By Ron VandenBoom
Barry "Spook" Stang is like many of Montana's legislators, who, after 15 years as a lawmaker from St. Regis, was "term limited out" by the state's term limit law.
Stang, however, still feels he has something to offer Montana and wants to continue serving the state as state auditor.
Toward that end, Stang stopped by the Democratic Women's Dinner Saturday to make his pitch for the party's nomination in the June 6 primary.
"I felt I still had something to offer ... and this was a way I could do it," Stang said about his reasons for running. "I thought that (with) my experience working with consumers that the auditors office would be the best place to use my experience."
Stang, a grocer in St. Regis, said his experience in the Legislature is one of his strongest assets, because whoever the auditor is, he needs to have a strong relationship with the lawmakers.
He added that it also takes years to build such a relationship.
The job of the state auditor is to regulate the insurance and securities industries in Montana and to investigate and prosecute allegations of fraud.
The auditor is also one of five members of the executive branch of government that sits on the Montana Land Board.
Stang said if elected he plans on designating one person on his staff who is dedicated to state lands issues.
"A lot of times people will take what the administrators say verbatim as the truth and not check out the facts," he said. "You need to have somebody in your office that can verify the facts and figures."
State lands produce about $40 million of revenue annually that is used to help support Montana's schools and universities, and Stang would very much like to see that revenue stream remain. But he is concerned about the value of efforts to increase that revenue.
"It doesn't seem to matter how much money we make from our state lands, because, if it makes an extra $5 million, the Legislature will just cut the amount of money education receives from the General Fund," he said.
This causes Stang to take a second look at how the lands should be managed.
"I think we should continue to allow public access to state lands," he said. "I think it's important. That's our heritage."
But Stang doesn't believe attempts to increase revenue in the short term are always the best investment.
"I don't necessarily think that cutting the timber today is the right thing to do," he said. "We may be able to make more money on it five years from now. I think we have to look at it as a long-term investment and not a short-term gain."
Consumers, like state lands, also need protection from abuse and predators and currently that protection is found in two distinct departments of state government the auditor's office and the Department of Commerce.
Stang is not in favor of combining these two entities any time soon.
"The fraud protection in the Department of Commerce is just getting started," he said. "They are still in the rule-making process."
He noted that if the time comes that it is necessary to move all fraud protection into one agency, it would be logical to move it into the auditor's office.
"The big problem with senior fraud is that by the time a senior calls one of the hot lines, the fraud has already been committed," he said. "I would rather see the senior fraud network educate consumers so they understand what fraud is and how to prevent it."
Stang said he considers one of the biggest problems in the auditor's office to be the length of time it takes to approve new lines of insurance in the state. He hopes to be able to expedite the approval process in much the same way the office recently expedited the license renewal in the state.
"The turn around time' for renewing licenses now takes about 48 hours," he said.