By Ron VandenBoom
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark O'Keefe focused his attention on the economy and what he believes are the shortcomings of the Martz economic plan during a swing through Havre Friday.
"Montanans are aware we've slipped drastically," O'Keefe said, noting that Montana wages rank 50 in the nation and base industries in the state are hurting.
He blames mostly mechanization in the state's traditional industries and a lack of willingness in the governor's office to stem the tide through the aggressive recruitment of new industries.
"We've been making a living by delivering pizza to one another," he said. "We've had a service based economy where we haven't looked outside the borders of Montana."
O'Keefe explained that he believes Montana needs an aggressive governor who is willing to meet with CEOs (chief executive officers) of major corporations to "cut a deal" that will bring them to Montana.
O'Keefe's said he believes his Republican opponent, Judy Martz, "is speeding down the interstate with her eyes firmly fixed on the rear view mirror."
"And I think that's a mistake for Montana," he said. "You have to check the rear view mirror but you better be paying attention to what's coming at you."
This is what O'Keefe said he saw as the difference between the two candidates' economic plans and that more will be said about that later in the campaign.
O'Keefe said that while he does not believe state government should get directly involved in assisting business that might want to come into the state, the state is responsible for creating an atmosphere contusive to attracting business.
Five key points are at the heart of O'Keefe's 36-point economic development plan. They emphasize Montana's quality of life, good schools, a good health care system, a pool of educated and trainable employees with a good work ethic, and a transportation and communication system capable of handling commerce.
As governor, O'Keefe said he would aggressively seek out CEOs and corporations that might be interested in moving into the state and meet with company executives to demonstrate Montana's commitment to economic growth.
"Montana is well positioned for this if we would just go out and get it," he said.
Havre's proposed new call center is "a wonderful development in terms of possibilities for the future," O'Keefe said, noting that it could be a proving ground for other opportunities.
But he added that the type of economic development desired by various communities can be different and each community needs to be free to determine what kind of development it wants to concentrate on.
O'Keefe said that many Montanans today feel that there is no base to Montana's economy.
"There's no basic underpinnings for us to hope for economic growth," he said, explaining that traditional industries and agriculture can no longer be expected to provide the prosperity they once guaranteed.
He does not however blame environmental laws, taxes, or liberal politicians for their demise.
"It no longer takes 100 lumberjacks to fill 10 trucks a day," he said. "It takes three guys and three machines."
He added that in 1960 it took 10,000 miners to mine the same amount of ore in Butte that today could be mined by 340 miners.
O'Keefe noted that it had nothing to do with environmental regulations or liberal politicians.
"It had to do with the mechanization of industry," he said.
O'Keefe said his record as State Auditor shows Montana voters the amount of work people can expect to get out of him and that he is independent and willing to take risks.
"I don't feel that I will ever be an 80 percent approval governor," he said. "When you make decisions and you take risks, people are going to question those decisions and those risks."