An unlikely rising star from Big Sky country
He's a governor who lists his home phone in the white pages and makes a point of returning all calls. He once delivered the commencement address at a one-room schoolhouse to a single high school graduate.Skip to next paragraph
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In an age of scandal and politics by poll numbers, Montana Gov. Marc Racicot is emerging as an unassuming and unlikely star.
The GOP governor rates among the most popular politicians in state history. What's more, he's become a close confidant of Texas Gov. George W. Bush in his quest for the White House.
And while Governor Racicot (pronounced Roscoe) delivers no major political capital or national celebrity to Mr. Bush, analysts say, he possesses something more tangibly valuable: a peerless reputation for personal integrity. Montana's Racicot: a rising star from Big Sky country
"What accounts for Racicot's popularity in Montana, and to the extent that it translates nationwide, has to do with the public's perception of what he represents," says Dan Kemmis of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana. "People believe that what they see in Marc Racicot - a depth of character and trustworthiness - is exactly what they get."
The eight-year governor, who must retire from office in 2000 because of term limits, enjoys approval ratings of more than 80 percent. He has been mentioned as a possible Interior or Agriculture secretary in a Bush Cabinet, as a future federal judge or US Supreme Court nominee, and as a shoo-in for US senator if he ever runs.
A devout Roman Catholic, Racicot has staked out an intractable anti-abortion position. But instead of trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, he has promoted a grass-roots "pro-family" agenda. It includes signing a law mandating parental notification for girls considering an abortion.
Racicot is also a reluctant supporter of the death penalty. During his tenure, Montana confronted its first execution in decades. Hours before the execution, Racicot paid a personal visit to the prisoner. When the convicted man refused to demonstrate remorse, the governor decided not to intercede.
Afterward, he hand-wrote a detailed explanation for his decision, which was published on the front page of newspapers and won him the begrudging respect of death-penalty opponents.
"The reason he sticks out among the rest is, here's a guy who sees the grays of life," says Andrew Malcolm, Racicot's former press secretary and a Bush staffer.
The son of a longtime basketball coach, Racicot was raised in the tiny logging community of Libby. He played for his father in both high school and at Carroll College, where he established a national collegiate record for assists in a game, with 34.
Later, as a prosecuting attorney, Racicot won 97 percent of his cases. "He has good instincts, and he puts his trust in the people," Mr. Malcolm says. "When Racicot succeeds, he doesn't spike the ball or perform a flashy dance in the political end zone. He isn't one to boast and will direct the credit to those around him."
Within months of winning his first term as governor, Racicot led his state of fewer than 1 million people out of a $200 million budget shortfall and promoted a state sales tax to provide relief for soaring property and business taxes. His effort failed, but his approval rating soared.