By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Katie Hanning has never run for elected office and was never much interested in politics. Until now.
The Great Falls woman is one of more than three dozen people who have asked to be considered as a running mate for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Schweitzer. They responded to a public pitch Schweitzer made for lieutenant governor applicants a month ago.
''The more I looked into it, the more I felt I could do that job,'' Hanning said Wednesday after meeting Schweitzer for the first time as the candidate visited Great Falls. ''Maybe when you get older you just know it's time to step up to the plate and help out.''
Schweitzer said he has received about 90 names of potential political partners. Forty individuals submitted their own names and another 50 or so were suggested by others.
Schweitzer, who's still taking applications, provided The Associated Press with a list of those who nominated themselves. But he declined to name those recommended by third parties until he has a chance to notify them individually. He said it was a matter of fairness since they didn't offer themselves as possible candidates.
Among those on the self-nominated roster were Teton County Commissioner Mary Sexton and Sun River farmer Chuck Merja, a longtime agricultural leader.
Schweitzer, a Whitefish farmer, said he's trying to meet with all of those who nominated themselves as he travels the state.
But the meetings are not job interviews, he said. ''I listen. I sit down with them and ask how they would move Montana forward. I have a responsibility to meet with these folks.''
He said he'll eventually pare the list to about 20 finalists and then conduct more thorough interviews to discuss their backgrounds. Schweitzer said he won't reveal his finalists, only the person he ultimately chooses to join him on the ticket. He has no deadline for making that decision other than March 25, the final day to file for office.
Schweitzer said he has found a common thread among those he's met.
''One bond that holds them all together is that they've got a passion about Montana,'' he said. ''Sometimes it manifests itself in economic development, affordable health care. Sometimes it's about education.''
For her part, Hanning, 40, said she's concerned about adequate health care for Montanans, a better education system to attract new business and help for owners of small businesses.
Hanning, married with two children, had never met Schweitzer before now. But she submitted her name after using the Internet to discover she shares his views. ''We can work really well together,'' she said. ''I want to help the state wherever I can.''
If not chosen for the No. 2 spot, Hanning she may consider running for another political office.
Schweitzer said some of those on his lists could end up in a pool of those he would consider for appointment to boards and commissions, should he be elected governor.
''How do you find these faces that haven't been in government if you don't go out and ask for new faces,'' he said. ''This isn't going to be an administration that is going to be an inside-Helena, backdoor deal.''
Republicans have ridiculed his unorthodox appeal for a running mate as a political gimmick, but Schweitzer dismisses that criticism as coming from ''professional politicians'' unwilling to listen to Montanans.