post office.
Senator Baucus says Congress will discuss a Post Office bill next month. Bill sponsors have been looking into options that could keep many low-revenue post offices and processing centers open in rural areas. This would result in a 5 cent increase in the price of stamps.