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Montana's Gov. Brian Schweitzer said this week he will ask the White House to let Montana set up its own universal health care program. It would be similar to what Montana's northern neighbor, Saskatchewan, has. Canadian-style universal health care? In a place where the governor issues vetoes with a branding iron?

Most of us are more accustomed to this sort of Montana headline (also in this week's Billings Gazette:

"Bozeman woman had loaded gun at New York airport"--not just any gun, but a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun right in her purse. It's not surprising that a Montanan visiting New York would forget she had a gun in her purse, but how did she get it to Albany in the first place? 

The purse gun and government-run health care aren't so at odds in that part of the country--Montana really is more like Saskatchewan, including a cowboy history, energy industries and a big streak of practicality. I lived there years ago and got my first newspaper job at the Billings Gazette. I don't pretend to be a Montanan, but spending a few years there does tone down the cliches.

As the AP story described Gov. Schweitzer's move:

The popular second-term Democrat would like to create a state-run system that borrows from the program used in Saskatchewan. He said the Canadian province controls cost by negotiating drug prices and limiting nonemergency procedures such as MRIs.

Schweitzer said the province's demographics and economy are similar to Montana in several ways - yet its residents live longer while spending far less on health care.

That's in step with what Oregon and Vermont want to do--but not really out of step with Montana. A state Senate Republican asked for comment didn't automatically pop off on the idea, just said he'd have to take a look at it.

"We need state flexibility. Let's get that flexibility and then we can argue whether we will have more role for the government or a larger role for individual," said Sen. Jason Priest, the Republican from Red Lodge. "I don't want to reject it before I see the details. I am just glad he is thinking about it."

That's the difference between a functioning state government and Congress (or, unfortunately, the California Legislature) Political opponents don't take knee-jerk positions or call their corporate funders before considering the good of the state.