By Ron VandenBoom
Hal Harper, Democratic candidate for secretary of state, wants to correct a flaw in the way Montana selects its jury pools, thereby increasing voter registration.
Harper, on a campaign swing through Havre recently, said Montana is one of only a few states in the nation that still selects its jury pools from only registered voters.
"We have numerous people that will not register to vote because they don't want to be called for jury duty," he said. "Or once they get called for jury duty they will de-register' to vote."
Harper said that Diane Mellem, Hill County Clerk and Recorder, had told him eight people had recently come to her office to "de-register" for that reason.
"It's a civic duty," Harper said. "And just because you participate in the voting process doesn't mean that's the only way that you should be libel for jury duty."
He noted that other states include drivers license holders, people who have phones, and even people who have dog and cat licenses to their mix of possible jurists.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, has already requested the bill draft to add drivers licenses to the pool, Harper said
"We will remove a barrier to voting and we will get a bigger jury pool," he said.
Election concerns have been a topic of interest to Harper for the entire 26 years he has served in the Montana Legislature. During that time he has carried bills for the accurate naming and labeling of political action committees (PACs) and bills for a code of ethics for legislative and other elected officials.
He has also carried bills to increase the power of the commissioner of political practices and four bills to reform campaign finance.
"My interests have been in the field of elections and fair campaigns and it's one of my biggest interests," he said. "So (running for secretary of state) is an incredible privilege and an honor."
Campaign finance reform is also something Harper has strong feelings about.
"People need to have faith that the connection between them and government will be there and the connection between special interests and government will not be there," he said. "We need comprehensive campaign finance reform that limits the amount of money that can be spent on an office to a reasonable level."
Harper suggests that for the office of secretary of state $25,000 for a primary race and $75,000 for the general election should be enough. For the gubernatorial campaign, a sum not to exceed $1 million should be adequate, he said.
"Put people on the same playing field," he said. "Just because someone can raise $5 million doesn't mean that person is best qualified to be governor.
As Montana's chief record keeper, Harper feels a better use of technology could also make the office more efficient and user friendly.
Harper said as a businessperson in Helena he knows how he wants to be treated.
"I think that is a very critical aspect of this business as well," he said.
Harper wants to place information on the Internet and allow the businessperson to file on line.
"We will allow them access to documents they never dreamed they would have," he said. "They will be able to make up-to-the-minute decisions."
Harper also believes he can do this with the current level of staffing.
Another concern that Harper emphasizes is what he sees as a trend to centralize control of government power in Helena.
"I am dedicated to the principle that local government functions are not taken over by the state," he said.
Harper said that in the last six years, "I have never seen more functions sucked into the state and taken away from local government."
"It scares me and local governments must remain vital," he said.