By Ron VandenBoom
Russell Fillner, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, told the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club Friday he would pay close attention to those who might want to make Montana a national park.
Fillner, speaking before a crowd of about 20 people, said he believes Montanans need to pay very close attention to how state public lands are used.
"I think we need ... to make sure that we don't end up with the continuation of what I call 'the east coast philosophy of creating Montana into a national park,'" he said. "I think that is a real danger and I think it's something that we have to be real watchful for."
Fillner made the comment in reference to the Montana Secretary of State's seat on the Montana Land Board -- a five member board that oversees the use of more than 5 million acres of Montana land that was given to the state by the federal government when it became a state. Funds created from the use of the land are used to support public schools.
Fillner said that last year the lands generated about $44 million for public schools or about $260 per student.
He added that while he believes it is important for our children to be able to enjoy the recreational opportunities these lands offer, it is also important to "build an economic base that can allow people to stay here and live."
"We don't want to become a national park," he said. "We want our way of life. We want this way of life to exist this way for our children and our children's children."
State lands include agricultural, mineral, and timber uses, as well as recreational uses, Fillner said, adding that he has been looking at ways the office of Secretary of State can be used to influence economic development, agricultural prices, or halt the out-of-state migration of youth.
The Land Board is perhaps the best way for the Secretary of State to influence Montana's economy, he said.
"To use the state lands in a way to promote business," he said, "whether that's agriculture business, whether that's mining business, whatever type it is, we want to promote business and bring in more people at the raw goods level."
The result would be expanded markets in those areas "that would spring-board us into a value-added industry," he said.
Fillner also said he would work to streamline corporate filings and business licenses making it less of a burden for new companies to start in Montana. Electronic filing is another possibility Fillner said could ease the process.
Another responsibility of the office is voter registration and regulation of Montana elections.
"Over 600,000 people in Montana are registered to vote and yet only 300,000 people make it to the polls," Fillner told the Pachyderms. "And that's where the issue really lies with me -- not with registration, but with participation. How do we find ways to get people to the polls? How do we make people more aware of their right, duty, and obligation, to get to the polls and vote?"
Part of the solution could be in Fillner's suggestion that more openness by government would lead to greater interest in government, "allowing people to have a voice in what's being done by their government," he said.
Fillner, who lives in Helena, is a CPA with the Montana Job Training Partnership -- a state-wide agency that distributes about $12 million in federal job-training funds to various agencies in Montana.
He said he became involved in the campaign because, "We the people need to be involved, have to be involved, and have to pay attention to what's happening in politics, what's happening in our bureaucracies, and what's happening in government," he said. "This is my way to get involved and pay attention and make a difference based on Republican principles."