By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Republican Bob Brown said he can't guarantee he could speed up the widening of U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes if he is elected governor.
"I want to be careful about this because I am an honest man," Brown said in response to a question Friday at the Hill County Pachyderm Club in Havre. "I can't guarantee I can make it happen in 10 years. I will try to make it happen."
Brown, who has been secretary of state since 2001, is running for governor on the Republican ticket with Rep. Dave Lewis, R-Helena as his running mate.
He was questioned by Dennis Morgan of Havre. Morgan said if the effort to widen Highway 2 ends, it will be another example of the state passing up an opportunity to keep the Hi-Line from shriveling up.
"I am going to vote for the Republican candidate on one issue, I am sorry to say," Morgan told Brown. "I am looking for the candidate who will tell me they remember us up here."
Brown said limited money and a requirement by state law that highway money be distributed evenly among the five highway districts in the state would make it difficult to allocate more money to the Highway 2 project.
A law adopted by the Legislature in 2001 requires the state to secure federal funds to pay for the project without detracting from other highway projects in the state. The law also prohibits use of state money on the project.
Brown said he supports widening Highway 2 to four lanes. But, he said, state law or the Montana Constitution would have to be changed in order for the state to speed up the project and accomplish it in five or 10 years.
In the first phase of the project, the federal government is studying the possibility of widening the 45-mile section of road between Havre and Fort Belknap. A draft copy of an environmental impact statement on that phase is being circulated among federal and state agencies.
At Friday's Pachyderm meeting, Brown also responded to a question from Kiera Peterson, a student in a Havre High School government class that attended the meeting. She asked Brown how he would change the state to keep people who graduate from college in Montana.
Brown said he realizes that many people, especially in the education field, are leaving the state to look for better pay. He said the way to stop that is to improve the state economy and attract industry like high-tech firms and manufacturers to Montana.
"We need proactive leadership in the state to help the economy," he said.
Brown said he is making an inventory of the companies that use raw materials from Montana, and will try to persuade them to come to the state to be closer to the materials.
In a time of international conflict and uncertainty, it doesn't make sense to import raw materials, he added. He said Montana should take advantage of its timber, oil, gas and minerals, and can harvest resources responsibly.
Montana can provide habitat for wildlife and beautiful scenery for tourists while harvesting natural resources and providing jobs, he said.
"We need to recognize the fundamental economic advantage Montana has: The one thing that can't be taken away is our natural resources," he said.
He said keeping Montana graduates in Montana is a complex challenge.
"If there were a simple solution to the problem it would be something we would have solved a long time ago," Brown said.
Charles Grant of Havre asked Brown what he would do to reduce the tax burden on property owners. Many people can't afford to pay ever-increasing property taxes, Grant said.
Brown said part of the problem is the way the state funds education and a requirement that districts, which often have different financial resources, are funded equitably. A lawsuit asking the courts to decide whether the education system is underfunded and whether the state meets a constitutional mandate to provide a quality education to Montana students could force the state to increase what it pays for public education, he said.
He said the lawsuit could force the state to increase state income tax by more than a third or implement a statewide property tax of probably 55 mills.
A sales tax also might be answer, he added, although he doesn't think Montana voters would support it.
Brown was elected to the Montana House at age 22 in 1970, and was elected to the Senate in 1974. He served as president of the Senate before leaving in 1996. He successfully ran for secretary of state in 2000.
Brown grew up on a farm and ranch in the Kalispell area. He served in the U.S. Navy, and received degrees in political science and history from Montana State University in Bozeman. He earned a master's degree in education from the University of Montana and then taught government, history and economics at Bigfork, Whitefish and Flathead high schools.
Brown's opponents in the Republican primary are Billings certified public accountant Pat Davison, former state Sen. Ken Miller of Laurel, and Billings oilman and former state Sen. Tom Keating.