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The I-147 learning curve

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“Montanans on I-147,” the baritone narrator announces in the radio ad that’s received daily airtime statewide. A woman’s voice continues: “I think most people can see the logic in revitalizing the mining industry in Montana. Mining is an essential part of our economy and our history, but yes, we insist on safe mining. I’m impressed with all the environmental and safety requirements in I-147. I’m comfortable with it. It’s environmentally sound, and I’m supporting it.” The woman, says the narrator, is Karli Hill, a student at the University of Montana.

In fact, Hill, who graduated from UM in May, one month before she taped the ad, is not just any UM student. She is a full-time employee of the group that produced the ad—Miners, Merchants, and Montanans for Jobs and Economic Opportunity, FOR I-147. The ad is part of a radio and television campaign sponsored by the group, which receives 97 percent of its funding—at least $1.3 million so far—from the Colorado-based mining company Canyon Resources Corp.

If passed, I-147 would repeal the ban on open-pit cyanide leach gold mining that voters approved in 1998. Proponents of the initiative say it will boost the economy and make environmental protection standards mandatory. Opponents say that cyanide leach mining will threaten neighboring property owners’ rights, contaminate water resources, burden taxpayers with reclamation costs, and that the initiative contains no new protections.

Hill, a political science major and former College Republican, spent the weeks after graduation canvassing Kmart parking lots helping collect 28,000 signatures—7,500 more than the number required to get I-147 on the ballot. Two weeks after the drive ended, Hill called Miners, Merchants, and Montanans to see if she would be hired on for the rest of the campaign. She was. The radio ad was her first project, and she does not think it misrepresents her.

“Basically when that ad was taped, I was an average Montana kid coming into this looking at it,” Hill says. “Since then I’ve been through extensive training. I’ve learned a lot more about it.”

Hill hopes to parlay her campaign experience into a career. “This is the type of thing that, if it were to pass, the mining industry will really expand in this state. I’ve learned so much about it in the last couple months maybe I could possibly do PR. Or the [legislative] session is in the spring; I could still work in the session. Or I could always work for the Republican Party.”

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