Read Part 1 of the interview here.
MH: The Secretary of State's office oversees a wide variety of governmental functions, all of which are important, but most of which are out of the view of the average Montanan. Could you, for the benefit of readers who aren't familiar with what your office does, give an overview?
Brad Johnson: Elections are, of course, the one that everyone notices. But the Secretary of State's office also serves Montana's business community as a filing office. When a new business gets started, they register their name here so no one else in Montana can use it. Corporations and Limited Liability Companies file annual reports with us, so the public can be aware of contact information, who's on their board of directors, and more. After business filings, we also preserve records for the rest of the state, we publish that state's Administrative Rules, we oversee Notaries Public, and more. That's one of the reasons I like the Secretary of State's office: it's an office of government that does humble, quiet work. It really is a place to serve the people.
MH: You mention filing and reporting for corporations as being a role of the Secretary of State's office -- are there things under the purview of your office that you think could be changed in order to create a more business-friendly climate in Montana? Will you be advocating for any legislation in the upcoming session?
Brad Johnson: This office definitely improves the business climate in Montana. The first step has been to hold fees down. Not one business reporting fee has increased during my term. The second is to reduce paperwork, which we did by shifting to online annual reports and which we’ll continue doing by bringing more services online. We’re improving the methods by which we deliver information about administrative rules, which many businesses need to do their job. Those are just a few of the areas where I hope to make even more improvements over the coming years.
MH: Let's turn to politics. You are one of only two Republicans holding state-wide office right now, and the only one in Helena. This has thrust you into a high-profile leadership role in the state party that you probably didn't anticipate having 4 years ago when you defeated Bill Kennedy for the Secretary of State position.
What has that been like, and what are your thoughts as a leader about what we Republicans will need to do in order to recover from the losses we have sustained in the last couple of election cycles?
Brad Johnson: I wholeheartedly believe that the excited, committed crop of Republicans we have this year is ready to come roaring back in 2008. We've got so much excitement at the grass roots, it's really moving. I try to think of myself as a resource to them. I believe there's an understanding out there among the activists that it was never offices or numbers or majorities that made this party great -- it was our beliefs. Our beliefs will make us great again.
We don't need to think about being in power; we need to think about being in the right. As long as we are, and we stay that way, we will be a great political party. Fiscal conservatism, the values of the American family, a strong nation with a strong defense, liberty and individualism -- we stood for those things once, and we were great. If we stand for them again, we will be great again.
MH: Speaking of your new high-profile role, part of the package deal is that you've drawn fire from the left here in Montana -- we've certainly seen it in the blogosphere. You've also had to have felt a bit isolated as the sole Republican member of the state land board. We're not giving away any big secrets here when we say that you are being targeted by the Democrats in this election. How does this affect day-to-day life in doing your job as Secretary of State?
Brad Johnson: I've had my share of criticism from the Democrat party, that's true. But I just don't let it affect the job. While I'm there, the Secretary of State's office will not descend into partisanship. I've actually got an elected Democrat serving as my elections deputy -- Lisa Kimmet, former Clerk and Recorder for Prairie County. Many people don't know that, but to me, it's a guarantee of high quality elections for everyone. We have a Republican Secretary of State and a Democrat who's working right alongside me to make sure Montana's elections remain among the cleanest, fairest in the country.
MH: Funny thing -- one struggles to think of examples where the leftward bloggers in Montana, let alone the mainstream press, commends you for having hired a Democrat as your elections deputy.
Brad Johnson: I admit it’s a bit frustrating. People on the other side of the aisle line up to sing Schweitzer’s praises for having “Republican” John Bohlinger in his administration, but they’re dead silent when our side does something similar. But I try not to let those frustrations come up too often. The truth of the matter is, you don’t do the right thing for credit, you do the right thing because it’s the right thing. And an election that both sides can trust is absolutely the right thing.
MH: One more question on attacks from the left: we've heard stories about a nationwide effort on the part of Democrats specifically to take over Secretary of State offices at the individual state level, presumably to have more control over the election process. Have you had evidence that you are being targeted on a national level?
Brad Johnson: We’ve had some interaction with the national Democrat and left-leaning organizations. Their “Secretary of State Project” wrote about my race once, and have been said to have an interest in it. We encountered MoveOn.org, too, believe it or not. They sent us a bunch of petitions urging Montana to move to paper ballots. Of course, we passed that law in 2005…
MH: Yes, that was an amusing illustration of how out-of-touch MoveOn.org is, once they get away from the coasts.
One more political question -- you were an early supporter of Gov. Mitt Romney, who was successful in winning the Montana Republican Presidential Caucus. Have you been asked to be involved in Sen. McCain's presidential campaign here in Montana -- and regardless of whether you will be actively involved, how would you suggest that the Montana Republican Party can transfer some of that Romney grassroots energy to John McCain?
Brad Johnson: I've already been advocating the importance of electing John McCain to the White House. I haven't been involved in the campaign yet, but I'm spreading the word on a personal level as much as I can. As far as transferring some of the Romney enthusiasm to McCain, I think there's a relatively simple formula that will work: Romney earned a lot of his support simply by showing up. He came here, he listened to Montanans, and he treated us like we mattered.
Frankly, we saw the same thing in the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Those two were here a lot, and their supporters were very enthusiastic for that reason. That's what the party and the McCain campaign need to do to transfer the Romney enthusiasm. Treat individual voters with respect. Listen to their ideas. And give them some time. They will respond. Chairman Iverson is already doing this at the party level; I have every confidence that we're going to see it from the McCain campaign as well.
MH: Let's leave politics and for the final question go back to the job you've been doing as Secretary of State. You've overseen a major modernization of the Secretary of State's office during your 4 years. Tell us a little about some of the things happening behind the scenes in your office that might not be making front page news.
Brad Johnson: When I ran for this office, I committed to bringing the Secretary of State's office into the 21st century. It's going well. We've got online candidate filing now, a statewide voter registration database, business annual reports are mostly online, we've just upgraded our Administrative Rules system into an easily searchable online database, we've established a steering committee to guide statewide policy on electronic records and information management, and more.
Right now we're in the middle of a project to completely revamp the office's computer system, with an end goal of making all our records available electronically, and all our reports submittable electronically. We've saved over a hundred thousand dollars with the online annual reporting. Electronic services cut down on paperwork and time for the citizen and the fee-paying business, and they're cheaper for the state to provide. It's a win win situation for everyone.
MH: A "win-win" situation is a good note to end on. Secretary Johnson, thank you very much for spending time with us here at Montana Headlines. Good luck in the campaign.