Republican state Sen. Roy Brown swung through Kalispell Thursday to formally announce his candidacy for governor against incumbent Democrat, Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Speaking to a crowd of about 30 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Brown described his intent to lower property taxes, eliminate the business equipment tax, and increase the accountability and integrity of Montana’s campaign finance laws.
“I will be promoting Montana, not myself,” Brown said, taking a swipe at Schweitzer.
“That’s a change,” muttered someone in the crowd, which was composed largely of Flathead GOP state lawmakers and their families.
But that minor swipe at Schweitzer, a politician capable of raising considerable ire within the GOP, was the extent of Brown’s partisan sparring, going on to say he intended to run a campaign that stuck to facts, not character attacks – and that Brown had called Schweitzer’s office Monday evening to tell him as much.
Brown did level criticism at Schweitzer’s policy, however, saying the governor took credit for a budget surplus which he inherited, that he raised taxes on 16,000 small businesses, and has raised fees on hunting, fishing and cell phone usage.
“You can spin it all you want, but a fee is still a tax,” Brown said, calling the state budget passed by the 2007 Legislature, “the biggest spending increase in the history of Montana.”
In challenging Schweitzer, Brown takes on an incumbent enjoying high approval ratings and an amassed war chest of $750,000 as of Sept. 30. Schweitzer has also proven an adept politician at turning traditional GOP issues, like coal development and gun rights, around on Republicans. Brown acknowledged the challenge.
“No, I am not delusional, I really believe we can win this race,” Brown said. “The only way I will serve you in this race for governor is if people from all parties support me statewide.”
Although Brown, a former oil man, didn’t mention it in his speech, energy development – specifically coal – is likely to be a key issue in the gubernatorial contest in the coming year. After his speech, Brown said Schweitzer pays lip service to developing coal, but opposes specific projects that arise, and Montana should pursue an energy policy more like Wyoming’s. Like Schweitzer, Brown said he also favors increased research into Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle coal power, a process that produced liquid fuel from coal. But Brown emphasized that he does not favor unfettered coal production that “just rips up the land” and that he would encourage wind and solar power development as well.
Brown also addressed the current $32 million funding shortfall in a state workers’ compensation fund known as the “Old Fund.” Brown, who served four terms in the House before moving to the Senate, was among lawmakers who, in 2003, took $22 million out of a perceived surplus in the fund to help balance the state’s budget for two years.
“Sometimes you have to make decisions and that was a tough decision,” he said. “The alternative was to raise taxes.”
Brown said he currently has a holdover senate bill in place to restore the money to the fund.
“The right thing to do is pay it back with surplus funds,” Brown added. “I’m not raising taxes for it.”
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