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HELENA - Is the third Brown the charm for Montana Republicans?

After Republicans Bob Brown and Roy Brown lost general election races for governor in 2004 and 2008, some college students are hoping to convince Taylor Brown to toss his cowboy hat into the ring for the open seat in 2012.

They're circulating petitions to draft the state senator from Huntley and prominent agricultural broadcaster as a candidate. Since kicking off their effort Labor Day weekend in Dillon, the students had 678 signatures on Friday toward their goal of 25,000.

"There's a ground movement of youth that understands their future is in jeopardy." "said one of the leaders, Mitch Staley of Dillon, who's studying at Brigham Young University.

The other student leaders are Shelby DeMars at Carroll College and Sam Cornthwaite at Montana State University.

Brown emerged from his first legislative session this year "as a guy who wants to help, but doesn't like the political games in Helena," Staley said.

"The guy understands us," Staley said. "They're messing with my future and my (future) kids. They're spending my money and my kids' money in Helena and Washington. It's kind of sick."

The Brown name has been golden in recent Republican primaries for governor, but not so good in general elections.

In 2004, Democrat Brian Schweitzer defeated then Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown of Whitefish by about 20,000 votes to win the open governor's seat. Four years later, Schweitzer was re-elected by burying state Sen. Roy Brown, R-Billings, by more than 160,000 votes.

So what does Taylor Brown think about this movement to convince him to seek the governor's office.

"To be honest, it's kind of uncomfortable for me," Brown told me. "I'm really not sure how to react."

Brown said he agreed to meet with the students, but didn't encourage them - nor did he give them permission to launch the drive.

"I'm not interested, at this point, in changing careers," Brown said. "I'm not interested in seeking full-time public office and changing careers at this point."

Careful readers will note, however, that Brown didn't slam the door shut on the prospect. He left it open at least slightly by using the qualifying phrase "at this point" twice in two sentences.

Brown did say the students are rightly concerned about their future.

"I believe a lot of Montanans are worried about the current threat to the principles we cherish," Brown said. "They want good jobs and want to start meaningful careers for their families."

Asked if he has contemplated running for statewide office, Brown said he has served only one session in the Legislature.

"I don't mind admitting serving that four months in Helena was pretty hard on our family business," he said. "These are challenging times."

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He and his wife, Shannon, own the Northern Broadcasting System, which they bought in 1985 from future Sen. Conrad Burns. It provides a variety of programming to 80-plus radio stations in six states and ag programs on nine Montana and Wyoming TV stations.

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It includes the Northern Ag Network, where Brown cut his teeth broadcasting ag news. He now has one of Montana's most recognizable radio voices, particularly in rural areas.

Besides his business, Brown said he also has aging parents and the family ranch he helps run.

"It would be really hard for me to envision doing that at this point," Brown said about a governors race in 2012. "I never say never. I don't believe a person should ever say never. I certainly appreciate their enthusiasm, and I appreciate their confidence in me. I'm flattered."

Brown called it an interesting, but uncomfortable situation.

Staley, the student organizer, said Brown didn't say yes or no to anything when they met with them.

"He did say that's an impressive amount of signatures," Staley said. "When we get our 25,000 signatures, we'll present them to him."

Because it's an open seat in 2012, a number other people from both parties will be at least taking a look at running for governor or have people urging them to do so.

Charles S. Johnson is chief of the Missoulian State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached at (800) 525-4920 or (406) 447-4066. His e-mail address is chuck.johnson(a)lee.net .

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