Leaders of the Democratic caucus in the Montana House and Senate will be in Havre Wednesday for an all-day listening session.
Democrats insist that except for a barbecue at Sen. Greg Jergeson’s house, the visit is not overtly political. We skeptics in the newspaper business take that with a grain of salt. There are some highly contested, high-profile legislative races on the Hi-Line that could play a major role in determining just who runs things in Helena for the next two years, and we‘re sure the Democrats’ legislative leaders would like very much to see Democrats win those races.
Just the same, it’s good to see people from Helena head up this way. Often we on the Hi-Line think we have a hard time having our voices heard in the state capital. So, if some hot races prompt the Democratic leadership to pay attention, we hope people take them up on their offer to listen to our concerns. We have a heap of concerns we think Helena should address. Here are a few:
• First, the Hi-Line, even more than the rest of Montana, needs jobs and an economic package that will attract more employment to our area.
Havre, to some degree, and other Hi-Line communities, to a greater extent, are seeing young people leave this beautiful region and never come back. Some of our farm communities that have rich histories and great, hard-working people are on the verge of disappearing. People feel they have to leave to secure jobs. But with technologies, there are possibilities to bring jobs to remote areas. The state can help out with greater support and more money to help develop these jobs.
The state has been effective in attracting jobs to “The Boot,” the western and southern areas of the state that house the seven biggest cities. As the eighth biggest city, Havre sometimes feels forgotten. We’re not in The Boot. We’re not in the Bakken.
• U.S. Highway 2 is the lifeline for the area. For decades, there has been talk of expanding the highway to four lanes.
Let’s get moving.
• The Port of Wild Horse is an important front door to our region. Canadians looking for shopping and entertainment opportunities would love to come to our area. Truckers and other commercial drivers would like to use the port more often, bringing more business to our part of the Hi-Line. But the port is open limited hours, and people are reluctant to use the port, fearful that it will be closed when it is time to return home. Mayors of Havre and Medicine Hat are pushing for longer hours, but we bet they would appreciate loud and consistent support from Montana Democrats.
• Montana State University-Northern is the heart and soul of our region. Many young people from farms, small towns and reservations of the Hi-Line have received the opportunity to lift themselves up to the middle class because of what the college offers, and it has brought people from all over to live in this area.
Northern’s budget is higher than some other Montana universities of the same size, but Northern faces some special problems, special challenges and special opportunities.
Last year, the Legislature generously provided funds for a new diesel technologies building on campus. The building will provide tremendous educational opportunities for students and a real boost to the Hi-Line economy. But the university has to raise $3 million before construction can begin.
Northern provides the Hi-Line with teachers, nurses, ranchers, technicians and business people, all vital to thriving economies. Very few Northern grads can fork over $40 million donations like some who graduate from The Boot universities. Are we embarrassed to ask for more state funds because of the clientele Northern serves? Not one bit.
• Study after study shows that people of Hill and Blaine counties are unhealthy. There are lots of reasons, but one key factor is that there is a lack of access to health care institutions. Many people can’t afford insurance and, therefore, go without health care until they are seriously ill.
No matter what you think about Obamacare, the provision to expand Medicaid would be a tremendous benefit to many people on the Hi-Line. Democrats have been on the right side of this one. Keep up the fight. This provision would help our health care facilities, increase the number of jobs in our area and especially provide health care to some who have been denied this life-saving service in the past.
• Havre and surrounding communities have some of the most fascinating and important history in Montana. Volunteers have worked hard to preserve some of the highlights of our history — the buffalo jump, Fort Assinniboine, H. Earl Clark Memorial Museum and many others of the Hi-Line.
They are invaluable for the effect they have on tourism in the area, but more important, they help us understand how the Hi-Line got where it is today and where it should go in the future.
Yet, today despite years of scrimping and saving, they are financially running on empty. The volunteers who spend countless hours and often spend their own money to keep the landmarks afloat may soon be reduced to holding bake sales.
We have no state parks on the Hi-Line. How about using some parks money to keep these vital historical landmarks alive and vigorous?
There are lots of other things we think Montana can do to help this area, but perhaps we’ll save those for when Republicans hold an equally nonpartisan session.
But we hope that Democratic will listen hard this week. There is a lot of work to be done.