By Ron VandenBoom
State Sen. Mike Taylor stopped in Havre to meet with the public and Republican Party faithful as part of a week-long swing around the state to test the waters before deciding whether to run for the U.S. Senate.
The Proctor resident is the first Republican to publicly express an interest in the seat held by Democrat Max Baucus.
Hill County Republican chairman Brad Lotton said today about a dozen people, mostly Republicans, met with Taylor on Friday to ask questions and express their concerns.
Taylor in a interview described himself as a "Teddy Roosevelt kind of a person a populist in some ways that also believes in conservation."
It's a description that seems appropriate considering Taylor's well-known reputation for portraying the famous "Bull Moose" president in the theatrical production "Bully" for various charities around the state.
He also said he has a tendency to tackle tough problems a claim backed up by some of the controversial legislation he has carried during his two terms as a state senator.
The most well-known legislation Taylor sponsored in 1999 reduced or eliminated the state business equipment tax for what he said were 55,000 main street businesses.
The bill continues to be the centerpiece of the tax reduction debate. Democrats claim the bill was merely a tax shift from the state to the local level, forcing communities to raise fees and mill levies for local residents.
"Now I certainly couldn't control the counties that went back and raised their fees and their mill levies because they said they were short," Taylor said. "... That's up to them. That's the local control. If they want to do that, then that's what they should do. We can't control that, and we shouldn't control that at the state level."
Other legislation Taylor has carried includes the wind tunnel bill, SB432, which he said will lead to Montana's entry into the space race with the creation of a hypersonic wind tunnel in Butte, and SB445, the Department of Commerce reorganization bill that will, according to Taylor, create more jobs and better incomes for Montanans.
Taylor's ability to tackle tough problems might also be reflected in his desire to climb mountains and by competing last year as a master class skeet shooter in world competition in England. He has scaled Mount Rainier, Mount McKinley and Kilamanjaro. He has also been a successful businessman who owned barber and hair styling salons, beauty supply stores and a manufacturing business. He also had a successful registered Suffolk and Columbia sheep operation.
"I think life's a journey," Taylor said. "... I've always been one that wanted to take the next step whatever that step may be and to be challenged."
He acknowledged that a race against Baucus would be a tough challenge in fact, one of the toughest challenges he has ever been in. But Taylor said he has never taken any elevators to the top and has always had to take his challenges one step at a time.
"I think I can communicate and convince people what is good for Montana," he said.
Taylor said he does not believe Montana has been treated well over the years by Baucus, and he cited as examples past federal energy policy, natural resources policy, and former President Clinton's national monument designations as examples of Baucus's neglect. He also cited Baucus's failure to support President Bush's $1.6 billion tax cut in favor of supporting the recently passed $1.3 billion cut a move that Taylor said cost every Montana taxpayer about $500.
Taylor said he decided to consider a run for Baucus's seat because he found it frustrating when things couldn't be accomplished at the state level because of federal legislation. The recent energy crisis is just such an example.
Taylor described a situation created in 1991-92 when deregulation of the wholesale price of energy first took place.
"But California didn't deregulate retail prices," Taylor said. "Consequently they broke three companies and are now costing their people $9 billion and affecting Montana."
Taylor didn't vote for deregulation two years ago. He said he did not believe there was going to be choice for consumers.
"You can't deregulate without choice," he said. "If you deregulate without choice, you have a problem because you don't have a free market source."
Taylor said he has scheduled an announcement for June 19 about whether he will run. He said he will then jump on a plane and stop at some of the major communities around the state, including Havre, to shake hands and repeat his announcement.
Baucus's spokesman, Bill Lombardi, responded to Taylor's comments only to say that Baucus will seriously take any political challenge that comes forward just as he takes his job as Montana's senior senator seriously.
"Max is focusing as being effective for Montana," Lombardi said. "He is focused on creating a good economy and good jobs."