Ron Vandevender is shown in his official campaign photo. The Libertarian from Craig has tossed his hat in the ring to become governor of Montana in 2012.

In a few short months — 20, give or take — we will choose a new governor for the great state of Montana. And while the election may seem a long distance off, a few candidates have tossed their hats in the ring, or at least tested the waters.

Two Billings-area Republicans have made their plans known, and at least one man from our neck of the woods has stated publicly that he’s considering a run as a Republican.

With Gov. Brian Schweitzer facing term limit, the 2012 contest for governor promises to be a lively one, pitting Democrats and Republicans in what will be a hotly contested bid for the chance to lead Montana through the better part of the next decade.

But what would a major election be without a few third-party hucksters seeking the nod of the people? Personally, elections would be a lot more humdrum without the comedic antics of a fringe candidate without a snowball’s chance to balance out the heady debates between the major party hopefuls.

What would we do without the blue guy, or the fellow with the enormous, uncropped eyebrows? Even mild-mannered folks like Mike Fellows, who ran last year as a Libertarian against Denny Rehberg, brought something to the campaign. With his fresh-out-of-bed look, Velcro-banded shoes, rumpled suit, unkempt hair and commonsense outlook, Fellows added an element of truth, plain speaking and, yes, comic relief, to the proceedings.

I can’t recall ever casting a ballot for one of these dark horses, but they do garner 1 percent to 5 percent of the vote in any given election, so someone’s buying their message. And 2012 will be no different. Maybe we’ll even be surprised.

On Tuesday, I received a press kit from Montana’s latest minority-party candidate, and near as I can tell, we are the first newspaper in the state to deliver this good news: Ron Vandevender has announced he will seek the seat of governor!

“Who on earth is Ron Vandevender?” you ask?

I shudder that you don’t already know.

Ron Vandevender is a Libertarian from Cascade (though he’s not really “from” Cascade; he just gets his mail there). He actually lives in Craig, and has since 1999, “where I own property, raise a lot of our own food and have been working on personally building my home.” This is exactly what Montana needs — a guy who knows how to build a home from the ground up, and who has the persistence to keep at it for 11 years!

Vandevender, a native of Yazoo, Miss., lives entirely off the grid in his partially finished home in Craig, and has many characteristics we Montanans cherish — and need in a governor. He’s obviously self-sufficient, even generating his own electricity. He’s a grandparent raising his grandchildren (or at least helping). And from a quick read of his campaign materials, he’s well spoken and intelligent. He holds a degree in business management and finance. He’s worked on political campaigns since a teen, helping candidates “from city council up through president.” Twice he has run for office himself, including a legislative bid last fall.

Vandevender has a mind-numbing variety of job experience, though admittedly it’s unclear what he does for a living these days. His previous jobs “included but is not limited to fast food management, running a pawn shop, working for the Mississippi Hwy Dept. Project office, part of the stock crew for a smaller private owned business and a large franchise, clerk, farm hand, theater, small business owner, and the Yazoo Arts Council.”

I can’t imagine a person with a more diverse background. Couple that with his Libertarian beliefs and this guy is less of a dark horse than I first thought. On top of that, he’s darn good-lookin’! (as you can see from the photo at right.) He could win!

True, he may not be as polished or quick with a slick political promise as most candidates, and he doesn’t have the backing of a major political party, but what Vandevender lacks in those areas he more than makes up for in honesty and down-to-earthiness. Best of all, he’s the first to admit he isn’t perfect.

“I would like to take a moment to point out that with all this in my life, I am only human,” he wrote. “Have I made mistakes in life? Yes. Have I ever done things I wish I could go back and change? Yes. As I state I am only human. I am not perfect, nor am I some sort of diety.”

Thank goodness for that! There are enough people with God complexes in state government.

Seriously, folks, I admire Mr. Vandevender, and anyone like him, for showing courage, fortitude and desire to even think about public service. In this day and age, where every scrap of a candidate’s past is dredged up and examined under a microscope, it’s a miracle anyone runs for public office.

Vandevender impresses me not because of all the remarkable things I’ve already mentioned, but because he’s clearly not joking around. I believe every word of the promises he makes, even if they appear to have been scratched out on a bar napkin at 1 o’clock in the morning, with a cadre of barstool campaign managers helping get the wording right.

“I can make the people of Montana a promise,” he wrote. “I will do my best to work for all of us, and if a mistake is made, I will admit it, stand up, take responsibility and work even harder to right the wrong. I will not feed any of you a line just because I think it is something you want to hear just to gain a vote. I am a very blunt person and call things as I see them. Nor will I use pre-fabed (?) talking points layed out by some political party. Also, I will do as the people of Montana want even if I do not totally agree with it. After all the people are the boss when it comes to elected officials and it is your state. This does not mean that I will not try my best to change the minds of the people if I see things differently, because I will. BUT - when all is said and done it will be what the people decide that wins out.”

You go, Ron!

Editor Andy Malby is at amalby@belgrade-news.com or 388-5101, ext. 12.