By Ron VandenBoom
Joe Mazurek, Democratic candidate for governor, said Thursday that his accomplishments and experience as Montana's Attorney General make him the best qualified candidate for governor.
Mazurek is running for the Democratic nomination against State Auditor Mark O'Keefe, and Montana's Secretary of State, Mike Cooney.
He was in Havre Thursday for the Board of Regents meeting being held at MSU-Northern.
"I think we've improved our technology, we've improved our education, and improved our services in terms of victim services," Mazurek said.
Mazurek also credited his department with being able to resolve the 15-year-old lawsuit against ARCO to clean up the Clark Fork River Basin and the tobacco industry lawsuit that led to more than $900 million in settlement money coming into the state over the next 29 years.
"I think the Attorney Generals office is a good proving ground to be governor because you manage a large agency and you have to deal with these major issues of state wide significance," he said. "My experience is that of bringing people together, solving problems and getting things done."
He added that his record, and that of his running mate, Dorothy Bradley, is one of taking on tough issues and bringing people together and solving problems.
Mazurek said he is not surprised that people are saying there is little difference between his views and the views of the other two Democratic candidates because "we're all Democrats."
"But I have to fall back on my record of accomplishment and experience as Attorney General," he said.
Mazurek said economic development will be a primary focus of his administration and expressed disappointment that the Racicot administration had waited so long to call the special session of the Montana Legislature now scheduled for May.
"I believe the programs are important and need to be funded," he said, referring to the Racicot economic development plan.
Funding for the plan was recently declared unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court.
Mazurek's own plan for economic development focuses on several key issues.
"One is to make sure that we are equipped technologically to compete in this new world economy," he said, adding that this means that Montana must have high speed, low cost, Internet access that will serve not only the business community, but state and local governments, tribal governments and the university system.
"We're going to be an economic straggler if we don't do that," he said. "Getting Internet access is as important now as the development of railroads, water, rural electrification and telephone were years ago."
Mazurek also believes economic development means quality education. That in turn means higher salaries for Montana's teachers.
"Other states are attracting our teachers with better pay and incentives because they know we produce a superior product," he said.
Mazurek said he wants to see Montana provide a $2,000 - $3,000 annual bonus provided to new teachers who stay in Montana. He also said he would like to see the state "buy down" student loans teachers have incurred getting their education so they are not facing large debts when they come out of college that force them to take positions out of state.
Economic development is also important in Agriculture, Mazurek said.
"Agriculture is the most important industry in this state and it's hanging on by its fingernails," he said.
The number one thing Mazurek said he could do was to be a leader with the congressional delegation and the administration to insure that "free trade policies are, in fact, fair trade policies."
"So that other countries that are being subsidized, or that have tariffs, or import quotas, that give our competitors an advantage, are fair to our producers," he said.
He also would like to see Montana embark on a program that focuses on value-added crops and cattle production.
"We also need to do a better job marketing our products internationally," he said.