To make an economy healthy, therefore, you might assume that a doctor of economics is in order. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Economics is dry, boring, and full of math. History, on the other hand, is dry, boring, and full of dates. It’s therefore easy for certain individuals to determine which path is right for them. One of those individuals was Harry Fritz.
Harry Fritz began teaching history at the University of Montana in 1966 and became a full professor there in 1967. Prior to that he graduated from Missoula County High School, in 1956 to be exact. He must have been good at math too – he spent four years majoring in Chemistry at Dartmouth before coming back to Montana and getting into UM’s history program.
“It was not his field; he had never taught it before,” remembered Dave Emmons, the department’s chair at that time. “I doubt he even had a single lecture…and he had about ten days to get ready.” Still, Fritz excelled and over time became just as popular as K. Ross Toole was. Dan Flores, another historian at the University of Montana, has described Fritz as “the existing dean of Montana historical studies.”
No longer content to just comment upon history and politics, however, in 1984 Fritz decided to start making them himself by jumping into the political area.
It was quite the exciting year for political buffs, as Gary Marbut was running – as a Democrat no less! – against Mike Kadas. Kadas went on to win House District 55 that year and eventually became the mayor of Missoula and now serves as the state’s revenue director. Marbut is still trying to get into the legislature.
Someone else ran for the Montana House of Representatives for the first time that year as well. His name was Dennis R. Rehberg and he defeated Larry Schulz in the House District 88 race – 3,138 votes to 909.
Fritz got in that year, running unopposed in the primary and then winning the general election against Republican Betty Haddon, earning 2,511 votes to her 1,267. Libertarian Susan F. Roberts pulled in 159 votes.
In 1990 he made the switch to the Senate, winning the primary against Bill Norman (1,287 votes to 707) before running unopposed in the general. That was the same year my own grandfather, Bob Hockett, made it into the Senate. He won Senate District 7 in a tight race against Loren Jenkins, getting 3,756 votes to 3,378. Greg Jergeson was also elected to the Senate that year – SD8 – running unopposed.
Of those three, Greg Jergeson was the only one able to hang on against the Republican backlash that swept the country in 1994. Bob Hockett lost to Loren Jenkins, getting just 3,433 votes to 4,216. Harry Fritz either saw it coming and figured his time was up or had just grown tired of the legislative rigmarole. He declined to run in 1994 and that was that.
The essay is the go-to point for those wishing to write history today. Nothing else on Montana has been put into book form that gets at the problems we face today. While it’s true that Michael P. Malone touches upon the time in Montana: A History of Two Centuries, we don’t get the breadth of knowledge that Fritz’s terms in the legislature give us.
“Montana must create its own manufacturing base and encourage a ‘value-added’ marketing economy,” Fritz writes in the essay. He also makes it clear that the reason we don’t have any manufacturing to speak of is because of decisions made in the 1920s, 1923 to be exact. In that year the Anaconda Company bought the American Brass and Foundry Corporation, which was located in Connecticut and New Jersey. “There was no need to build such plants here,” Fritz writes. “Corporate investment in Montana had benefits, but this was not one of them.”
Economists tell us that two ingredients crate a dynamic economy: the ability, first, to make things, and then second, to sell them. Montana does little of either. Its raw materials are extracted and peddled without much intermediate processing. Eighty percent of the timber cut, for example, is simply sawed into dimension lumber and studs and sold out of state.
Already the wave of the future is here in the form of the Science and Technology Alliance established by the 1985 Legislature – the single most creative, productive, and portentous act of public policy in the decade.
Montana must enlarge and enhance its nascent travel and recreation industry, for in this regard it is the most underdeveloped state in the nation. For too long the state has relied on the federal government to promote tourism by pitching the national parks and the Custer battlefield. A sales tax on motel room enacted in 1987 helps to promote Montana, but that is not enough. A modern travel economy is geared to development. It requires investment and a good telecommunications network. The list of destination points which might be touted – from Absarokee to Zortman – is endless.
Montana must also encourage what is already its top-ranked industry as measured by total income – the ‘transfer industry’ of pensions, retirements, rents and royalties, and Social Security payments – all new money coming into the state and spent here by residents. The transfer industry compels a new look at the old cracked whip economic interpretation of Joseph Kinsey Howard and K. Ross Toole. It also suggests ways of expanding the economy, primarily via tax policies and environmental preservation.
Already people are moving here for non-traditional, non-economic reasons. They are attracted particularly to the counties of western Montana, not especially noted of late for their dynamic, expanding, labor-intensive economies. Who are they? Without much hard date to go by, suppositions include retirees, small-business people, students, granolas. Surprisingly, for the first time in the modern era, the fastest growing cohort consists of young adults, aged 20 to 39. Why are they coming? For scenery, recreation, education, residential privacy, safety, and cultural amenities – qualities in short supply in much of America but readily available in Montana.
More and more Americans are finding it possible to separate their residence from their workplace. Computer technology will allow twenty-first century Montanans to be employed by a big-city firm while living here…Montana is poised to overcome its greatest historical economic-disadvantages – long distances, high transportation rates, and the social costs of space.
Fritz, Harry. “The Origins of Twenty-first-Century Montana.” Montana Heritage: An Anthology of Historical Essays. Swartout, Robert W. Jr. and Fritz, Harry (eds.). Montana Historical Society Press: Helena, 1992. p 270-2.
“Harry Fritz, Modern Historian.” The Montana Professor. Fall, 2005. Web. Retrieved 30 January 2015. http://mtprof.msun.edu/Fall2005/drak.html