HELENA - Former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill said Wednesday he will not be a Republican candidate next year for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Max Baucus, although he wouldn't rule out running in future elections.

"It's just not the right time for me," Hill said in a telephone interview. "I spent the last three or four months returning to private life. Betti (his wife) and I talked about what we're going to do, but this isn't the time for me."

Hill, 54, was twice elected as Montana's lone representative but decided in mid-1999 not to run for a third term in 2000 because of lingering eye problems after a surgery.

"There appears to be a good field of challengers," he said of potential Republican candidates for the Senate. "It does reflect Max's vulnerability, also a stirring up out there."

Expressing interest publicly so far have been Jim Peterson of Judith Gap, former executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, and state Sen. Mike Taylor, R-Proctor, a businessman and rancher.

Contrary to what some Democratic legislators have suggested, Hill emphatically denied he is seeking appointment to a newly created, $125,000-a-year job of chief economic development officer for Montana under Gov. Judy Martz.

Hill organized a meeting in December for Martz with state business, education and labor leaders to discuss what Montana needed to do to stimulate the economy. The idea of creating a seven-person governor's office of economic development stemmed in part from that meeting and was approved by 2001 Legislature.

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