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I still think of Montana Power now and then. Not that I ever worked for the hometown company or that I was Bob Gannon’s best friend or anything like that. I happened to be in high school with him, a couple of years ahead, yet he left little impression on me. Certainly, and I would remember, I recall nothing that indicated he would turn out to be a a spiteful, bullying, arrogant fanatic of the new economy..
But Montana Power was always there, always around and I never dreamed the company would just vanish. They were simply a part of the landscape we took for granted, one which had a great effect on our economy, our politics, our morale, our pride, our communities and neighborhoods. In other words, whatever they were, they were us which is not the case with our present situation as so illustrated by the rootless transients who make up the board of directors of our present power company.
Montana Power is gone and the state is a lot emptier. It vanished, and not for any good purpose or to be replaced by anything better.
And its demise was unlike the Anaconda Company and mining in general, which had serious problems for a number of years before its fall.
What we should remember is once upon a time, Montana Power was solid and cloth-coat and work-boot prosperous. Its rates were stable and dependable and about as reasonable as Montana could ever expect. For the most part, the company employed the kind of people and management that made them far more then a business in Montana’s cities, small towns and rural areas.
As for being solid, there was a bottom line and reasonable at that. And over the final five years before deregulation, January,1994 through December, 1998, the company stock returned 200 percent, more then any other investor-owned electric utility in the country. Total Montana Power shareholder return for 1999 was 30% and in a SEC filing for that year claimed 2,416 employees.
Or look at it like this.
In 1998, the revenues of the Montana Power Company totaled $1.25 billion. Four years later, the 2002 revenues of the stand-alone Touch America Company were estimated to be barely $3 million dollars. In other words, in just five short years of deregulation, TA receipts sunk to less then one percent of what the old Montana Power company took in.
As noted, Bob Gannon was the Montana Power CEO (1995-2003). Along with his wife Barbie. a real-estate super star who used her husband’s position to ring up record commissions and awards, the Gannons reeked of avarice and the spending of other people’s money. If Barbie sometimes appeared in public with so much jewelry she could hardly walk, a frequent sight in uptown Butte was Gannon accompanied by three or four corporate flunkies.
And then there was Marc Raciciot, the deeply corrupt Montana governor (1993-2001). Racicot was Gannon’s spiritual brother. And anybody in Montana that paid the slightest attention knew where to find Marc when a corporate interest and the public interest collided. In Racicot’s eight years as governor, he batted 1,000 in this situation.
With that said, I confess that I still miss the familar orange Montana Power trucks, signs and offices and those late nights, before the interstates, when you drove through the small towns of Montana and could see the lights of the Montana Power sign on in an office on the main street and not much more.
But in my lifetime America has been transformed by Wall Street radicals who came to power under the two worst presidents in American history, Bill Clinton and Junior Bush. And even if this evil time came to a screeching halt tomorrow, the damage done has been done and will never be repaired.
Of course, reassuring lights, a visible lighted Montana Power sign and a picture of Reddi Killowatt seen through the window on small town offices in the middle of the long Montana winter nights have no place under the dogmas of marketplace efficiency. None at all.
And even if this plunder, looting and destruction of anything and everything and anywhere under the Wall Street flags of efficiency, free trade, restructuring, privatization and outsourcing came to a screeching halt tomorrow, we will live with its evil effects forever. And it just might be that the worst of all which has happened is those cloth-coat and working-boot values and the decent Americans who practiced these virtues now have no place in what was once their country. And it is people and character who make up nations, not mergers, acquisitions and the prices on the stock exchange.
A few years ago, in writing about Touch America for the old Rountown Review, I was contacted by a former Montana Power executive who now lives out of state. We still exchange e-mail. I shall call him Reddy Kilowatt and here is what Mr. Kilowatt had to say recently.
“Despite Gannon and his collegial minions there once were some good folk at the old MPC, — especially the town managers and line folk who donated a lot of personal time and resources in their home communities.”
“I also got a kick out of old execs Joe McElwain, a vp named Walt Kelley and a few other top dogs. The old MPC stock was based on solid values, i.e., coal, gas, some gold, land and generating gear, etc.”
“Gannon and Touch America emerged, only to “tap” the stock values and retirements of employees and others who thought they were conservatively invested. And so it goes and so goes America.”
Well Mr. Kilowatt, as I said, even if the grim events of our time suddenly stopped and I see no signs of that, we would still be in a deep hole. Again, history, continuity, community and such, as well as our political and economic sytstem have been shattered.
And for what purpose? Certainly no good purpose.
Yet we can continue to go along, to think and speak as as we always have. But look around. The world is changing and time is quickly running out.
But don’t worry. Soon enough it will make no difference what we do.
JACKIE CORR can be reached in Butte, Montana at email@example.com