What Big Government Can Do in Big Sky Country
As candidate Barack Obama headed to town, the Great Falls Tribune rolled out the region's pressing federal issues, and a welcome mat, too.
Montana, along with South Dakota, will hold primary elections next Tuesday (Puerto Rico votes June 1). This editorial ran Friday, May 30, in The Great Falls Tribune.
The Missouri River at Great Falls, Montana
Welcome, Sen. Obama, back to Big Sky Country.
And welcome to Great Falls.
You might have noticed that the welcomes you receive in Montana are eager and hearty. They have been the same for your opponent — we don't see many presidential hopefuls in these parts.
This evening's event is billed as a rally, not a town hall meeting, so there won't be the type of Q&A that we've seen over the past month or two.
All the same, we'd be remiss if we didn't at least try to elevate a few of our local issues onto the presidential radar screen.
First, this isn't Missoula.
We like the farm bill and view it as an essential keystone to the nation's food-supply system and to maintaining rural America. We see by your "Leadership for Rural Montana" document released Thursday that you agree.
Investing in rural development and conservation also are important here, and you appear to value those things as well.
Members of the Thirsty Thursday Club, Great Falls
We also like and depend upon a strong military presence in northcentral Montana, mostly in the form of Malmstrom Air Force Base.
In that same position paper, you appear to recognize the importance of military bases to communities such as Great Falls, and you back a "robust Impact Aid program." That is good.
In the past you have stated a goal of eventually eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. That, too, is good — as a goal.
Even if such weapons are not eliminated, the aging of America's existing nuclear arsenal puts the land-based Minuteman III ICBMs based here at Malmstrom at risk, along with the support system that comprises most of the local base's mission.
We hope your recognition of the importance of the federal military base to the region — along with the tremendous investment the nation has made here in recent years — extends to finding alternative missions, including the possibility of a pioneering coal-to-liquids fuel plant.
On that last point, Gov. Brian Schweitzer contends that if Montana's coal reserves were dedicated to CTL processes, the result would be the equivalent of 60 years of American oil imports.
For all kinds of reasons, not the least of which are environment- and national security-related, the federal government should step up research on those processes, including carbon sequestration.
We hope you're on board with that.
Wind turbines in Great Falls, Montana
Beyond coal, Montana is on the verge of an alternative energy boom, most immediately in the form of wind-power generation.
Government support of these alternatives will be critical to getting them started.
Montana has seven reservations and a sizable population of "landless" Native Americans. Four of those reservations and the largest concentration of the landless Indians are in the orbit of Great Falls.
Both you and Sen. Clinton have talked at length about the need for the federal government to live up to its obligations to the nation's first people, whether the handling of its trust responsibilities or the provision of adequate health care. We agree with that and would put economic development on the reservations near the top of the list of priorities.
We're not talking about handouts; we're talking about providing the means for our neighbors — the Blackfeet, Chippewa Cree, Assiniboine, Sioux, Gros Ventre, and others — to bootstrap themselves out of the cycles of unemployment and related social ills that have plagued them for a century.
The list could go on, but we know you're busy.
Let's just say that in this part of Montana, we don't delude ourselves that the federal government has no relevance to us. To the contrary.
We're Americans. We're surrounded by farms, national forests, national monuments, and nationally administered waterways.
We're served by federal highways, we're near a border, and we're home to an Air Force base. In fact you might be hard-pressed to find a place where the federal government has a higher profile.
We have high hopes for the next president.
Note: Many thanks to David of Big Sky Blog for these photographs. David's greaterfalls flickr site includes a contest where you can "Vote for the picture that you think best captures what is so 'great' about Great Falls!" Vote early and often!