Corey Stapleton, Montana’s secretary of state, passed through Libby last week on the third stop of his two-year “Things that Matter Tour,” in which he plans to visit all 56 of Montana’s counties to learn from citizens how his office can best serve them.
On Thursday, May 4, he stopped in for an interview at The Western News before heading back to Helena.
Describing himself as Montana’s business officer, Stapleton said his mission is to help businesses thrive, to promote democracy through elections and to record history.
He said there are three main ways in which his office can help Libby: it can share what’s going on in other towns and cities for Libby to learn from; his position on the Board of Land Commissioners has the potential to affect mining or timber operations; and he has the capability to help introduce legislation.
“Part of (my role) is communication, part of it is being an encourager, and part of it is practical,” Stapleton said.
Regarding what he can bring to legislative matters, he said he’s not just a friend but an ally with Rep. Steve Gunderson and Sen. Chas Vincent.
Along with staffers Della Dobbins and Alisa Cottrill, Stapleton stayed two nights in the city. While here they visited with Gunderson, toured Libby Dam and Hecla mine, met with Mike Cirian of the Environmental Protection Agency, stopped by the City Courthouse and spoke at Libby High School.
Stapleton and his team also attended a luncheon at the Libby Area Chamber of Commerce. Expecting to receive feedback and criticism about his office, he said he instead found himself facilitating a discussion about how to improve Libby’s economy.
In his interview with The Western News, Stapleton observed that Libby could work toward moving beyond the narrative of its Superfund status.
“The healthy thing for Libby is that people start planning for the future,” he said, and that includes building a diversified economy that has more than high-paying jobs — an outcome, he said, “that really can only come from the private sector.”
“(Libby should) begin to take risks again and ask people who have money to underwrite some of this,” Stapleton suggested. “People who have wealth often ... willingly give when they’re asked. Those are the things that can underwrite enormous change and outcomes.”
What Libby has going for it, he said, is mystique, heritage and natural beauty, attributes he suggested might not be promoted as heavily as they could be.
“This is a beautiful place, a destination,” Stapleton said, adding that the drive here from Missoula by way of Thompson Falls is his favorite in the state.
As Stapleton prepared to start the drive back to Helena, he said he plans to stay connected with Libby, keeping tabs on Superfund issues, following up with the mine and keeping in touch with the chamber.
“We want people to realize we love this (place),” he said. “We’ll definitely promote what we see.”