Keep Public Lands Public

By Beacon Staff

When I first ran for elected office I was conflicted between running as a Republican or a Democrat. I am from one of the many families who are a bit split on issues: my dad a Republican who delivered crude oil across the seas, my mom an English teacher and a Democrat.

In 2002, when I first campaigned I found out that the Montana Republican Party’s platform wanted to privatize our public lands. In 2003, Governor Martz’s Republican administration wanted to sell the nearly 13,000 acres of the public lands around Whitefish to out of state developers. Standing together, we have stopped this greedy effort to sell our best public asset, the great outdoors.

These public lands are those special areas around Happy Valley, Spencer Mountain, Beaver Lake, the Frisbee Golf area at the head of Whitefish Lake, Haskill Basin as well as Les Mason State Park.

Today I know I made the right choice to run as a Democrat as any personal conflict vanished during the 2007 House Session, controlled by hot headed and extreme House Republicans. I still retain those core values of small business, outdoor heritage, lower taxes and funding our schools.

Shockingly, in both the 2005 and 2007 Legislative Session, the Montana Republican caucus would not support conservation of our State Public Lands, nor would they support our right to access rivers and streams in SB78.

From my family conversations and with downtown businesses these are not main street Republican values but rather extreme political ploys. This divisiveness is exactly the type of politics we must get beyond.

We have achieved an enormous victory by having HJ57 ratified: it preserves the right of the State Land Board to conserve our Public Land, which are held in trust for the people by the Montana Constitution.

Theodore Roosevelt was a naturalist, hunter and explorer besides being a respected Republican President of the United States. No doubt he would adamantly oppose the recent mailing that hit the mailboxes by my opponents, the special interest group (PAC) and the former executive director of the Montana Republican Party.

The mailing espouses economic development and uses a glorious picture of what surely must be Glacier National Park. Those peaks are magnificent. The headline over the majestic scene says, “Drill it”, “Dig it”, “Log it” and “Grow it.” The mailing talks about the electing the right leadership and suggest my opponents would be a good fit.

Most local realtors and contractors will be surprised to learn who is funding these mailings: research www.politicalpractices.mt.gov. The local realtors and contractors I know are a kind and good bunch of family folks. Just like us, they hunt, fish and recreate on our public lands, stand by their families and local economy. They are generous with their time and do their part to keep our local economy working.

But why on earth would their own State organizations be funding smear literature, using their dollars, seeking to drill, dig and log place like Glacier National Park?

I’ve had my run-ins with these State PACs before, when I sponsored legislation to cap the growth on property taxes for homeowners. I’m no stranger to standing up for locals.

Folks, we cannot let this happen to our National treasures. My opponents are simply too risky and out of touch. We’ve worked too hard to preserve our public lands. Democrats have a proven plan for energy independence, one that leaves Glacier National Park intact.

Fight for our rights. As President Lincoln said, a government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth. This is why I will not take PAC special interest groups campaign dollars, as I work for you.

Rep. Mike Jopek is a rural farmer and served in both the 2005 and 2007 Legislature as an independent-minded Democrat for the Whitefish area.

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