Montana is parched, drying up, turning to dust. Our farms and ranches are parched from the lack of rain and low commodity prices. Our economy is parched from the lack of vision and cooperation from Gov. Judy Martz and her Republican administration.
We can't do much about the lack of rain. But we can and must do better when it comes to creating jobs and boosting the economy. We need to work together, have a vision for the future, cooperate, and seek out the advice and opinions from Montanans in every community.
Even though Democrats have repeatedly offered to work together for the betterment of all Montana, Gov. Judy Martz and her administration refuse to do so.
'Near-secret' decision The most recent example is the Bush and Martz administrations' hell bent determination to disrupt and thus potentially destroy a successful economic development project that serves both rural and urban Montana well. Their decision was made in near-secrecy and did not take into consideration what is best for Montana. Their decision could very well set back what strides have been made to boost Montana's economy.
For the past four years, the Montana Cooperative Development Center has done a remarkable job based out of MSU-Northern in Havre. The center has helped like-minded Montanans organize for the purpose of adding value or directly marketing Montana products.
As these groups were fostered by the center, some formed cooperatives. Five new cooperatives were formed last year, and eight other groups of Montanans chose other economic business models with help from the center. The center was working and helped serve the needs of all of Montana while located in Havre. It was an excellent model of cooperation and assistance, and the type of help Montanans need to move our state out of the bottom of the economic barrel.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's rural development office in Bozeman - with the blessings of the Martz administration in Helena (all Republican political appointees) - decided to move the center to Helena. Shockingly, the center's advisory board was not consulted on the move. The major cooperative organizations in Montana were not consulted on the move. And area legislators were not consulted on the move.
The reasons for the center's move have never been clearly given, other than it would make it easier to administer and control. Cooperation and due process were not a part of their decision making. Furthermore, I'm convinced after the past few weeks that the reason no solid rationale was given for the move is because the rationale was weak, trumped up and wouldn't stand up to public scrutiny.
The fact is the center was doing a good job in Havre. Like any other organization, there was room for improvement, which could have been handled on site in Havre, while the center continued to grow, create jobs and work to improve Montana's lackluster economy.
A number of mistakes The placement of the center in Gov. Martz's Department of Agriculture is a mistake on a number of fronts:
The center is not just for agriculture. It's for all Montana. Locating this center in Gov. Martz's Department of Agriculture potentially limits the cooperative's work to agriculture and agriculture products - a mistake.
Cooperatives can work well for adding value to agriculture products, but also work well for Montanans who want to market beadwork, clothing, wood products or other value-added products.
We have all seen many services that were adequately provided in rural Montana sucked up by political appointees in Helena for the sake of "efficiency," only to become totally dysfunctional. Quite frankly, state government in Helena is big enough, and economic development services should be provided in towns and cities where they're needed.
And even more disturbing is the Martz administration's plans to pit Montana communities against each other to win the "prize" of the center's new location. That's truly pitiful when we should be working together to move Montana forward.
It's no accident that Montana has an economy comparable to Third World countries. Montanans suffer from Gov. Martz's lack of vision and cooperation. Moving the Montana Cooperative Development Center away from the people it serves further exhibits the visionless policies that have governed Montana for the last 15 years under Republican control.
We can, and must, do better.
Senate Democratic Leader Jon Tester farms near Big Sandy.