By ANDREW DUSEK
Trout Creek Democrat Paul Clark says guiding Montana through tougher times willrequire cooperating with Republicans across the aisle.A longtime member of the state House of Representatives, Clark is running for thestate Senate this year in District 7, which stretches from Alberton to Noxon.If elected, Clark said he hopes reduce taxes on small businesses, improve theenvironment through energy conservation and alternative fuels usage, and support K-12education by reducing maintenance costs.Though he identifies himself as an introvert who often finds it hard to engage with people, Clark said that whenever he crosses the Legislature’s threshold, connection iseffortless.“I like balancing different points of view, needs, and agendas for statecompromises,” Clark said. That’s a flexibility his Republican opponent, Greg Hinkle,lacks, he added.“I’m not an ideologue,” he said. “I’m a relationship-builder and a solution-finder.”In the race for the Senate, he sees Hinkle will appeal to strong conservatives. He saidhe expects his experience as a legislator will give him an edge. He also cited hisexperience as a world traveler who has seen South America, Europe, and India.But Montana is of particular importance to him, he said, especially its constitution,which he interprets as strong on privacy, the environment and human integrity.He said the constitution’s guarantee that all Montanans have equal access toeducational opportunities is crucial, but the present formula for funding the state’s K-12schools does not live up to that promise.Montana needs to re-examine its formula for funding fixed, overhead costs such asheat and maintenance that take money away from teachers and students, he said. Clark added that he would like to see the state’s share of funding increase so local propertytaxes for schools can be loweredThough he doesn’t have a solution to the problem, he said he knows that theLegislature cannot ignore it.“We need to get back to the drawing board,” he said.Clark also said the biggest issues facing the state are the economy and the hardshipsfacing small businesses. He said he hopes to help small businesses by providing tax breaks, by making workers’ compensation more cost-effective, and by providing healthinsurance to all workers.Though he hopes to help the state in a variety of areas, Clark is most passionateabout the environment. He said he is most well-known to his friends and fellow politicians as a conservationist and an outdoorsman who educates children and teensabout Montana’s natural heritage and resource conservation.A former member of the Legislature’s Environmental Quality Council, Clark said hewants to focus on energy conservation and the development of alternative fuels. Heenvisions Americans driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and living in well-insulatedhomes with energy-efficient lighting to drive down costs.Conservation has to be a part of Montana’s energy strategy.“We can’t consume too much and expect to drill ourselves into low energy costs,” hesaid.