HELENA — Republican Ken Miller is hoping the second time is the charm in his race for governor this year.
Miller, who placed third in the four-way GOP primary in 2004, believes he’s got the best qualifications of anyone running for chief executive this time. He’s one of seven candidates in the June 5 Republican primary race for governor.
“I’m the only one with agricultural, small business and legislative experience,” Miller said in a recent interview. “It gives me the real-life experience to serve as governor.”
In addition, the former state senator from Laurel said he has a “proven backbone” and was respected in the Legislature for being his own man.
Miller narrowly lost his race for the state Senate from Laurel in 1990 to longtime Democratic Sen. Chet Blaylock. Four years later, Blaylock didn’t run again, and Miller won the Senate seat in the strong union community. He was re-elected without opposition in 1998.
For Miller, there is one primary issue facing Montana.
“It’s creating jobs with natural resources, and with that will come manufacturing,” he said.
Miller said he’s traveled 60,000 miles across Montana over 17 months as a candidate.
“Everywhere I go, it’s: ‘Why don’t we have good-paying jobs in Montana?’” Miller said, echoing the concerns of voters. “We’re blessed with treasures. That’s why we’re called the Treasure State. Yet we’re not utilizing them to support the families of Montana.”
If he’s the next governor, Miller said he will change administrative rules and put in the right department directors to remove barriers that are stopping or delaying natural resource development.
He wants to put certainty in environmental permitting regulations.
“No longer is this (permit application) allowed to go on and on and lay on somebody’s desk,” he said.
Speaking to a small crowd of supporters over lunch here recently, Miller said he also favors a loser-pays proposal to make environmental groups post bonds and foot the legal costs if their challenges fail.
A keystone of his campaign is his vow to stand up to the federal government over state’s rights issues.
“I just look forward to the day that I can stand with Gov. (Jan) Brewer on this battle with U.S. immigration and say, ‘Gov. Brewer, I’m sorry that we didn’t have a governor fighting the fight with you, but we do now,’ ” Miller said of the Arizona governor. “I’m here and we’re going to stand with you.’ Then when we do that, she will be here on our issues on wolves or whatever that may be.”
Miller moved to Montana after graduating from high school in Colorado and went to work on the farm his parents bought in Joliet. He likes to say he attended the “University of Hard Knocks.”
He’s also owned and run several businesses in Laurel with his wife, Peggy, and they later sold them. More recently, the Millers sold a furniture outlet store they had run for a number of years. They also have rental properties.
The campaign has been amassing that support since the day he started the race, Miller said.
His supporters wear bright lime green T-shirts promoting his candidacy to events and sometimes show up at a Walmart at a set time sporting the shirts.
“We’re seeing the payoff from that, the amount of grassroots support that we’ve been able to build up,” Miller said. “They’re the boots on the ground, so to speak, to make sure that we get the brochures out and talk to the neighbors and raise the money and all the things for a successful campaign.”
Miller said he determined when he launched the campaign that he wants to meet what’s now all one million Montanans.
“I want to look them in the eye, shake their hand and answer their questions,” he said. “I think people appreciate that instead of the normal raise lots of dollars and then spend them on attack ads, tearing each other down, similar to what we’re seeing going on in the presidential race and stuff. People are tired of that.”