Guest view: O'Keefe backs Williams for governor
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Guest view: O'Keefe backs Williams for governor

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Twenty years ago, I ran for governor. Carol Williams was my running mate.

Times were different then. In 2000, we worried about a different kind of “virus” — Y2K. The world thought this virus would stop computers from shifting dates beyond December 31, 1999 and shut them down altogether. Nothing happened.

In June 20 years ago, Carol and I won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, besting the late Joe Mazurek, then the attorney general, and Mike Cooney, the secretary of state who placed third.

That was long ago. We carried the Democratic banner in the general election, but lost to the late Judy Martz, the self-proclaimed “lap dog of industry” whose one term is best known for political shenanigans in her office.

Fast forward to 2020. Carol Williams’ daughter Whitney is running for governor, following in the footsteps of her mother — a woman trailblazer who became the first female state Senate majority and minority leader. Whitney’s the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, who served 18 years in Congress and was a national leader in healthcare, education, conservation, workers’ rights, and progressive politics.

Whitney is a Montanan through and through: a graduate of the University of Montana, a protector of our treasured outdoor heritage and public lands -- someone who has the steel to stand up to people like Greg Gianforte, who would privatize our public education system and give away our public lands.

She’s worked in Montana’s Capitol in Helena and the White House. And like me, she’s also a person who’s founded and run a successful business. Whitney knows how to create jobs, solicit business, meet payroll, work with clients from all political stripes and solve tough problems here and globally.

Now, when we’re facing new challenges in COVID-19 and the unprecedented shutdown of our economy, Montana needs a leader with business, executive, and government experience to lead us through this crisis and into the future.

But, frankly, Mike Cooney’s time has come and gone.

I like Mike, and respect what he has accomplished. But he simply doesn’t have the wide-ranging leadership skills required to strategize creatively or fight tenaciously for what we believe in, to protect our public lands and treasured Smith River from a giant mine, and take on the

Republican in the fall. (When we served together on the State Land Board, Mike voted to extend the application period for a state lease that would have allowed a heap-leach cyanide gold mine on our beloved Blackfoot River.)

It’s time for a new generation of leadership in Montana. Mike says he has the experience needed. But it’s hard for me and others to think immediately of an issue on which Mike has taken the lead, that defines his leadership skills.

He’s been there, but mostly behind other people and other leaders. He's a good understudy, a good lieutenant.

Montana needs someone who will step up and tenaciously face the new set of challenges presented by the coronavirus and the damage it’s done to our economy. Someone who will bring new ideas and energy to Helena, someone who has an Eastern Montana farmer at her side.

I’ve served in the U.S. Army in the 82nd Airborne Division, in Glacier for the National Park Service as the guy tranquilizing “bad news” bears, the Montana Legislature, as State Auditor, on the State Land Board, as a Democratic gubernatorial nominee, created a successful business, fought for children’s healthcare and protected Montanans’ healthcare and financial rights, and seen my share of leaders.

Whitney’s the real deal — and the vanguard of the new generation of leadership with the vision to lead us into the future and not just ​tell​ us about the past.

Please join me in voting for Whitney Williams for Governor.

Mark O’Keefe is a U.S. Army veteran, a post-graduate of the University of Montana, conservationist, businessman and a former state legislator, two-term State Auditor and 2000 Montana Democratic Party nominee for governor.

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