By SARAH COOKE/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - It can be hard to make your voice heard in a family of 14.
But among the myriad morals and values Earl and Jean Balyeat passed down to their children in Great Falls, few stood out to kids Nos. 3 and 7 as much as self reliance and speaking your mind.
In his four years as a state lawmaker, Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, has become known as an outspoken advocate of conservative issues - lower taxes and less government among them. Some say he sprinkles his strong Christian beliefs into his politics, but Balyeat said he has never brought religious beliefs into legislative discussions. His older brother, Rep. John Balyeat, R-Missoula, is newer to the political scene and a bit quieter than his brother, but has already carved out an agenda in his first Legislature, requesting several tax and licensing bills.
The two are among just a handful of siblings to have served concurrently as lawmakers in Montana.
Born seven years apart, the Balyeats grew up in a hardworking, blue collar family of four brothers and six sisters. Like their siblings, they worked from the time they entered kindergarten, supporting the family through paper routes, mowing neighborhood lawns and shoveling snowy sidewalks before and after school.
''It was good training, good business training for them, and it kept them out of mischief,'' said Earl Balyeat, an 80-year-old World War II veteran who still speaks with his children nearly every day.
Surprisingly, it was John, not Joe, who showed more interest in politics growing up, their parents say. An outgoing honors student, John ran for student body vice president in high school and amassed dozens of trophies in debate.
''I remember when I was a kid the piano was covered with all the trophies and newspaper articles about John's debating skills,'' Joe said. ''I remember one article in particular had a picture of John and his shadow looked just like JFK.''
Joe took a slightly different route, excelling academically but only sprouting an interest in politics after attending Boys State in high school. He was elected House minority leader there, and went on to lead several political organizations, organize statewide ballot initiatives and run Rob Natelson's unsuccessful 1996 campaign to overtake popular former Gov. Marc Racicot.
Joe was elected to the state House in 2001, holding his seat for two terms before joining the Senate this session. Last year, he helped his brother run a successful campaign for House District 100, traditionally a Democratic stronghold.
''Quite frankly, I thought going to the Legislature and into politics would be a waste of time and that I wouldn't achieve anything, but when I saw what (Joe) had achieved during his initial terms I decided, 'Well, if he can accomplish that much, what can a real smart guy accomplish?''' John said, turning to Joe and laughing.
The two share a genuine friendship, making time to talk every day after hours of committee hearings and floor debate, but acknowledge they didn't really get to know one another until Joe enrolled at the University of Montana, where John was finishing law school in the 1970s.
''My first memories of spending any time with John are when I would constantly be over at his house in college playing ping pong, basketball, badminton,'' Joe said. ''I remember when the first electronic Pong game came out, we spent hours playing that Pong game and constantly going back and forth.''
Both are very competitive, always have been according to their parents, so much so that they still rib each other over who won more badminton matches in college and who's better at pool and basketball.
Neither believes their sibling rivalry will translate into legislative one-upmanship.
While both share similar political beliefs, they differ in their styles. Joe prefers a more direct, aggressive approach, while John is more laid back from his years in sales.
''I try to get to know people on a humorous basis first,'' he said.
Given each brother's nature, friends and family say they aren't surprised to see the highly motivated family men now serving side by side in Helena.
''It's amazing how much they accomplish in 24 hours a day, either one of them,'' said their mother, Jean, an 82-year-old retired police and hospital dispatcher from Chicago who recently celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary with Earl.
Natelson, now a UM law professor, said he recognized something special in Joe when he first met him as chairman of Montanans for Better Government in 1993.
''He is really is an unacknowledged treasure in Montana,'' Natelson said. ''I think some of the press coverage he gets tends to reflect reporters who don't understand him. ... Sometimes he can joke and brag a little bit, but this is a superb person. This is someone, if we are lucky, who should be our governor or U.S. senator someday.''
Although the brothers have their detractors, few can question their passion or convictions.
''I can say he has pretty strong convictions that often times even his own side of the aisle has trouble embracing,'' Rep. Rosie Buzzas, D-Missoula, said of Joe, whom she's served with several sessions in the House. ''But I think that's what the legislative process is all about.''