Judy Martz - Montana’s Governor Speaks Out For GIS in State Government

By Joe Francica


It is rare that a state's chief executive addresses a technology conference; rarer still when it is a GIS conference.Governor Judy Martz was one of the keynote speaker's at ESRI's Senior Executive Seminar, a one-day event that preceded the company's 12000+ strong user conference in San Diego.

Governor Martz spoke extensively about how GIS technology "reduces the risk of decision-making." As a former chairperson of the Western States Governor's Association, she was forceful in stating that it is necessary to get legislators on board with how the technology can benefit the people they serve.She addressed many issues fundamental to Montana's wealth of natural resources but also spoke on how 9/11 changed many things, even in a state as remote as hers."Immediately after 9/11, I established the Montana Homeland Security Taskforce.This task force quickly recognized that in order to plan for and react to threats both external and internal, we needed better geographic information," said the governor.

She also mentioned how her state is involved in monitoring issues related to public health and the environment such as the West Nile virus."The use of GIS in EPHT (Environmental Public Health Tracking) is critical and will facilitate information linking between environmental conditions and public health concerns," she noted."Some examples of possible applications of this technology in Montana include tracking and monitoring livestock health, monitoring wildfire smoke conditions, and providing health notices to the general public when air quality degrades, and closely tracking outbreaks of West Nile virus so that public health officials can take steps to mitigate serious mosquito outbreaks.

Directions Magazine presents and exclusive interview with Governor Martz in which editor-in-chief, Joe Francica, sat down with her after her keynote address.

Judy Martz was elected as Montana's first female Governor on November 7, 2000.Just four years earlier, she was elected as the state's first female Lieutenant Governor when she ran with Governor Marc Racicot. Governor Martz worked as a field representative for U.S.Senator Conrad Burns from 1989 to 1995.She has been civicly involved for years, serving as President of the Butte Chamber of Commerce in the early 1990's, and vice-chair of the St.James Hospital Board of Directors.She was a member of the 1963 U.S.World Speed Skating Team, and a member of the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team at the 1964 Winter Games.

Joe Francica (JF): How do you, as a state executive, feel like you use GIS technology on a day-to-day basis to make decision? And how does the information gathered by your GIS technologists "bubble up" to you to help reduce the decision-making risks?

Governor Judy Martz (JM): Well, like in any department, whether it is this issue or a health care issue, or an issue of the anthrax scare, you depend are your department and the people that are experts to bring that to you. Then I do some studying and some reading, ask some questions, and go back them; get the answers...and then you resolve the answer within yourself; as a leader in which direction you want to go with the best advice you can get; and a lot of soul searching.I depend on good people and then we weigh the benefits, and we go the direction that benefits the most. That sounds almost too simple.I wish I had a real profound answer for you but I depend on good people.

JF: Its seems that state and local government is a "naturally geographic" business.There are lots of decisions that are made on a daily basis that use geography.How would you respond to that...you obviously see that in some of the things you are doing.

JM: Sure.Everything has to do with geography.Because your tax base comes from geography.In one part of the state the tax base is something.The inequity of the tax base or the equity of tax base...it all comes from the geography of where the people live.How the schools are funded -- it is all geography.How they are not funded is also geography!

JF: Do the legislators get it...with respect to how they could understand how the technology could be used to serve their constituents better?

JM: I would hate to say no, because a good many of them do.I think now, like the issues that I talked about today ...these are just some of the uses of this technology within the state government.Let me go back a minute...It's going to be harder for them to get it in our state because of term limits.I think Dr.Tomlinson said something that is very key and that is the short time frame of people who are elected.And if you're on a term limit, the only hope you have is if they'll serve in the house for eight years, and then serve in the senate for eight years; and then they can go back to the house.But many won't do that.They can go back and forth.A governor in Montana can serve eight years and when they get in they have the opportunity to move things forward.But the legislature themselves are a little more difficult to educate than the governor is, because they may sit on a committee that doesn't work on this kind of information. However, all committees should because our school funding comes from the geography, our property taxes; everything we do really goes back to geography.I think the governor of each state gets it more because we are there all the time.We get information from this technology.The best thing we did when I became governor was we hired an IT person that just moved our IT.

JF: One of the things that Jack Dangermond talks a lot about is having a chief geographic officer.Many states, like Kentucky have a state coordinator of GIS and may report directly to the governor.I'm wondering if that is a concept that rings true?

JM: You know, just that name, would make a difference in awareness.You have to do IT also; you have to be able to move information and move your departments so they can all work in unison. But just the name, geographic information officer, I think is a light bulb that they go 'What' ...and people would want to know "what do they do" and would present an opportunity ...just that name.

JF: Well, I wonder if the CIO of a state needs to be better educated as to some of the fundamental issues of geographic data? So, I go back to my original premise that some of the decisions that a state faces on a day-to-day basis involve some level of geographic information.

JM: Those are good points.Had I heard that statement, knowing what I know now about GIS, in comparison to a chief operating officer for information technology, or could I have called him a geographic information officer ...had I known that, I think I would have called him the latter of the two.Because you can do both.You can do both in either case, but the curiosity that it would cause in the later of the two, would create, in the legislature, a question of why do you need this, for one thing, and then it would create opportunities all of its own.

JF: One of the conferences we attend as GIS professionals is the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) which has the task of coordinating technology flow and training between the states and the federal government.Do you feel you are pushed by the federal government to supply them with certain mandated information, such as for Homeland Security?

JM: I don't think we feel the push.I think we feel the need.I think we understand the problems, but we also understand the possibilities.So, I would choose to believe that there is some push. But after 9/11, there were things you had to do.You had to get a plan together within a certain time frame.Both times that we had to put in a plan to Homeland Security, we were first in the nation to do so.And we had accumulated some information previous to that; and now, we had a great person there, Brian Wolf, who was our operating officer for information technology.He got it.He worked with these guys, pulled together plans and worked with the military and disaster emergency services.I think 9/11 created its own atmosphere of urgency.

JF: From a budget standpoint, there is a lot of upfront investment in this technology, with the benefits not being realized until some time down the road, especially if you have some people asking for money to complete a project.So, how do you balance those needs?

JM: It's a balancing act if you can't do it and do it well ...You can't do it period.So you have to figure out how much money can you spend to be able to get it up and running so it's running well. Because if you do it too short, if you short change them too much, then you can get a program that won't do you any good anyway.And I don't think that any state would ever say they had enough money to do it well.Everyday, I'm asked to give money to something, and we're finding we did many of the right things when I first became governor.It was hard, and I took great criticism; still do by many because we had to cut and curb spending.

JF: Governor, thanks very much for your time.

Published Thursday, August 26th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica

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