Around in Circles 

Would Judy Martz move Montana forward, or send it spinning?

Anyone who has ever heard gubernatorial candidate Judy Martz speak about her time on the 1964 U.S. Olympic speed skating team knows how deeply the experience affected her life. As Martz tells the story, she was blazing around the speed oval, making good time, and began thinking of the gold medal instead of concentrating on skating. In that tragic moment of inattention, Martz lost her focus, fell to the ice, and finished 15th. While it makes a good story for the hundreds of high school commencements at which Judy has told the tale, we might do well to consider the drawbacks in electing a governor who bases much of her political philosophy on lessons learned while skating around in circles.

In a recent political flyer, a glossy photo of Gov. Marc Racicot fills the page next to a quote touting Judy Martz as having “the strength, experience and the common sense plan we need to keep Montana moving forward.” Now think about that. “Moving forward” to a speed skater means making your way around the oval track—the faster, the better. But no matter how fast you go, the reality of an oval is that you wind up right back where you started. Unfortunately, if we elect Judy Martz as our next governor, Montana is likely to wind up going in circles, too. Consider some of Martz’s political views and the policies she supports.

Tax policy: Martz would give tax breaks to large corporations to improve Montana’s lifeless economy. Back in 1985, Democrat Gov. Ted Schwinden unveiled what he called “The Window of Opportunity” whereby Montana would slash its coal tax in half to create hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity through the increased coal mining such tax breaks would engender. Fifteen years later, we have instead lost millions in revenue as a result of the tax breaks and never did get the promised jobs. Throughout the Racicot/Martz administration, the same failed philosophy has been followed—the big companies get millions in tax reductions while the citizens get pennies. So why would we want to continue on this course? Around in circles with Judy Martz.

Environmental permitting: Martz would “streamline” permitting for major industrial plants so those with “sound business plans” can “get in business and stay in business.” Sound familiar? It should. Gov. Racicot and Gov. Stephens before him made the exact same promises. Racicot went so far as to completely reorganize the agencies that handle environmental permitting, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The result? Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic might be a good way to describe it. The Racicot/Martz attempts to “streamline” permitting resulted in cutting regulatory corners. That resulted in lawsuits (which the state lost), which resulted in the state permitting agencies doing everything over again. Around in circles with Judy Martz.

Health care: Martz wants to “build a friendlier climate for health insurers to encourage more competition” and “regionalize” the mental health system. For 20 years, Republicans have been mouthing their intentions to improve what they call Montana’s “business climate.” Under the Racicot/Martz administration, Montana suffered one of the worst policy disasters in recent times with their plan to privatize mental health care. The $400 million dollar boondoggle resulted in a blizzard of complaints from both health care providers and those who need the care. Eventually, the experiment collapsed of its own shortcomings and now we are back to a state-run system that, thanks to the cost-overruns of the Racicot/Martz failure, is deeply in debt. Around in circles with Judy Martz.

Federal land policies: Judy Martz sent a signed shovel to anti-government protesters in Nevada for them to use in re-opening a road that was closed to protect endangered fish. Martz claims the shovel incident wasn’t meant to intimidate public officials, but to “have a say” in federal land policies. In 1988, Conrad Burns defeated incumbent Senator John Melcher after then-president Ronald Reagan vetoed a Montana wilderness bill that had been passed by Congress. Burns made a couple promises then, neither which he kept. The first was that he supported term limits and wouldn’t run for more than two terms. He’s now running for his third term. The other was that he would resolve Montana’s decades-long wilderness debate. Twelve years later, the wilderness debate is anything but resolved as we fight over proposals to protect our remaining roadless lands. Regardless of how you cut it, these are federal lands, under control of the federal government, and belong to all the people of the nation, not just the locals. National polls show 76 percent of Americans support protection for remaining roadless lands, but Judy Martz opposes further protection and supports opening the last of Montana’s wild lands to industrial exploitation. Around in circles with Judy Martz.

The list goes on and on. In virtually every area Martz’s positions are a return to an earlier era, the repetition of old ideas, a replay of failed experiments. They have all been tried in the last 12 years of Republican governors. They have all been endorsed by the last decade of Republican-dominated legislatures. And they have all failed to produce results—as our economic standing so clearly demonstrates. The Martz platform will provide Montanans yet another opportunity to rerun the last two decades of battles over a host of issues like environmental protection, provision of social services and federal lands policies.

In spite of Gov. Racicot’s rhetoric, it is highly unlikely that any of these proposals will help Montana “move forward.” Unless of course, you think of public policy as a speed oval where “moving forward” means going around and around and around in circles with Judy Martz.
George Ochenski has lobbied the Legislature since 1985, primarily on environmental, tribal and public interest issues. You can contact him at ochenski@ixi.net. The opinions expressed in “Independent Voices” do not necessarily reflect those of the Independent.

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