By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Democrat John Vincent, a recent entrant in the governor's race, told Hill County Democrats Tuesday night that he offers a distinct advantage over his June primary opponent, Brian Schweitzer.
"In the governor's office, two Democrats are better than one," he said.
Vincent declared his candidacy Feb. 11. On Feb. 12, Schweitzer, who began campaigning for the Democratic nomination more than a year ago, announced that John Bohlinger, a Republican state senator from Billings, would be his running mate.
Vincent said he has not yet picked a running mate, but will have one before the March 25 deadline.
A key to succeeding as governor for the next four years will be building bipartisan cooperation in the Legislature, he said. Vincent cited his 30 years of experience in city, county and state government - he spent 16 years as a state representative, including serving two terms as speaker of the house - as a qualification for building that collaboration.
"If one side says, 'It's my way or the highway,' and the other side says the same, we're going to get nowhere," he said. "I don't need a Republican lieutenant governor to accomplish that (teamwork.)"
Vincent said in an interview after the meeting that Schweitzer's choice of running mate didn't influence his decision to run. He didn't know who Schweitzer would choose when he announced his candidacy, he said.
Vincent added that he thinks Schweitzer's announcement may have been timed to offset his declaring his candidacy.
He thinks a straight Democratic ticket is superior.
"I think that Montana has any number of highly qualified Democrats that could be exemplary lieutenant governors," he said.
Having a split ticket in the governor's office would not help resolve Republican and Democratic differences in the Legislature, Vincent said.
"I think it would be counterproductive, and that's knowing what I know from my experience in the House," he said.
Vincent served in the House from 1975 to 1990. He was House speaker in 1985-1986 and 1989-90, minority leader in 1987-88, majority leader in 1983-84 and majority whip in 1979-80.
After leaving the Legislature, Vincent served as a Bozeman city commissioner from 1992-1995, including serving as mayor in 1994-95. He was elected to the Gallatin County Commission in 2001, and has served as commission chair since 2003.
Vincent said there were many reasons he waited so long to declare his candidacy. One was that he expected other Democrats with experience in state government to declare, he said. When it appeared none would, he made his decision to run.
Another reason was that he had to be sure he had someone to help his wife, Peggy, he said.
Peggy Vincent was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis since 1980. Vincent said he had to make arrangements for someone to help care for her while he was campaigning. Neighbors and his family are taking care of her, he said.
Another reason he delayed his candidacy was that he had other work to do, including chairing the Gallatin County Commission, Vincent said.
"I couldn't take a year or a year and a half off to campaign," he said.
He said there is no substitute for state government experience in the governor's office.
"I've been there and I know how the Legislature works and I know why sometimes it doesn't," Vincent said. "I can bring that experience to that office."
After Vincent announced his candidacy, Schweitzer said that he was looking for a running mate with extensive political experience - Bohlinger has served several terms as both state senator and representative - and that his own experience is in agriculture and domestic and international business.
"I think (Vincent's) got incredible government experience. He's a bright guy. I welcome his ideas," Schweitzer said. "We come from different backgrounds and I wish him the best of luck."
Vincent said Tuesday he thinks he has a viable campaign and that he would be a successful governor. He also said that if he loses the primary, "I'll support Brian Schweitzer tooth and nail."
Several problems facing the state prompted him to run, Vincent said. One is the budget deficit the next Legislature could face, estimated at between $100 million and $450 million, he said.
Vincent said none of the other candidates have said exactly what they would do to address the projected deficit.
"I'm going to be prepared to have answers to that question," he said.
One cause of the deficit is nearly a half-billion dollars of tax relief the Legislature has passed since 1997, Vincent said. Most Montanans didn't get any of that relief, he added.
"Are we better off than we were 10 years ago? I don't think so," Vincent said. "I'm not afraid to go out and go after (that half-billion.) I'm 61 years old and I'm not afraid of that anymore."
He said another reason he wanted to run is to help Montanans by improving the economy. He knows what it's like to struggle, he said.
"Peg and I are doing pretty well right now but it's the first time in our lives we have, and it's only in the last three years or so," he said.
The knowledge of what it's like to sit at the kitchen table late at night wondering if he could pay his bills motivates him to try to help Montanans in the same situation, he said.
He said his work experience also gives him insights into Montana's needs. He taught high school government and history for 30 years in Bozeman, and has worked as a truck driver, janitor, ranch hand and retail clerk, among other jobs.