HELENA — Republican Neil Livingstone of Helena formally kicked off his campaign for governor Sunday by announcing state Sen. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish as his running mate.
Livingstone is the first of the five Republicans and one Democrat actively campaigning for governor to name a running mate.
Both men own businesses. Livingstone’s provides security, investigative and natural disaster mitigation consulting to U.S. and international businesses, while Zinke’s is involved with business development consulting.
In separate speeches at an event in the yard at Livingstone’s home, the two men pledged to lead an economic revolution in Montana and create more jobs for people here.
Livingstone said they would make Montana a more open, favorable and inviting place for business and fundamentally change how business is done now.
Montana now ranks 47th among the 50 states in per capita gross domestic product, he said, while Utah is 14th, Wyoming is 19th and even New Mexico, traditionally the worst in the Rocky Mountain region, is 40th.
“We’re stuck down there with Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia,” Livingstone said. “And I don’t think that’s the image Montanans have of themselves is that they’re down in that lowest end of the states in terms of opportunity and being able to attract business.”
Livingstone said he and Zinke are both businessmen who want to turn that around.
“We’re going to work to abolish the state corporate income tax and the (business) equipment tax,” he said. “We want to provide tax breaks for companies that come to Montana and make this an inviting regulatory
environment for them.”
He pledged to balance the state budget, although that’s already required by the state Constitution.
“We’re going to try to reduce the costs in the state of Montana,” he said. “I’ve pledged to reduce the state workforce by 10 percent by attrition and other means. Rather than grow it by 40 percent as the current governor has, we’re going to go in the other direction.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to sacrifice the state police (the Highway Patrol) or the guy who’s out there at 20 (degrees) below plowing our roads.”
Livingstone said he would oppose any new taxes and would resist any unfunded federal mandates. He called for making all of Montana’s financial information transparent on the Internet.
“We’ll manage our own wildlife issues,” the candidate said. “We don’t need the federal government telling us how to handle the gray wolf or the wandering bison issue. I think we have a terrific state Fish and Game here.”
Livingstone said he and Zinke want to make Montana the state that is at the forefront of reform.
Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL commander, said Livingstone is just the kind of leader that Montana needs.
“We need someone who understands global markets,” he said. “We need someone who has been there in real business and not insurance business, but a real business that produces products.”
That appeared to be a shot at rival GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill, who had his own insurance business.
Zinke said too many Montana children are forced to leave the state to find jobs because of excessive taxation and regulation here.
“The best thing we can do for business is get out of the way,” he said.
Zinke also called for eliminating corporate taxes, saying it would pay off.
“Do I care whether Burlington Northern pays a dime in taxes if they hired 10,000 more people?” Zinke said. “I’ll make that trade today, and we will too.”