Subscribe for 17¢ / day

HELENA — Rick Hill, a former Republican congressman, will announce Monday that he's running for governor in 2012 to “put Montana economy's back on track.”

He will formally declare his candidacy at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Marks Lumber Co. in Clancy.

“I think I can articulate a vision for Montana going forward,” he said in an interview this week. “The vision will be principally based on getting Montana's economy back on track. I think I've got a demonstrated performance in leadership to be able to execute a plan to get things done.”

Hill said that at early meetings about his campaign, some supporters referred to him as “a fixer.”

“I'm the kind of person who can fix things,” he said. “I think that's my strength, and I think that's what Montana needs.”

He cited his leading the effort to turn around the Montana Republican Party financially and politically as state chairman in the early 1990s.

Next, as chairman of the state Workers' Compensation Fund's board, Hill said he led the effort to reform a troubled state worker's comp system and state agency, ultimately turning $550 million in potential debt into a surplus, cutting rates in half and paying dividends.

Hill, who turns 64 in December, said his age shouldn't be an issue, noting that Gov.-elect Jerry Brown of California is 71. Hill said he believes he has the right combination of energy and experience and has learned a lot about leadership.

Hill, a retired insurance company executive, spent two terms as Montana's sole U.S. representative, from 1997-2000. He didn't seek re-election in 2000 because of serious eye problems.

“I'm 52 years old, and I'm a little worried about losing my vision,” Hill said in August 1999.

Now, his vision has been stable for more than five years, Hill said, and he's been using an experimental eye medication the past two years. Hill said he's able to drive a car and ride his motorcycle again.

Hill joins two other Republicans who've said they're running for governor in 2012 — former state Sens. Corey Stapleton of Billings and Ken Miller of Laurel.

So far, no Democrats have announced their candidacies for what will be an open seat. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, is prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election in 2012.

After leaving Congress, Hill said he graduated from law school through an online course and passed the California bar exam. The Montana bar doesn't allow graduates of Concord Law School to take the bar exam here. Hill said he never intended to practice law anyway.

“I was trying to get a handle on what was wrong with Montana and Montana's legal environment,” he said.

As he's observed state government in the past decade, Hill said he believes there are structural barriers to economic growth that need fixing. Certain business-rating groups have given Montana low marks for its legal and regulatory climates, high workers' compensation costs and high unemployment insurance administration costs, he said, and those problems need to be fixed.

The business community is looking for a predictable regulatory environment, he said, but Montana doesn't always offer that.

If elected, Hill said the four pillars of his administration would be:

— Getting the barriers out of the way to attract investment and better-paying jobs in Montana.

— Improving Montana schools and reducing the high dropout rates in high schools.

— Reducing spending to give Montanans a state government they can afford instead of have the state spend $20 million a month more than it takes in.

— Protecting Montana from an overreaching federal government in such areas as health care, public lands and wolf management.

Hill declined to spell out his specific remedies at this time, saying he would announce his ideas during the campaign.

Asked to evaluate the administration of Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Hill said, “I'm not running against Brian Schweitzer. Brian's done some good things, and I think he's made some mistakes. I really want this campaign to be about looking forward, not looking backward.”

Hill said he entered the race early because of the magnitude of the state and the challenge of raising money. He said he raised about $1.25 million for each of his congressional races.

Hill pointed to two governors, Stan Stephens and Schweitzer, who jumped in the race for the top state office early and were successful.

“I do know how to work a crowd,” he said. “I do understand retail politics.”

He's also become part of the new electronic age of politics and plans to have an electronic town meeting Monday night with some 18,000 Montana Republicans invited to participate.