Candidates answer your questions

Editor's note: This is one in a continuing series in which Montanans can ask candidates for governor about the issues.

HELENA - Each of the five candidates for governor has different ideas about how to improve Montana's struggling agricultural economy.

They were responding to the a question asked of them through a program in which the public can send questions to the Missoulian State Bureau, which will forward them to the campaigns. Candidates are limited to 100-word answers.

A farmer, Gary Gollehon of Brady, asked this question: "Since we are almost in last place in rankings in the United States and agriculture is Montana's No. 1 industry and it is also in last place, how do you propose to stimulate the ag economy in Montana?

"Gov. (Marc) Racicot has proposed Vision 2005, but I cannot foresee how it is going to help me or to stimulate the small rural towns that desperately need stimulation in order to reverse the 'boarded up,' 'going out of business' trend that is taking place in the smaller towns in Montana. Instead of catering to big business wouldn't it make more sense to increase productivity in rural Montana to create new wealth? It has been said that the agriculture dollar turns over seven times in a community, but how can this be when agriculture is operating at below cost of production?"

Here are the candidates' answers:

€ Democrat Mike Cooney, Montana's secretary of state: "I've proposed a number of specific initiatives I believe are important to protecting our agricultural heritage in Montana. As governor, I'll work to implement public-private partnership programs like those being successfully used in other states that support producers who transition into new, high-yield and alternative crops. I'll encourage the state and the federal government to be much more aggressive in its approach to industry concentration. During my administration we will more aggressively pursue niche marketing and work to develop new means to add value to Montana products."

€ Democrat Joe Mazurek, Montana's attorney general: "Agriculture in Montana is hanging on by its fingernails, with farmers and ranchers subsidizing the low cost of food. My Connect Montana economic-development initiative addresses the need to expand agricultural markets and add value to agricultural products, in part by using technology to help producers market their products directly and expand their share of retail sales. We must connect agriculture to university system research efforts that will improve production and add value. I also would take a lead with Congress and the federal government to advocate for Montana on agricultural issues, including fair trade and market concentration matters."

€ Democrat Mark O'Keefe, Montana's state auditor: "Montana farmers want a price - not a subsidy - and we should take action to help farmers get a fair price for their goods. We need to: foster value-added agricultural products and markets, advocate for country-of-origin labeling, expand markets when it helps Montana ag producers get a fair price, work with congressional delegation to get an income safety net back in the federal farm bill, strengthen and enforce Montana anti-trust laws to address concentration in the industry."

€ Republican Judy Martz, state's lieutenant governor: "With our backgrounds in agriculture and small business, Karl Ohs and I know the keys to a strong agri-economy are opening markets, adding value to our raw commodities and marketing Montana's good name. When I recently met with a Chinese delegation to help convince them to purchase Montana wheat, it was clear that emerging markets worldwide want quality Montana commodities. Additionally, Karl has been instrumental in marketing Montana products like Montana Conservation Beef across the nation. We have to seek markets and aggressively market our products. We know rural Montana - and we'll work with producers to promote a strong agri-economy."

€ Republican Rob Natelson, University of Montana law professor: "The questioner is correct that 'economic development' bureaucracies will not help agriculture. Instead, government must focus on removing obstacles to prosperity. Because I'm limited to 100 words, here are only a few ways I'd help agriculture: (1) The legislature adopted my proposal to phase out the livestock tax. I'll work to reduce real property, inheritance and business equipment taxes. (2) As a property law expert, I'll ease the burden of regulations, including those that threaten property rights. (3) As a constitutional expert, I'll oppose burdensome federal mandates and the 'middleman' monopoly largely created by federal regulations."

To ask questions of candidates for governor, readers may send them to the Missoulian State Bureau, P.O. Box 1676, Helena, Mont. 59601, or fax them at (406) 443-0034 or e-mail them to: csjohnson@uswest.net. Participants are asked to include their addresses and phone numbers for verification.

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