By ALLISON MAIER When Democrat Betsy Hands and her former Republican challenger for House District 99, Jedediah

Cox, met at a television interview, he dressed up in a suit. She wore a Hawaiian shirt and hand-shaped earrings, unintentionally alluding to her last name. She describes it as a meeting between the “black suit guy and the hippie girl.” But she adds that she’s not really a hippie. She is, however, the executive director of homeWORD, a nonprofit organization that develops affordable, sustainable housing for those in need. She is virtually assured of a second term on Montana’s Legislature, now that her opponent has withdrawn from the race. Hands has worked for homeWORD for six years, first as a community outreach coordinator, then as a project manager. She became executive director a year and a half ago. “I think it’s a really amazing organization,” she said. One of her duties is to oversee housing developments, such as the “Equinox” project, which involved tearing down the Liberty Lanes building on the corner of West Broadway and Russell. Hands said 83 percent of the old building’s material will be used for other projects. Plans call for 35 units of energy-efficient rental housing at the site. Her involvement with the effort piqued her interest in running for public office. “My work here at homeWORD is very affected by policies at a state level,” she said. “I can see how accessible government is if you’re doing it locally.” She said she’s always considered herself an activist, having participated in demonstrations and campaigns in college, but realized that the final decision rests with voters. “It’s much easier to have a big mouth,” she said. In her first term as a legislator, she sponsored a controversial motorcycle-helmet bill in honor of her older brother, who was injured in a motorcycle accident when she was in high school. Opponents argued the bill infringed upon their rights, and it died before it reached the House floor. Nevertheless, Hands considers it one of her chief accomplishments. “It was an important discussion to have as a community,” she said. Hands said her biggest regret from her first session was that she never learned how the “normal” budgeting process works. During the 2007 session, a Republicans broke the budget bill into segments, which angered Democrats and led to partisan gridlock. For the first time, the Legislature finished a regular session without passing a budget. “Nobody wants to see that happen again,” she said. Many of Hands’ aims for the upcoming session center on sustainability and energy efficiency. In November, she plans to meet with other legislators who feel strongly about environmental issues so they can collaborate on various bills. “It’ll be rowdy,” she said. “It’ll be exciting, really.” She said the ideal energy plan would include many energy sources. She suggests increasing the number of required renewable energy sources from 15 to 25 percent. Sustainable energy could help schools lower operating costs so that the money can be used for other purposes, such as lowering student tuition or increasing wages for workers. She said she appreciates students who are active in trying to change school policies. “I do think students need to demand accountability from administrators,” she said. Although she admits that she’s not an expert in tax policy, she does suggest some economic changes. “I think we can be smarter in how we use our dollars,” she said.

She advocates creating road systems that are safe for cyclists and pedestrians instead of spending more money to make roads larger. However, she said her main goal is to ensure that Montanans are able to meet their basic needs, such as housing, especially under current economic conditions. “It’s getting harder to do,” she said. Hands was born in Melbourne, Australia, but doesn’t remember it. Her family moved often when she was growing up as her dad followed job opportunities. They lived in Chicago, Minneapolis, Belgium and Connecticut. She went to high school in Minneapolis, and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There, she decided to focus on outdoor education, which led her to Montana. She worked briefly in Red Lodge and Dillon. She’s now lived in Montana for eight years, the longest she’s ever stayed in one place. Hands spent two years in the Peace Corps helping with community development in Togo, West Africa. There, she helped farmers keep their soils fertile by collecting manure instead of using fossil fuel-based fertilization methods. She harvested seeds and planted native trees, taught children English and worked with a group of girls in an effort to keep them in school. She showed women and children how to use the soy they already had in the area to make soymilk and helped them build new cook stoves. She said she learned the importance of building relationships and trust. “You have to sit and listen a lot to different people tell their stories,” she said. This is a skill she continues to put to use. “I think that pretty much translates into what it means to be a legislator,” she said. -30-

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