The Big Fish from Whitefish

Regime change is taking place in Montana and it is being led by a very wealthy class of out of state plutocrats. The change has not gone unoticed and a while back the New York Times ran an article featuring William Foley II who is now the big fish in Whitefish. The Times went on to describe this movement as the rise of “a new landed gentry in the West” who are interested in “privitazation and conservation” (easements.)

And Mr. Foley is a little bigger fish then the paper gave him credit for so the Butte Weekly will fill in some holes.

A few years ago, Foley landed in Whitefish and purchased a plantation on Whitefish Lake and soon was majority shareholder of the Big Mountain ski resort. The old resort had been called Big Mountain for sixty years but Foley didn’t like that so in June the name was changed to Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort.

In addition, Foley now owns a a number of restaurants in Whitefish and Montana – the Mackenzie River Pizza chain, something called Craggy Range, The Corner House Grille and Mambo Italiano,s .

In addition to the Montana restaurants, Foley is currently part of a private equity group offering $3 billion plus for the Wendy’s fast food chain. So besides the MacKenzie River Pizza place out on Elizabeth Warren in Butte he may soon own the local Wendy’s on Harrison Avenue.

Needless to say our new class of rich sahibs like fine wine and Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery in California’s Napa County has recently purchased LinCourt Vineyards and Firestone Vineyard Prosperity Wines

And you can’t be a genuine sahib in Montana without a 80,000-acre trophy ranch so Foley is also buiding one of them about 45 miles north of us, near Deer Lodge, named the Rock Creek Cattle Company. This ranch will be anchored by a members only Rock Creek Cattlemen,s Club with dining room, creek-side patios, a bar and lounge, and a boardroom for other important sahibs.when they are not on the signature golf course or in one of their homes on the $80 million exclusive subdivision that is part of the ranch. .

Thus riding the range here will be a exclusive Montana experience limited to well-heeled cowboys and cowgirls from somewhere else. Translation: the Whitefish Kingfish will making the decisions on the kind of people who will be living, playing golf, fishing, chasing foxes and playing polo on his Powell County, Montana gated plantation.

And it can’t be one of the real Montana rich sahib trophy ranches without a privatization friendly conservation easement complete with tax loopholes. You see the type of conservation the new sahibs in the Big Sky practice is very loosely defined and very tax friendly, thus the Gulag pattern of very high and low wildlife fencing surrounding game farms pioneered by Ted Turner a decade ago down in Gallatin County on the Flying J. In addition there are the private stretches of public rivers and creeks, golf courses, ski resorts and high rent lodging for other rich sahibs that pass as conservation in Brave New Montana..

So Mr. Foley will have one of those kind of conservation easements.. Here he will be following in the footsteps of Charles Schwab (California), Ted and Bo Turner (Atlanta) , Ken Siebel (California), James Cox Kennedy (Atlanta). Anthony Marnell (Las Vegas). Marin County California’s Huey Lewis as well as Big Sky’s Moonlight Basin, Montana’s newest full-service luxury ski resort which advertises that all guests enjoy year-round access to blue-ribbon trout fishing on an “exclusive stretch of the Madison River, home to wild grayling, brown trout and rainbow trout.”

Of course, these are the same rich sahibs who are pushing for great changes in our current stream access law which sometimes prevents them from privatizing everything they can get their hands on in the Big Sky. Sad to say, this new sahib class would like nothing better then a stream access law in Montana that would serve their public-detesting purposes in the same way the current laws governing conservation easements do.

As to politics, Foley’s long time connections to the Bush family are also a perfect fit for Republican loving Flathead County.This sahib was a Papa Bush delegate from California to the 1996 Republican convention. Along with Enron’s Ken Lay, Foley was also a 2000 Bush Pioneer and a member of the elite Bush-Cheney 2001 Presidential Inaugural Committee which raised a record $40 million in private contributions for Junior’s inaugural celebration.

In addition, Foley has a well-oiled money machine, being majority owner and CEO of Fidelity National Financial, the nation’s largest title insurance company which was once located in California. But in 2003, in a surprise move he relocated Fidelity’s two year old corporate headquarters in Santa Barbara, to Jacksonville, Florida. Fidelity had been in Santa Barbara since 1946.

It was a sweetheart deal with tax incentives and land deals. Jeb Bush personally called Foley twice to lobby for the move. Foley told a Florida paper the move will save his company “tens of millions a year.”

And there is lot of money to be made. Forbes Magazine, which keeps track of this kind of stuff, says ‘Foley’s $179.5 million compensation package from Fidelity ranked 4th among American corporations in 2006. In 2005, Forbes also says this CEO made $126 million. Better yet, according to the SEC, in just five weeks during August and September of this year, William P.Foley II made over $80 million on the New York Stock Exchange working the Wall Street stock option/insider trading racket.

In other words this particular sahib – and he will not be the last – is in no danger in running out of money for buying things in Brave New Montana where things are changing.way faster then we realize as we move from what remains of a imperfect democracy where the ordinary decent people of Montana had some say to a new economy plutocracy.where the voices of the little people in the Big Sky that survive this economic cleansing will no longer be heard.

For the investment bankers and hedge fund managers on Wall Street, Montana is now the “last best place.”

JACKIE CORR lives in Butte, Montana. He can be reached at: