Stapleton visits MC as part of campaign promise

In keeping with a campaign promise, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton made a two-day stop in Miles City this week, part of an effort to spend time in all 56 counties during his time in office.

He took office in January.

It was the second stop of his first “Things That Matter Tour.” Great Falls/Cascade County was his first stop. 

While campaigning he vowed that he wouldn’t spend all his time in Helena. 

Only 4 percent of Montana residents live in Helena, he said Wednesday afternoon at the Miles City Club, so he is trying to spend 30-40 percent of his time in other counties.

He said it’ll take a couple years to cover the whole state.

“We will always spend two days in a place. We’re not asking for anything. We just want to learn and listen to the business community, election offices and students. … My intent is to be a better secretary of state and know what matters in the different communities,” he said.

He explained there are three jobs of the secretary of state: to promote democracy, help commerce thrive and record history for future generations.

On each trip he will take different staff members with him. This time he brought Policy Adviser Will Selph and, with the special election coming up in May for the Montana House seat, Elections Director Derek Oestreicher.

Stapleton said the special election has three people running for the House seat and there are three other people who wanted to run but can’t, so he’s being sued in federal court. 

Ballots have already been mailed to Montanans serving in the military overseas, so it’s a little late to make changes by adding more people to the ballot, he said.

On Wednesday he visited Miles Community College’s new ag center Champion Arena with MCC President Stacy Klippenstein, with whom he used to play basketball over lunch when Klippenstein worked at Montana State University-Billings and Stapleton was a Billings businessman.

Stapleton was impressed with the building and the enrollment increase. 

“When you’ve got enrollments that grew by 11 percent last year at a community college, you’ve got to understand that compared to other places that are losing enrollment, what a shift,” he said.

He also visited Custer County District High School when he was surprised to see Principal Beez Lucero, whom he grew up with in Great Falls and has known all his life, but didn’t realize was in Miles City.

“That’s Montana for you,” he said of traveling hundreds of miles and still bumping into friends. 

Stapleton met with high school seniors and sophomores, who asked questions on a wide range of subjects and disagreed with the legalization of medical marijuana. 

“They were very grown up. I was impressed,” he said.

He said the visit was “very interactive” and the students “were very respectful and very fun and insightful.”

“They didn’t seem so much like kids as young adults. … They were pretty informed with what’s going on,” he said.

He went to Stevenson and Sons Funeral Home and learned it operates 19 funerals homes and learned a little about the business.

He said he is looking for ways to help businesses, cut red tape and create new jobs. 

Stapleton said he’d like to find ways to invest in eastern Montana like the state did for western Montana 100 years ago.

On Thursday Stapleton met with Custer County Election Administrator Linda Corbett and her clerks in the Clerk and Recorders Office. They also went to the Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility and KATL radio, and met with the Custer County Republican Women. 

In talking with the people at the Miles City Club, he got input on issues which Stapleton said will be pursued.

Local attorney Janette Jones said the secretary of state website has been difficult to use for her and her business clients, but has she has noticed changes for the better since Stapleton has been in office and suggested more changes, which Selph noted.

Stapleton said the biggest stress in his first 100 days in office was “the failing technology that we inherited.”

“The morale and the fatigue (among his staff of 60) was so bad when we took office” due to the IT problems, he said.

Rancher Ty Jones said a lot of agencies, like Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the federal Bureau of Land Management, are buying up large chunks of land in the name of conservation and asked if Stapleton sees any changes coming.

“No, not until there is a new governor,” Stapleton said.

He sits on the Land Board and said “while the governor is in the minority, he controls the information.” While some of the members have changed, the governor “is still steering us to where they want us to go.”

He said FWP releases information it wants the Land Board to know, like on land swaps and land easements. He wants to “unlock these lands.”

Stapleton served in the Montana Senate for eight years and said he thinks this Legislature did “a good job,” and was pleased with the job Rep. Ken Holmlund did and his suicide prevention efforts.

“Miles City … is a diverse economy,” he said, explaining that “with agricultural and commodity prices returning, opportunities with natural resources, entrepreneurial startups and the great layout of the city, Miles City is really poised to continue to build.” 

(Contact Elaine Forman at starcity@midrivers.com or (406) 234-0450.)