The Politic: Like you, I’m also a Hellgate High School alumnus.  As you know, being a student at Hellgate is a very distinctive experience, but also one that is very typical of Missoula.  So I wondered, was there a particular Hellgate experience that sparked your interest for local politics?  Perhaps an influential teacher?

Interestingly, I never fancied myself a public servant.  In high school, I thought I was going to have a life in newspapers.  One of my most influential teachers was the journalism teacher, Wayne Seitz.  I wrote for the school paper, the Lance, when I was there.  I think journalism gave me the natural curiosity, the desire to communicate clearly, and the desire to represent things fairly and accurately, which forms what I do today.  I stumbled into politics, but my education at Hellgate and at the University of Montana in journalism gave me the foundation for it.  As did my other love from when I was in high school, which was theater.  And politics is certainly theater.

The Politic: I’d like to talk about one of the biggest issues that Missoulians are facing right now, which is forest fires.  This time of year, forest fires can be a big problem for Missoula; what is your role in dealing with this issue as the mayor?

We’ve been very lucky so far this summer as we’ve only had a few flare-ups around.  We had a lot of smoke in town last week, but that was all coming Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and some from Canada.  My role in that is fairly limited, except that we provide wild land fire support through our fire department and we work cooperatively with all the other agencies involved to the degree that we can be helpful.  We certainly do our best.

The Politic: On top of the fires, we had that avalanche in town last winter.  It unfortunately seems like natural disasters have really been pummeling Missoula.  On the brighter side, what is something really positive that has recently happened in Missoula?

You know, with tragedies there is often triumph.  In the case of the avalanche, it was certainly tragic; a life was lost, and folks were injured, and property was destroyed.  However, the fact of the matter is that Missoulians showed up by the hundreds along with our first responders to make the best of a bad situation.  If we hadn’t had all of that community support, things would have been much worse.  You see it in Missoula and all around the country that folks come together in times of peril and do the right thing.  What’s more, right now it is summer time in Missoula, Montana, and I can’t think of a nicer place to be.  We’ve got events downtown.  The weather is nice, the living is easy, and winter seems like a long ways away.

The Politic: I certainly agree.  I couldn’t be happier to be back in Missoula right now.  Can you tell me some of the other important issues Missoulians have been dealing with most recently?

The biggest issue I’m working on today is the acquisition of our water distribution system.  I’m trying to acquire our local water utility from a global investment fund called Carlyle.  We’re in the process of acquiring that either through eminent domain, that is condemnation, or through negotiation.  We’ve made it very clear that, moving forward, this essential resource should be in the public domain rather than in the private hands of a small number of investors who don’t care about Missoula.

The Politic: Well, Missoula is a very progressive place, and a very politically conscious place, so I can’t think of a better place for that to be successful.  What sort of impact can you have as a mayor that no other elected official can have on the state or even national level?

It’s actually remarkable what I can do as a mayor working with citizens in my community.  It ranges from working to return a public resource to the public on a grander scale, to helping a single individual address a safety concern.  Mayors and city council members are on the front lines of politics.  In a time when it appears that very little can get done on the legislative level in Washington D.C. and even in our state legislature, here in Missoula, I get to make positive changes in the lives of the folks I serve every day.  At this level of politics, we often hear “What’s next?” or “What higher office are you going to pursue?” but I’ve come to believe that there is truly no higher office.  If you’re interested in making change, if you’re interested in doing great work, or if you’re interested in being productive and working with great people, there’s no better job in the world than being the mayor of a great community.

The Politic: Is there something that you’ve been able to accomplish as mayor that makes you especially proud?

I’m proud of the fact that after a yearlong investigation by the Department of Justice, we have responded to the challenges surrounding helping victims of sexual assault with energy and passion.  This attitude will make us among the best in the nation at caring for folks who suffer at the hand of sexual violence, and at bringing the perpetrators to justice.  I’m very proud of that.  I’m proud of the fact that we have made our way through a difficult recession in better shape that much of the country.  I’m grateful that we have preserved our open spaces and our sense of place.  The list is really long, but none of it happens just because of me; it’s all a collaborative effort.  In fact, what I’m most proud of is our collaboration.

The Politic: Do you have a particular vision for Missoula that you would like to see accomplished by 2020, something Missoula should be working towards?

Absolutely, we need to continue to work on establishing mechanisms to fund the work that we need to do within our community.  As federal resources become scarcer, we need to be more creative about capturing revenue and paying our own way.  It’s more effective.  It’s more efficient.  In the long run, it’s cheaper, and it takes less time.  We need to become more self-sufficient, and we’re in a good position to do that.

The Politic: For the sake of all the Connecticuters who have never been to Missoula, is there something you think is a very iconic Missoula experience that you shouldn’t miss if you’re ever out here?

There are so many fantastic Missoula experiences that it’s hard to narrow them to just one.  But I’ll tell you, if you can catch a sunset on the Higgins Avenue bridge over the Clarkfork River, that’s pretty phenomenal.

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