By John S. Adams
Former Congressman Rick Hill is the only candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary race to have successfully won a statewide election in Montana.
From 1997-2001 Hill held Montana's sole U.S. House seat where he says he demonstrated proven leadership experience that sets him apart from his opponents.
"In the private sector and public sector I have built a reputation for taking on difficult situations and implementing solutions to complex problems," Hill said. "I have run successful businesses, helped others get their businesses off the ground and during my term serving in Congress I made it a priority to make Montana more economically competitive."
Hill leads the seven-way Republican gubernatorial primary in fundraising and in a recent independent public opinion poll.
According to a Public Policy Polling survey released May 3, Hill currently has the most support in the Republican primary with 33 percent of voters choosing him and only 12 percent supporting his next closest rival, former state Sen. Ken Miller.
State Sen. Jon Sonju of Kalispell is Hill's running mate.
Hill also enjoys a comfortable lead in the fundraising race, having raised more than $564,000 as of the March reporting deadline. Former state Sen. Corey Stapleton was second in fundraising among Republican hopefuls with $159,195 as of the end of March.
Hill said he has three main priorities if elected governor: unleash Montana economic potential so that more and better paying jobs can be created; reduce the size, scope and cost of government by implementing priority budgeting; and reduce the tax burden on Montana families and businesses by increasing natural resource development and using the revenues to fund education and offset local property taxes.
Hill said the way to create more jobs is to break down the legal and regulatory barriers "that are holding our state back."
"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce rates the Montana legal environment 43 in the nation," Hill said. "Our business torts system is the most expensive in the country. If you drive a car you're paying the 4th highest car insurance costs in the nation. We have high unemployment insurance. You add all those up and it demonstrates that Montana is a difficult and expensive place to work and do business."
Hill said as governor he would support tort reform measure to reduce to legal costs associated with doing business in Montana. He says he would also reorganize state permitting agencies to ensure that the regulators are working with businesses to come up with solutions.
"Right now it takes a lot longer to get things done in Montana," Hill said.
Hill said he would ask agencies to look for ways to trim or cut government programs.
"We have to examine every program of government and every activity," Hill said. "When we institute priority budgeting we'll ask every agency and every department, 'what values are you trying to support with this program? What are you trying to achieve? How do you measure how well you're achieving it and how do we hold the person in charge accountable?'"
Hill said he would ask the Legislature to examine government efficiencies though interim committees.
"I use this concept in my business and we are able to eliminate a lot of waste," Hill said. "It is the model we want to bring to state government."
Hill also said he would seek to reduce property taxes.
"I plan to fulfill the promise that I made when I delivered the Otter Creek coal tracts and use the lease and royalty income from development to fund education and reduce property taxes," Hill said.
Hill said Montana environmental regulations are probably adequate and comparable to neighboring states, however, Hill said the state needs to do a better job of streamlining the permitting for industrial projects.
"Montana has largely been doing a good job of permitting oil wells. The same is not true of permits for mines, major facilities, power developments and mainstream businesses," Hill said. "When I hear Montanans talking about the legal and regulatory barriers that are holding our state back -- it's the higher costs of doing business in Montana, beyond just production costs, that slow development"
Like his Republican challengers, Hill said Montanans don't like the federal government overstepping into state matters and infringing on states' rights.
"It's important that our state is acting proactively to protect Montanans from federal overreach," Hill said.
However, Hill said the irresponsible administration of the Montana Medical Marijuana Act is what lead to widespread abuses among some medical marijuana growers and eventually lead to federal raids. Hill said federal law enforcement authorities "were given little choice but to act" last year when they raided dozens of medical marijuana caregiver operations across the state.
Hill, who declared his candidacy more than 15 months ago, said his competitors share many of the same values and positions on issues. Hill said what sets him apart is his experience and demonstrated leadership ability.
"I am the only candidate in the Republican primary that has been elected to statewide office and proven that I can bring not only Republicans, but all Montanans together," Hill said. "Jon and I are running on ideas that Montanans embrace: economic opportunity through natural resource development, smaller government and protection from federal overreach."
Hill also said polls show he is the only GOP candidate who can go toe-to-toe with presumptive Democratic nominee Steve Bullock.
The Public Policy Polling survey showed Bullock and Hill tied with 39 percent of the vote with 21 percent of voters undecided. In another hypothetical matchup, Bullock leads Miller 41 to 35 percent with 24 percent undecided.
"We continue to have a pretty broad, wide margin and I'm the only candidate who appears to be able to run against Bullock," Hill said. "We think that's important."