By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Todd O'Hair says his experience as a rancher and small business owner, in addition to his job as natural resources policy adviser to the governor, qualify him to be Montana secretary of state.
O'Hair was campaigning on the Hi-Line last week. He faces Brad Johnson and Bob Werner in the Republican primary.
The secretary of state oversees elections, maintains records of businesses and nonprofit organizations, and serves on the state Board of Land Commissioners and Board of Examiners, among other duties.
"My wife and I own a small business in Helena and we know how hard it is to keep a small business going in Montana," said O'Hair, 37. "We need to find a way to streamline those processes."
His wife, Melissa O'Hair, operates their catering business in Helena.
"I was born and raised on a cattle ranch and my family has been in the land-management business since 1878," he added. "We understand about maximizing value of land while still protecting the environment."
O'Hair said he also has experience in land-management policy on both the state and national level. He worked for U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, R-Mont., in Washington, D.C., in 1999 and later was promoted to state director of Hill's Montana offices.
O'Hair said his experience in politics will help him as the state's chief election officer.
His opponent, Brad Johnson, who also was campaigning on the Hi-Line last week, repeated his accusation that O'Hair is not drawing a sufficiently definitive line between his work for the governor and his campaign.
Johnson said he's not accusing O'Hair of breaking any laws but thinks O'Hair is blurring the line between his job and his campaign by doing things like taking time off when he is on official state business to travel to campaign events.
"My point is, someone who wants to be the chief elections officer in the state of Montana is obligated to hold himself or herself to the highest standards," Johnson said. "It creates an appearance of impropriety. I'm not sure how you can mix those and not at least raise some questions."
Johnson said he thinks O'Hair should resign as policy adviser to avoid any appearances of impropriety. That is why he resigned his positions with the state and Gallatin County Republican leadership, Johnson added.
O'Hair said he is not doing anything that gives the appearance of impropriety.
"I guess my only response to it is, it's unfortunate Brad is not wanting to talk about the issues of the secretary of state's office and I do," O'Hair said. "I'm running my campaign on my integrity and my reputation."
O'Hair grew up on the family ranch near Livingston, graduating from Park High School in 1985. He served as state FFA president in 1985-1986, then attended Montana State University. He received a bachelor's degree in business marketing in 1991. He worked for the international agriculture company Cargill in Kansas City, Kan., and Fort Smith, Ark., until returning to Montana in 1995.
O'Hair chaired Hill's re-election campaign in Park County in 1998 before taking the position in Washington.
O'Hair worked on Martz's campaign for governor and the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., before taking his position as policy adviser on Martz' staff.