By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Democratic incumbent Bob Bergren has announced his intention to run for re-election to the Montana Legislature.
Bergren, a one-term representative from Havre, said his previous experience lobbying the Legislature for the Montana Fireman's Association in past sessions helped him in his first term, but his experience will help even more if he is re-elected.
"I'd been down there the entire 2001 session. That kind of helped, knowing the processes. There was still a learning curve the first month," he said.
All six bills Bergren sponsored were signed into law, including bills that revised requirements for insurance purchasing pools, allowed retroactive application of a deferred retirement plan for peace officers, and revised management of water and sewer districts. Most were housekeeping measures he was asked to carry by state agencies or organizations.
He sat on the House Transportation, Agriculture, and Business and Labor committees and on the interim Committee on Workers' Compensation. Bergren said he wants to remain on the three House committees if re-elected.
"I think the three I am on make me the most effective for this area," Bergren said.
He cited three areas he will concentrate on to help Hill County.
"My priorities will continue to be improving our local and state economy, properly funding public education, and developing new markets for Hill County's agricultural community," Bergren said.
Bergren said the method of funding public schools has become a "mess." It is the duty of the Legislature to shift more of school funding back to the state, instead of putting so much of the burden on local taxpayers.
Bergren said he thinks the state can increase its tax base to provide more support for education rather than increasing taxes. "I do think there are some ways of generating good-paying jobs, getting people investing in Montana and owning property and paying taxes," he said.
He said the Legislature can probably find ways to reduce spending in some areas as well.
"I think the government could run a little more efficiently and conservatively in these hard times," Bergren said.
He said he will continue to work to improve the market for agriculture, including developing specialty processing like biodiesel and ethanol.
Bergren said he fought for bills requiring use of biodiesel and ethanol in Montana, and tried to get a stalled biodiesel bill out of committee with a vote on the House floor. The bill needed 59 votes and received 58.
"That shows you there was support," he said.
He said he also farmers and ranchers would benefit from pursuing value-added products. Byproducts as simple as paper made out of wheat pulp could help farmers, he said.
"There are a lot of things we could do with value-added," he said. "We could make the flour here and make the bread here instead of shipping it out and buying it as consumers."
He said the state should play a significant role in the process. Part of its role should include helping people with ideas get together to develop those ideas, using resources like the the state economic development office and Bear Paw Development Corp.
Montana State University-Northern is a great resource for north-central Montana, and the state should at least maintain the university's funding and programs, Bergren said. The government also should work to help Northern develop new programs and attract new students, he said, citing a program approved at Northern that will be run in conjunction with the state plumbers apprentice program.
"One thing I've observed is there seems to be some competition within the system for programs," Bergren added.
Bergren, a 1982 Havre High School graduate and a Northern alumnus, has worked at the Havre Fire Department since 1985, works on his family's farm and co-owns a Havre business with his wife, Julie. The couple has two children, Bobby and Shannon.
He is a member of the executive boards of the Montana AFL-CIO and the Montana State Fireman's Association, and attended National Fire Academy training in 1996 and 1994.
Bergren is running in House District 33, a new district created in the recent reapportionment of Montana's House districts. The new district is very similar to Bergren's former House District 90 in Havre.