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Associated Press Governor says schedule doesn't detract from duties

HELENA - Dallas, San Diego and Las Vegas are among the places visited by Gov. Marc Racicot in the last six months as he has forged more of a national profile and his out-of-state travel has increased.

An examination of Racicot's travel records found he was out of Montana on nearly 30 percent of the week days during the six-month period, the Great Falls Tribune reported Saturday.

This week, he is scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., to discuss Jobs for America's graduates, a school-to-work program. In May, Racicot will head for California to talk about the program, and in June, he is due in Seattle and Florida, for events tied to the volunteer program AmeriCorps.

Racicot's commitments beyond the governor's office include his chairmanship of Jobs for America's Graduates, and his role as an adviser to the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Racicot acknowledges he has been traveling more than usual, but says that has not detracted from his duties in Montana.

"I don't believe we even come close to compromising our responsibilities here," he said.

Recent travels included a speech at a Republican National Committee meeting in Florida and fund-raising events in Portland, Ore., and Seattle. He went to governor association meetings in Washington, D.C., and California, and he was in Marietta, Ga., and Dallas to lobby on behalf of a Helena aircraft parts company.

Racicot attended a water conference in San Diego; advised the Bush campaign in New Hampshire before that state's primary election; and gave a speech at Indiana's Notre Dame University, where his son attends law school.

In one stretch at the end of February, Racicot spent nine straight days on the road, going from Helena to Arizona to San Diego to Arizona and then to Washington, D.C.

Racicot said he occasionally turns down invitations to out-of-state events because of his work here. His schedule shows a full slate of meetings and events when he is in Montana.

About one-third of Racicot's out-of-state travel has been in connection with Jobs for America's Graduates, a program that helps students remain in high school, get diplomas and find work.

As national chairman, the Republican governor raises money for the program and travels to other states to lobby for making the program a presence.

Racicot attended a Jobs for America's Graduates conference in Washington, D.C., in December, and a conference in Las Vegas in January. He has lobbied the Louisiana and Arizona legislatures to fund the program.

"There are a lot of young mothers, a lot of kids, who, but for this program, would have dropped out of school and not had a moment's opportunity to taste success," Racicot said in an interview.

Jobs for America's Graduates pays for Racicot's lodging, but not the travel expenses. Those come from his "constituency account," which is funded by private donations from individuals.

Racicot aide Mary Jo Fox said the fund raises and spends about $35,000 a year. In visits to Portland and Seattle this year, Racicot raised money for the constituency account. People with business or personal connections to Montana attended fund-raising events.

Some of the governor's travels have been strictly political, such as when he advised the Bush campaign in New Hampshire last November, or when he spoke at a Republican National Committee meeting in Florida, in February.

The Bush campaign pays for his activities tied to the presidential bid.

Racicot, who is in his final term as governor, said he has no expectation that he will get a job in the Bush administration if Bush is elected. Racicot said he simply supports Bush because he believes the Texas governor would make a good president.

Many Montana Democrats see the travels by Racicot as an effort to raise his national profile and his chance of getting a position on the national level. They also tend to say they see nothing wrong with it.

"We wish the governor well in his job search," said Great Falls Democrat Steve Doherty, minority leader in the Montana Senate.

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