By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Brian Schweitzer, who's been the sole Democrat running for governor since January of 2003, said today he welcomes some competiton in the Democratic primary.
Gallatin County Commissioner John Vincent, a former state House speaker, annouced today that he is opposing Schweitzer in the June primary.
"I think he's got incredible government experience. He's a bright guy. I welcome his ideas," Schweitzer said in an interview during a campaign stop in Havre.
Schweitzer said it would be difficult for anyone to enter the race so late in the campaign, but that he doesn't rule Vincent out as a challenger.
"When you've built an organization across the state like I did, it's going to be a tough battle, but I take everybody seriously," he said.
Schweitzer was on his second day of a campaign tour, which included stops in Shelby and Chester before he arrived in Havre on Tuesday. He was traveling to Billings this afternoon.
The stop in Havre included meeting with local groups and organizations and talking to high school government classes.
"I just think a good leader is a good listener. That's why I'm spending my time on the road listening to the people of Montana," Schweitzer said.
He said one stand he is taking after talking to Montanans is to promote the development of ethanol in the state.
"I'm absolutely going to lead Montana into the ethanol world," he said. "We will pass an ethanol bill that will add a billion dollars to the Montana economy."
Schweitzer said the need of local businesses for people with technical training means the state needs to support and promote colleges of technology.
"It is the small businesses of Montana that are the engine that drives the Montana economy," he said. "Business needs these folks in order to grow. We need to do a better job in training these technicians."
He said a way to support investment and education in Montana would be to charge the millions of people who visit the state every year. Schweitzer said Gov. Judy Martz had the right idea when she supported a tourist tax, but that he didn't agree with her methods.
"Judy Martz was on the right track but the train was going in the wrong direction," he said.
Instead of having a general tax on services and products used by both tourists and Montanans, the tax should only apply to out-of-staters, Schweitzer said.
That could be done with a refund to Montana taxpayers, or by creating a card that businesses could swipe to verify the consumer is a state taxpayer and excluded from the tourist tax, he said.
He said another major issue is championing the rights of people to use public land in Montana. One of the best things about living in Montana is the quality of life here, he said, and the ability to use public land to hunt, fish, hike and camp is an important part of that.
Schweitzer said he will make sure the Montana stream access law is enforced in every county and that people can reach rivers and lakes.
"No more of locking floaters and fishermen and fisherwomen off of our streams," he said. "No more putting locks and gates on our public lands."
Schweitzer said he supports several issues important on the Hi-Line, including widening U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes and upgrading the system that provides water to the Milk River.
He said the main role of Montana's governor is to make federal officials aware of those issues.
"You have to be a passionate advocate to Congress," Schweitzer said.
He said 4 for 2 would have many benefits to northern Montana.
"It's a great piece of economic development. Not just the construction jobs. It becomes a northern route for transportation," Schweitzer said. "Light manufacturing and value-added products become doable."
He said he opposes plans by the Bush administration to cut Amtrak's budget request in half and to completely restructure the organization and funding of the passenger rail system.
"This is the wrong decision at the wrong time. Amtrak is an absolute lifeline on the northern Great Plains," he said.
Schweitzer said he would address many problems with irrigation and water resources in Montana, including states downstream on the Missouri River determining the stream flow.
The regulation of Fort Peck is often determined by states downstream, he said. The Missouri starts in the Montana Rockies, and the state needs to stand up to Congress and say the state should determine its management in Montana, including how it impacts fish, birds and wildlife, Schweitzer said.
The rebuilding of the St. Mary Diversion, authorized as an irrigation project in 1903, that transfers water from Lake Sherburne to the Milk River is a crucial concern to everyone who lives along the Milk, he said. That cost, estimated at more than $100 million, shouldn't be passed on to the irrigators, he said.
"It irritates me when they say the farmers are going to have to pay for that. This is an infrastructure that serves the entire community," he said.
Schweitzer said the federal government should work to maintain the diversion as an important piece of public infrastructure.