Next up, Judy, Max and Conrad compare SAT scores… Still deciding whether to run for office this year? Want to save the whales, subvert the system from within, and hang out with Judy in Helena, but those pesky filing fees are getting in your way? Then you’ll be glad to know that running for the state legislature is still the blue light special of Montana politics.

January 21 was the first day Montanans could officially declare their candidacy for the 2002 elections. All potential candidates must do are meet the qualifications for office, fill out a form, and pay the fee.

Ah, the fee. Running for the United States Senate or House of Representatives will set you back $1,500. The filing fee for state Supreme Court Justice is a hefty $893.81 and District Court Judge will lighten your pocketbook by $826.06. Getting even with the scoundrels at Qwest by running for the Public Service Commission will cost $674.47.

The filing fee for the State Senate and State House of Representatives, though, remains a screaming deal at $15. That’s right, fifteen bucks. About the cost of a tank of gas, a large pizza, or a Britney Spears CD.

Why so cheap? Most filing fees are 1 percent of the position’s annual salary, explains Shannon Stevens, a legislative specialist in the Secretary of State’s office. Montana’s legislature meets on an irregular basis. “They only get paid when they meet, so you can’t really base it off an annual salary for them,” Stevens says.

There are 100 state House seats and 25 state Senate seats up for grabs this year. Filing forms are online at www.sos.state.mt.us, and there is a toll-free voter hotline at 888-884-VOTE.

To run for state legislature you must be 18 years old and have lived in Montana for at least one year and in your district for at least six months. You don’t need to take an intelligence test. That might change in Washington state, though.

The non-profit group FairTest has introduced an initiative that would require any candidate running for local or state-wide office to take the same standardized test required of 10th graders.

FairTest filed the initiative to protest against the emphasis on standardized testing in the state. In contrast to Washington, Montana has a tradition of less standardized testing and more local control in education, although this changed with the passage last month of President Bush’s education bill.

The bill “truly gets in our face as far as standardized instruments, and for no good educational reasons,” says Eric Feaver, president of the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers.

The FairTest initiative is “good theater,” says Feaver, but it has a legitimate point.

“Tests by definition do not measure all that’s valuable and worthy in a person,” he says.

Even if one supports FairTest’s cause and hopes the initiative undermines rampant, ineffective testing, wouldn’t it be great to have our public officials’ reading and math scores available online, as the initiative calls for? Especially here in Montana, where a popular bumper sticker reads, “Our governor is dumber than your governor.”

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