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HAVRE, Mont. – Bear Paw Credit Union’s prize-winning efforts in community outreach have drawn the attention of the state’s Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, whose views on the CU tax exemption last year became suspect. In a stopover here to meet with tribal leaders at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, the governor paid a visit to Bear Paw’s outreach branch in a Small Business Development Center where CU tellers conduct financial literacy classes and transact business one day a week. “We were very glad to have the governor with us so we could show our credit union does provide financial services in an area that ordinarily does not get them,” said April Baiamonte, Bear Paw vice president. During the visit, Bear Paw executives were able to plug the tax exemption to Schweitzer, whose brother and campaign aides in a surprise move voiced doubts about the exemption during the gubernatorial election last fall. “During the visit, we gave him some CUNA handouts that were distributed at the GAC last fall,” said Al Vukasin, president of Bear Paw and chairman of the Montana Credit Union Network. The CUNA literature discussed the need for the tax-exempt status and explained the movement. Last fall Schweitzer’s brother, Walter, a campaign staffer, as well as other advisors, made comments during the governor’s re-election bid questioning the wisdom of the tax exemption No formal statement regarding the governor’s stance on credit unions has ever been made, said a Network spokesman noting it was “a flippant remark by Walter” that raised eyebrows. During his visit, Schweitzer met with CU members and introduced himself to one who was filing his taxes through a service offered by Bear Paw. Joining Vukasin at the Development Center ceremonies were reservation leaders and directors of Bear Paw which recently was a first place recipient of CUNA’s Louise Herring Award for its work in helping the underserved. -

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