Discovering Montana

Excerpts from Governor Marc Racicot's Remarks for the
Hamilton, Montana Town Meeting, September 5, 2000

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There's probably not very much I could tell you about disasters that you don't already know, having lived in the eye of the hurricane for some period of time now. Of course, you've received all of the technical briefings from a perspective of all those who have been engaged in heroic fashion in battling these blazes. When I stand up to talk to you about these particular issues of course I, like you, am moved and inspired by the extraordinary dedication of so many people, so many friends and neighbors, people who work for volunteer fire departments, those who live next door to one another, soldiers from all over the country and from all over the continent, all standing shoulder to shoulder and addressing all of these issues that have confronted us here in the state of Montana. You simply can't help but be inspired by such an exceptional dedication as all of these people have demonstrated.

This has been the largest mobilization of personnel, resources, technology and machinery to a single disaster in the history of the United States of America. We know that something extraordinarily difficult and catastrophic has happened here in our state by that measure alone. But for every Montanan or everyone who loves Montana, and I suspect that is a vast majority of people in the United States of America, there is something sad that has happened here as well, something that has been gripping and difficult emotionally to deal with.

So, we have been through some trying times and we have marshaled together virtually every asset and resource we know how to bring to bear to focus upon these issues. And we have called upon friends and neighbors all over the planet and they have responded, and universally they have been overwhelmed with the character of the people of the state of Montana and with their demonstration of kindness and tolerance and, perhaps most importantly, their ability to endure.

Not many people quote Calvin Coolidge any more. In fact, I'm not altogether certain how many people ever quoted Calvin Coolidge. But he did say something that appears to me to be strikingly important to remember tonight. And that is all that really matters is endurance... Calvin Coolidge said that the world was full of unfulfilled genius. He said ultimately those who endured were the ones who ultimately succeeded. And that, I think, is a quality of character that Montanans share in large measure, uniquely, on this planet. We will endure and we will persist in our efforts, and we will succeed¼

We may not always agree. I have noticed, that in my service to you, we are inclined to share candid thoughts with one another, which I think provides an opportunity for us to grow. But in the end, we will come together and we will address these issues and we will become what all of us want to be as a state, and we will make certain that we live up to the expectations of one another.

I know, as we address the fire's damage, we can take comfort and thank God for sparing each human life associated with fighting it. We have expended many resources, lost treasures that we relied on, but, thankfully, no one we love.

The damages are extraordinary. We have been, in the state of Montana, going through an exceptionally large amount of resources. We've probably spent close to $200 million in the state of Montana alone. And firefighting costs across the western United States will approach a billion dollars. And that's just the suppression costs alone. We don't know precisely, yet, how much Montana will be responsible for. But we have received some unprecedented assistance from the federal government.

First of all, we've had partnerships with the Forest Service, with the BLM and FEMA and the Small Business Administration that I believe each of you would find inspiring. People have worked together without concern for any parochial interests and have dedicated themselves exclusively, as a team, to addressing all of the fire issues. And that includes not only the federal agencies, but the state and local agencies all working together, as well.

So, we have a lot of work to do. A lot of work has been done, but we have a lot of work left to be done to address all of the issues that not only have to do with suppression, but also with the recovery, rehabilitation, and reclamation efforts¼ So, we're going to be working very hard¼

I wish somehow there was something, some way that we could communicate¼ how grateful all those who have visited here and worked here feel for the kindnesses that have been extended to them, which seems to me to be ironic in some respects. Yet somehow, because of the conduct and demeanor of Montanans, they feel this strange sense of gratitude at being invited here to fight fire, to breathe smoke, to get dirty and grimy and possibly to be subjected to all kinds of different threats, including even the possibility of losing their lives. They say they are grateful for having had the opportunity.

It says to me something awfully special about the people of the state of Montana. I know that I am certainly proud and grateful for the opportunity to serve you and to work with you through this process. But I hope you, too, feel a collective and an individual sense of pride in how Montana has revealed itself, through its people, to the rest of the world.


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Former Governor Racicot's Page Speeches