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Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot spoke to Montana State University students about the importance of civic engagement, leadership and concerns over the state of politics during a lecture on Thursday.

The event, part of the university’s Honors College lecture series, drew around 100 students to hear Racicot, Montana’s Republican governor form 1993 to 2001, share his own experiences in both state and national politics.

During the lecture, Racicot, 73, recounted different moments in his life that became markers that carried him to where he was now and asked students to consider what they would like to accomplish when they reach his age.

“Your turn is just around the corner and you should be ready for it and you should be fearless about it,” he said.

One of the markers Racicot shared was his early days growing up in Libby as one of seven children.

“I saw parents who were engaged in service in their community,” he said. “… I was watching my parents be of service, watching how they cared for their children.”

That desire to be of service like his parents is one of the things that drew him into politics, Racicot said. He recounted how he lost his first three attempts running for judicial office, his successful run as state attorney general and then his eight years in office as governor.

He said through all of it what he’s learned is that the education and civic culture in this country can easily be taken for granted, and he has concerns for the future.

“I want to share that trepidation with you because I think you are charged, as the next generation, to make certain that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Racicot discussed the formation of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, and how when Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government there would be, he is said to have answered, “You have a Republic, if you can keep it.”

“My belief is that, to this day, it’s as important as it was in 1787,” Racicot said.

The challenge for the country moving forward, Racicot said, was “how do we keep our civic culture” and “how do we make sure we recognize the delicacy of this form of government.”

Racicot urged the students to be leaders who “proceed quietly, not bombastically,” and to value compromise.

Toward the end of the event, Racicot responded to a handful of student questions, including one student who asked if he had any ideas that would change how communication in politics functions.

Racicot suggested doing away with partisan primary elections, pointing to states that put the two highest vote getters on the ballot. It could help eliminate the “partisan fury” where, for example, “everyone is trying to be a better Republican than the other Republicans.”

He also said increasing attendance in committee hearings and meetings could help, adding he had testified at the redistricting commission in Helena earlier on Thursday.

Another student asked what he saw as some of the issues facing Montana. Racicot pointed to a new law from this year’s Legislature, which abolished an independent committee that vetted judicial nominees. He warned against inclinations to secure more power for power’s sake.

“Any effort to try and secure power to your party alone is temporary,” he said. “You should be focused on good ideas, not power plays that have no lasting value.”

Racicot, former chair of the Republican National Committee, has previously criticized former President Donald Trump, including in a Washington Post op-ed in July 2016 arguing Americans could choose better than Trump.

In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, Racicot also shared he would be voting for Democrat Joe Biden.

Following the riot at the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, Racicot — who was also the chairman of the Bush/Cheney reelection committee — said the incident was “fearsome.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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