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From Common Ground to High Ground

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Paul Clark seeks a third term in the Montana House of Representatives

March 13, 2002

    Nestled in a forested enclave at the foot of 20 Peak is a home built of wood. To the west and north are the lowlands of Swamp Creek and out the back door, the front door and every window are the high ridges of the Cabinet Mountains. It’s the home of Paul Clark and Cheri DesMarais and their two sons, Stryker and Gunnar, and Maggie the dog.

    It’s also the home of the Montana State Representative for House District 72. That’s Paul. His second term in office is winding down just as he gears up to run for a third. In Montana, state representatives are voted on every two years for one term in office, meaning if an incumbent wants to seek reelection he has to do so just before the Legislature is convened, which happens every odd numbered year.

    After nearly two terms and four years in office, Paul remains interested in returning to Helena to tend to the people’s business. Asked why he seeks reelection, Paul laughed at his own response, “Because Louie LaRock might become the representative if I didn’t run!” LaRock, a Republican, is currently Mayor of Thompson Falls. Paul is a Democrat.

    The real reason why Paul Clark would like another two years in the House of Representatives is because, he says, “I’m right smack in the middle of stuff!” Meaning there is unfinished business at hand that he’d like to see through to completion.

    “During the first term, you’re really in training,” Paul explained. He likened serving in the Legislature to high school. “You’re wet behind the ears as a freshman, getting your head dunked in the toilet for swirlies. As a sophomore you start to get the feeling of the halls and as a junior and senior you really start to know your way around. In these upcoming years I will become my most effective and knowledgeable,” he maintained.

    Montana voters passed an initiative several years ago by a two to one margin implementing term limits, but even under the term limits law, Paul could still serve two more terms before having to give up his seat in the House, if not voted out before then. A recent move by two Montana legislators to overturn term limits angered Paul and he was glad to see it dismissed in court. “I would never have supported the overturn of term limits,” he exclaimed. “That would be blatant disregard for the people. The Legislature should not be self-serving, but should show respect for the people.”

    Returning to his thoughts on serving in the Legislature, Paul said, “To me, the work is really important. I’m just one of 150 people, but those 150 people determine the future of Montana. Whether you like politics or not, if you’re not engaged you’re missing the boat.” Paul noted that he had not served in any political office prior to his election in 1998, but he doesn’t see that lack of experience as a hindrance. In fact, he said, “I look at that as an asset. I’m not programmed to play games. Principles and values, that’s what drives me.”

    Though a Democrat, Paul’s service in the Legislature has gained wide recognition and admiration for his willingness to compromise when necessary to achieve what he has felt would be best for the people of the state. He was elected to his first term in office on the strength of the slogan, “Finding Common Ground.” That was evident with his selection to the Judiciary Committee in his first term and then his appointment as Vice-Chair of that committee last year by the Republican Speaker of the House. The Judiciary Committee, Paul said, “oversees the integrity of our Constitution and every year there’s an assault (on it)."

    Paul said, “The Montana Constitution is a wonderful document. It even expands in some areas the rights we have in the  U.S. Constitution.”

    Paul also serves on the Fish and Game committee, a standing committee active during the legislative session, and he sits on the Energy Policy sub-committee of the Environmental Quality Council.

    About his role on Fish and Game, Paul states emphatically, “I’m a heavy duty wildlife enthusiast.” In that regard, he was appointed by former Republican Governor Marc Racicot to the Private Lands Public Wildlife Advisory Council, which, he said, “deals with landowners' and sportsmen's issues, which are great in number and broad in scope.”

    In fact, one of the more important issues he sees coming up in the next session (January through mid-April 2003) will be dealing with the public trust doctrine. “Wildlife, streams, the air is all entrusted to the state to be held in trust for the general public and for the generations to come,” he said. “Wildlife does not belong to (the Montana Department of) Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It’s the agency that acts as the steward of wildlife in this state.” And he remarked even more strongly, “Wildlife is not private property. Streams are not private property.”

    Yet a battle is brewing, he fears. “I see a major assault on this trust from private and corporate interests: to take what is in the public domain and put it into the private domain. I think we’ll see a movement in the next Legislature toward privatization, but I feel an obligation to protect those values for the general public.”

    Paul Clark may listen to both sides of an issue but he says, “I believe in certain Democratic ideals and public ownership of wildlife is one of them. Democrats clearly have the high ground on sportsmen’s issues.”

    Other “stuff” he feels he is “smack in the middle of” includes finding a resolution to electrical restructuring in the state, “to assure,” he said, “ratepayers get fair rates. I’m not happy with a 12% to 20% increase and there is no reason we should be looking at a big increase. The people pushing this restructuring say we should be grateful it’s no bigger than that. Well, would you want a 12% increase in your property tax or your income tax? A lot of people would be outraged and we should be outraged by this.”

    He also thinks the next legislative session will be about budget cuts, including possible cuts to Medicaid, CHIP (the Child Health Insurance Program) and education. “I will do whatever it takes to resist those types of cuts,” he said.

    For a look at what bills Paul Clark worked on last year, visit the legislative website online. If you have questions for Paul, he’d be happy to hear from you either by phone at 406-827-4440 or by email at pclarkhd72(at)yahoo.com. Presently, Paul Clark is unopposed in his bid for reelection to House District 72.


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Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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