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After spending nearly a decade on the Missoula City Council, Lou Ann Crowley made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2005. The same year Ellie Hill, a former assistant district attorney in Idaho, moved to town with her husband and set about restoring Missoula's oldest home, the Worden house on East Pine Street.

Now their paths meet in a mutual quest for their first state offices. They are Democratic candidates for House District 94, a race that has no Republican candidate.

Hill, executive director of the Poverello Center Inc., has been endorsed by Montana Conservation Voters and said she's already working with member organizations on legislation to further protect Montana's rivers and streams.

"I will be a champion for Montana's constitutional guarantee of a clean and healthful environment," she said.

Crowley, a Boston native who has lived in Missoula since 1978, has been struck by the plights of out-of-work people in the district. She plans to produce a bill to facilitate the conversion of Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. to a source of renewable energy generation.

"The job environment has changed dramatically, and putting people to work by promoting jobs in new technology as well as traditional basic industries is crucial," Crowley said.

Crowley's volunteer experience is diverse. She's a board member of the Missoula Farmers Market, the Community Food and Agricultural Coalition and the Women's Foundation of Montana. She's also a member of the Grant Creek Kiwanis.

While Hill is running for political office for the first time, she has been active on the county Democratic Central Committee, as has Crowley.

Hill called it an "urgent priority" to pass meaningful legislation that addresses driving under the influence. She said she will be one of the few legislators who have prosecuted DUIs.

"I understand firsthand the impact DUI has on our community," she said. "The new DUI courts in Billings and Kalispell are showing great promise in reducing Montana's steady increase in offenders who get multiple DUIs."

Hill supports expanding the program to Missoula and other communities. She said she has the endorsements of Mayor John Engen, six City Council members, and two Missoula County prosecutors, in part because she has the "real-world experience" to pass effective DUI legislation.

Crowley said when it comes to DUI, the Legislature needs to think in terms of education - prevention, treatment and enforcement - beginning in the schools.

"This is a complex issue that deals with one-time offenders as well as serious repeat offenders," she said. "The Law and Justice Interim Committee and the Montana DUI Task Force will be putting forward a number of good ideas in the next Legislature that will promote change."

Crowley said the looming state budget crunch "will require walking a tightrope to balance revenue and spending."

"It will mean examining our tax structure to see if there are adjustments that can be made. It will also mean prioritizing funding in the areas of education, health and human services and corrections, among other services," she said.

"My 10 years of experience on the City Council reviewing department budgets equips me to make the difficult decisions facing the Legislature," Crowley said.

Hill vowed to "fight tooth and nail" against any proposed cuts to education or health and human services."

"I believe both are underfunded as is," she said. "That said, there are creative ways to generate revenue without raising taxes on Montana families. For example, we need to demand big corporations pay their fair share."

The next Legislature must also address the U.S. Supreme Court's "disastrous decision to declare corporations as people," Hill said, referring to the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. "Money is not speech, and the Bill of Rights is a bill of human right."

Whoever wins the June 8 primary will replace Democrat Dave McAlpin, who served in Helena the past two legislative sessions. HD94 stretches from the corner of Brooks Street and South Higgins Avenue to Miller Creek Road in urban Missoula.

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

 

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