Mike Cooney, candidate for governor of Montana, spoke to voters Aug. 24 at the Meadowlark. His background includes executive assistant for Sen. Baucus; State Senate; secretary of state and appointment to the land board and Montana Department of Labor. In the private sector he served as director of healthy mothers, healthy babies, Montana Historical Society director and on the board for Westmont in Helena.
Cooney is the current lieutenant governor under Steve Bullock. The economy, health care, education and land usage were topics discussed with voters. Butte was given as an example of job creation when the land required reclamation. A question on Colstrip brought the response that the market drives change and states quit buying electricity generated from coal. The coal trust was developed to handle the aftermath.
Asked for evidence of climate change in Montana, he responded fire season became fire year, the harvest season has extended and there are longer droughts.
Sidney High students asked about their continued educational options and related student debt. Lt. Gov. Cooney replied the legislature had frozen college tuition and that vocational apprenticeship programs could be expanded to include: finance, healthcare, and IT programs which lead to employment licensure and less student debt. When addressing the opioid crisis, Drug Treatment Courts were credited with helping turn lives around.
A question on solving economic issues on the reservations brought the response that Native Nations have their own regulations and they must lead in areas of housing, jobs and education. But putting green industry near the reservation and improving internet access and sewer infrastructure would be an answer.
Other areas of voter interest included: tourism affecting state roads without benefiting the state’s treasury; legalization of marijuana and commercialization of hemp; lack of family leave options; the loss of funding for Pre-K programs and social service agencies; the American Prairie Reserve and difficulty for non-profits such as Richland Opportunities to pay workers overtime. Cooney responded that federal dollars are slowing and there is no appetite for new taxes. He added that natural resource development without sacrificing land, air and water was possible; citing wind, solar and hydro as renewable energy and a source of additional tax base. As governor he would lead by example, bringing folks to the table with a listening style of leadership which reduces divisions.
“As much as you want to hear from me, I’m here to learn from you,” Cooney said.