Montana’s Democrat candidate for governor Mike Cooney
Lieutenant Gov. Mike Cooney embarked on his second campaign for Montana’s governor July 3, 2019.
Cooney’s government career spans his lifetime. He was elected to the Montana House of Representatives for his home county of Silver Bow, before graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in Political Science. He has held several elected and appointed positions in Montana’s government, as well as working behind the scenes of elected officials.
“I’ve dedicated my life to serving Montanans and I have a record of results,” Cooney said. “I’m running for governor because we need to bring republicans and democrats together to tackle the big issues, like leading Montana through the COVID-crisis, jump starting our economy and getting Montanans back to work.”
Large challenges for governments and communities across the country have become a reality amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Madison County has escaped some of the financial struggles that small businesses elsewhere in the country have faced. Many Main Street businesses in Ennis and Sheridan have reported either minimal declines or no declines in seasonal business during the pandemic.
But the gap between wages in Madison County and the cost of living was widening before the financial concerns of the pandemic. Montana has one of the lowest wages in the country. According to the latest numbers in the Census American Community Survey of 2018, Montana’s median wage is about 12% lower than the national median.
Both gubernatorial candidates in 2020 have prioritized creating more good paying jobs. Congressman Greg Gianforte has promoted a plan for Montanans to return home and bring their jobs with them to use the growing ability to work from home. Cooney has also focused his efforts on creating good paying jobs to Montanans in the workforce.
Cooney envisions a Hire Montanans First Act, which will increase the required proportion of Montana workers on all contracts funded within the state from 50% to 75%. If elected, Cooney wants to use his executive authority to support companies that hire in state for state-contracted jobs. He would like to see companies that outsource more than 25% of its jobs penalized.
Cooney’s goal to create more good paying jobs includes the state’s and Madison County’s largest industry, agriculture.
“What we need to do is work harder to make sure we’re doing everything to expand our production in Montana,” Cooney said. “So, we can add value to those products and so that we can keep more of the money locally, where the producers can earn more money for the products they’re producing. That will certainly help create more good paying jobs and help them to be successful in the agricultural business.”
Another area of Cooney’s focus regarding good paying jobs in Montana is in energy production. Montana has long relied on its natural resources for energy. The energy market is constantly changing, and Cooney sees an opportunity for Montana in its latest changes.
According to the Department of Environmental Quality’s Understanding Energy in Montana 2018 report, Montana produced about 25.8 million barrels of crude oil in 2016 worth over $888 million in oil and gas production tax revenue that Montana collects. Montana is the sixth largest coal producer, mining 32 million tons of coal in 2016. According to United States Energy Information Administration, the nation’s dependence on coal has been declining since 1998. Montana is not a significant producer of natural gas or renewable energy, according to the Understanding Energy in Montana 2018 report.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that Montana has the second largest wind energy production potential in the country. But Montana falls well below its potential to produce wind energy, accounting for nearly 7% of Montana’s net electricity generation in 2015, according to the Understanding Energy in Montana 2018 report.
“We see that market changing and we need to, as a state, be changing with the market,” Cooney said. “I really do think there are places in Montana where clean energy production could be very key, and it could create good paying jobs. With the number of people we have had in our traditional energy fields, we have a very wonderfully skilled workforce who can easily transition with this new energy. It can happen in Madison County, it can happen frankly almost anywhere in the state of Montana because of the capability and the capacity is there.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported renewable energy production and consumption reached record highs in the nation in 2019. Its increase was due to increases in solar and wind energy production in the country. Montana produces a large amount of hydroelectric power, but lower precipitation levels have caused a decrease in the country’s hydroelectric power production in 2019, according to the statistics.
Cooney said he has an open door policy. According to him, it is the way Montana has always solved its problems. He wants to approach today’s problems with Montana values and believes building consensus is an important part of solving the issues facing Montana.
“I’ve never felt that I’ve had all the answers. I’ve never felt that my way was the only way,” Cooney said. “Montanans, we’re the sort of people, we want to help our neighbors. When we drive down a country road, people wave at each other. That’s important. You’ll shovel your neighbor’s driveway, if they can’t be out there doing it themselves. That’s what being a Montanan is, that is a Montana value. Governing is really no different.”