Why Do I Want to Be Jefferson County Commissioner?
May 25, 2022
Who is Jon Goff?
Of course, I am playing off the opening line, "Who is John Galt?" from Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged which serves as an expression of helplessness and despair at the current state of the novel's fictionalized world. John Galt is a character in the novel from 1957. Unlike John Galt, I am not a philosopher or an inventor. Although like him, I too believe in the power and glory of the human mind (meaning that we are fully capable of creating the future we want particularly when it comes to how we are governed.) We've heard over the past few years how important it is to concentrate on our local government considering how derailed and out of touch our national government has become. But let's not fool ourselves. We have a lot of work to do at all levels of government.
Approximately seven years ago, I began the process of attempting to understand how our national government was designed to operate as opposed to how it has come to conduct itself. It was eye-opening, to say the least. That pursuit led me to study our state government to better understand it as well and as importantly how the two levels cooperate regarding how we are being governed. My eyes went wider. And then enter 2020. I began hearing people say things about what our county government can and cannot do in response to the shutdown of our economy and to a large extent our lives. I started to question what was true and what wasn't by braving the Montana Code Annotated. While I did learn things, what I mostly learned is that entering the MCA is like entering an enchanted forest. The deeper I roamed the more lost I became. That was frustrating. Even though we have such a people-friendly state and local government with our enshrined "right to know," how can anyone know anything with how complex it's become? We also have the "right to participate" but that too has become a source of frustration. Our Jefferson County Commission meetings are held every Tuesday, and anyone can attend either in person or by Zoom which is great but proves to be rather inconvenient when you have work and other responsibilities that demand your time from 9-5 on a weekday as well. I wonder why these meetings aren't recorded and made easily available to review at our convenience like many other official public meetings are. Would it matter?
For these reasons, upon declaring my candidacy, I've continued to try to better understand "the forest for the trees." There are so many important and sensitive issues to address, i.e. trees, that I realized how easy it is to lose the forest because of the trees and I think it is important to never lose that perspective or lose the sense of direction that you want to move in. If my candidacy survives past the primary, then it will be time to get more specific. Until then, it must be about establishing a foundation to operate from. Otherwise, successfully navigating the job of county commissioner becomes much more difficult.
After I threw my hat into the race, I was invited to attend events from both the Democrat party and the Republican party here in Jefferson County. I politely declined them both. I meant no disrespect what's so ever. While I suspect it hurt my campaign from an exposure standpoint, I did that because I understand that it would have been impossible to have those conversations without an agenda on both sides. Political parties come with ingrained incentives to persuade and win. That is not a knock on them. It's just what they exist to do. It is their design and purpose. Therefore, I felt it was not possible to remain objective in those settings. We've lost sight that it's not "We, the Democrat Party" or "We, the Republican Party". It's "We, the People" of Montana (and Jefferson County.)
While life comes at us in all shades of gray, the government is quite black and white. It is either growing or shrinking its budget and responsibilities. This is an important distinction when it comes to that concept of direction that I mentioned that we want to move in. In advance of the upcoming forum, I was asked to state a position on what to do with the $5 million that the county has received as "found money" when Montana Tunnels paid its back taxes. Perhaps the county should consider using some of that money to pursue a voter review of our local government as granted to us in the Montana State Constitution. Currently, Jefferson County operates under general governing powers which means that what it can and cannot do is implied by law per the state legislature. In the last decade, the five different legislative sessions introduced over 1,000 new bills to impose additional instructions on the county. Only three of the fifty-six counties in Montana have self-governing charters which allow them some additional autonomy to how we govern ourselves if it's not specifically prohibited. To do this would require establishing a study commission that comes with associated costs. With this unplanned windfall of revenue, the county could pay for this process without having to raise any new levies or apply for money from the state or federal coffers.
When someone asks me why I want to be a County Commissioner, my response is I don't. Wanting has nothing to do with it. I feel compelled to try. Considering how complex and frustrating government has become, what I want is clarity. Clarity allows us the opportunity to move in the direction that we want in the future. My hope is that this clarity for myself provides clarity for you and that we can fulfill the state's promise in the Montana Constitution "to improve our quality of living, equality of opportunity and secure our blessings of liberty."