By Ron VandenBoom
Bob Brown, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, has traveled since 1996 to Russia, Kenya, and Borneo on the behest of the U.S. State Department.
"I feel my background as a teacher and my experiences overseas might help me to be able to get young people to the polls," Brown said during a recent interview.
The State Department had asked Brown to travel on their behalf because of his unique qualifications as a teacher of government and his 26 years of experience as a representative and senator in Montana.
Brown said he saw the opportunity as a chance to help spread democratic principles and teach capitalism to countries just emerging from years of Communist domination.
But, Brown said he missed politics even with the excitement of foreign travel, so after modest prodding by Montana Congressman, Rick Hill, and Governor Marc Racicot, Brown threw his hat in the ring for the office of Secretary of State.
"It's an important office," Brown said, describing it as a "service providing office" that has been having some difficulties providing service in recent years.
Brown said the office has been trying to change over to a more electronic way of doing things, but the effort has met with many complains from business people and particularly bankers that claim errors have been made consistently in some of the forms they file.
"The service could probably be improved in that office," Brown said. "And if I'm elected that's an aspect of the office I will probably have to deal with most urgently."
Brown also said the office is faced with another problem that has been building for years literally.
The Secretary of State is the chief record keeper in the state and keeping records has itself become one of the greatest problems facing the office.
Brown said he recently toured what he described as "a huge warehouse" in Helena that was stacked to the rafters with government documents that in some cases go back to territorial times.
"There literally is not even room for another sheet of onion paper in there," Brown said.
State law, Brown said, requires the Secretary of State to keep original copies of certain documents and various state agencies will sometimes send over a box or two of documents a week.
Brown said he is not willing to go to the legislature and ask for another new building to continue the process, but feels something has to be done.
"I think the obvious solution is to transfer some of that stuff to some kind of a computer disk system," he said, while recognizing this also means that the materials will have to be inventoried.
Some of the old documents could perhaps be thrown away, Brown said, while others could perhaps be donated to the Montana State Historical Society. Other documents might be of some value to private collectors who would be willing to purchase them thus lowing the cost of transferring them.
Solving the problem "will be like trying to empty a horse trough with an eyedropper," he said. "But it has to be done and a new system put in its place.
Any change will require some action by the legislature, he said.
As a member of the State Land Board, the Secretary of State will be one of the five top Montana office holders in charge of 5.2 million acres of state lands that produces over $40 million in revenue for Montana schools.
"It's important that that land be managed so it works for the maximum benefit of the agriculturists who are farming it so it can be used in the near, and long term, productively," Brown said.
He also said a similar approach needs to be used regarding Montana's timber lands.
Brown said the office of Secretary of State has been controlled by a Democrat for the 60 of the last 68 years.
"And I don't think that's healthy in a system of representative democracy where there ought to be competition between the two political parties," he said.
"Given the opportunity, I hope to make that office better as a Republican."