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Irrigation districts eye lobbyists for upcoming legislative session

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ST. IGNATIUS – Attorney Bruce Fredrickson asked the Flathead Joint Board of Control on Nov. 12 to consider hiring a 2015 legislative lobbyist from the eastern part of the state who is currently unfamiliar with ongoing irrigation water disputes on the Flathead Reservation. 

The lobbyist will focus on defeating the proposed Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact or amending the compact so it is more amenable to the board’s desires. Fredrickson threw out a few names, but had not settled on a final recommendation for the board. He said his firm had met with former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown and Keith Olson of the Montana Timber Association to identify candidates. Fredrickson said his firm tapped Brown and Olson because they would know who to hire to make a private property rights argument against the compact. 

“Without any prompting, the first comment out of both of their mouths is that you need somebody who is disconnected from the history of all of this,” Fredrickson said. “You need somebody who is coming in with a fresh look that can be effective. Because there is so much history with this … there will be a lot of discounting of their efforts the more that they’ve been involved in this project over the years.” 

Fredrickson suggested the board hire someone who is experienced in defending private property rights, has some general knowledge of the history of the ongoing federal, state, and tribal water squabbles, and is intelligent enough to be brought up to speed before the January start date for the legislative session. 

Among the lobbyists recommended were Jamie and Stuart Doggett of Helena. The pair works for a well-respected government relations firm, Fredrickson said. 

Billings-based natural resources attorney Tom Ebzery is also a candidate, and the only person recommended that Fredrickson has had any actual interaction with. 

“He’s worked primarily in the coal industry, but it’s all property rights work,” Fredrickson said. “He has an outstanding reputation.” 

Blair Strong, employed by Avista Corporation in Washington, is also a possibility. 

“Those are the names we have today, but we haven’t contacted any of those individuals directly nor have those that recommended those names to us contacted them individually yet,” Fredrickson said. “We just told everyone to hold off until we ran names by the board.” 

Finding someone who is disconnected from the tangled history of water issues on the reservation might be the hardest part of the lobbyist search, board chairman Boone Cole predicted. 

Commissioner Shane Orien disagreed with Fredrickson’s strategy overall. 

“It’s like I need to eat some TUMS or something,” Orien said. “We’re going to hire someone this late in the process. We’re going to get them up to speed and we’re going to have them over here working by Jan. 5. We’re a month and a half from a legislature. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.” 

But Fredrickson argued that there is enough time to get a savvy person up to speed enough to make a difference. 

“An effective lobbyist on these issues will pick out two or three very key issues and focus on them,” Fredrickson said. “That’s how we are persuasive.” 

The board did not choose a lobbyist during the meeting and Fredrickson said he would continue to scope out viable options. 

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