Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Candidates Address Local Issues and Concerns

Candidate Forum 1 of 5


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Mike Fellows (L) was running for U.S. House of Representatives before he was killed in a car accident Sept. 19. He has been replaced with Rick Breckenridge on the ballot.

SEELEY LAKE - The Seeley Lake Community Council hosted a candidate forum, Sept. 19 at the Seeley Lake Community Hall. Candidates for Governor/Lieutenant Governor, U.S. Congress, Secretary of State, Supreme Court Justice and State Attorney General races answered various questions from moderator and council chair Klaus von Sutterheim and the audience. All candidates that will appear on the ballot including Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, were invited. Only the Supreme Court Justice race had both candidates in attendance.

This week the Pathfinder features the candidates for Governor/Lieutenant Governor, U.S. Congress, Secretary of State and State Attorney General. Look for the Supreme Court Justice and State Auditor coverage in the next issue.

Absentee voters will receive their ballots Oct. 14. The general election is Nov. 8.

U.S. House of Representatives: Incumbent Republican Ryan Zinke was set to face Democratic candidate Denise Juneau and Libertarian candidate Mike Fellows in the race for U.S. Congress. Mike Fellows was the only candidate to attend the forum. He was killed in a car accident on his way home to Missoula following the forum. The Libertarian party choose Rick Breckenridge as the candidate to run in Fellows place in November.

"Congress has been very dysfunctional lately and it is time for new blood," said Fellows.

Fellows said Congress needs to start working together, something that the Republicans and Democrats don't often do. If they would start agreeing on the issues something would finally get done in Congress.

Libertarians support the idea of responsibility, "If you don't infringe on your neighbor, why do we need more regulations?" said Fellows.

Fellows said the Bill of Rights is something tangible that should never be taken away: free speech, right to fast trail jury, property cannot be taken away without a warrant and right to bear arms.

Fellows pointed out that both Zinke and Juneau will eventually support universal background checks for the second amendment. He asked the question why more legislation is needed to protect the right to bear arms that each American citizen already has.

How does your position differ from the Republicans and Democrats on some key issues?

The Libertarians believe in a high degree of social and economic freedom. Democrats are pretty good at social issues but not so good at economics. Republicans are pretty good at economic issues but not so good at social issues because they want to control your life and tell you want to do.

"It's you that controls your life. It's not the federal government, not your neighbor, not the state, it's you," said Fellows.

What is your position on immigration laws?

Fellows said that the current laws in place should be used. "This country has been made great by immigrants," said Fellows. Fellows said Congress has the power to make small changes to the laws to address some of the problems. However, they aren't doing that, instead they are taking drastic measures.

"We have all these immigrants that crossed the border illegally and they are on Medicare and Medicaid and that is something we need to change," said Fellows.

How do you feel the growing costs of wildfire suppression should be dealt with?

Fellows acknowledged that there are two sides of the issue: some say let it burn and others say there is a need to be proactive. It just depends on the fire.

"I'm not a forester so it is always tough to deal with those issues," said Fellows. "Fighting fire is a fact of life sometimes."

Would you support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project as it is or how would you address it?

Fellows said he hadn't read the project, however, "As long as they support private property rights I would support it a lot more."

Governor/Lieutenant Governor: Republican candidate Greg Gianforte and his running mate Lesley Robinson are challenging incumbent Democratic Governor Steve Bullock and his running mate Mike Cooney. Cooney was the only candidate to attend the forum.

Cooney said he is proud of the track record he and Governor Bullock have had over the last four years.

"We got it done the old Montana way, by working together, across the political aisles whenever possible, by sticking to our values, trusting in [and listening to] people who live, work and raise their families here," said Cooney

Under Bullock's leadership, Montana has been named the most fiscally prudent state in the country. More Montanans are working and household incomes are growing faster than anywhere else in the country. Montana is ranked in the top 10 states to start a business.

Cooney said Bullock has cut taxes for businesses and eliminated the business equipment tax for two-thirds of businesses. He balanced the budget and created a business environment that has allowed businesses to thrive.

The outdoor recreation industry accounts for 64,000 jobs in the state and $6 million in consumer spending. Bullock put out a plan that supports public lands, protects access to streams and will never allow the transfer of public lands.

Cooney and Bullock believe in public education. Both have sent their children through the public school system. They made record investments in public education in the past four years.

"Steve has always said that our public schools are the great equalizer and no matter where you live or how much money is in your pocket, you have the right to a good public education and the opportunities it provides," said Cooney.

"Make no mistake, that Montana will look fundamentally different if Steve is not elected governor," said Cooney.

What are your priorities for the next four years if Gov. Bullock is reelected?

Cooney said investment in infrastructure will be a top priority. Cooney said Gov. Bullock announced that he will work with the legislature to pass a major infrastructure bill. Public education is another key thing allowing students to compete in the 21st century job market. Finally protection of public lands including properly managing the state lands that we currently have and keeping federal lands under federal management.

What will do you to encourage access handicapped to public lands for the elderly and handicapped since they are being systematically excluded by not being allowed to use existing roads.

Cooney said this can be addressed with state property. They do want the State Parks to be available to people of all ages and abilities. As far as federal lands, Cooney said having a stronger dialogue with their federal partners and identify areas of interest, work with them to design programs with better opportunities for these groups. "That is key because we are Montanans and hope to live here and that is why our recreational opportunities are so valuable," said Cooney.

Should the state provide more funding to projects like the Seeley Lake Sewer?

Cooney said that funding would have to go through the infrastructure bill and the legislature. The bill would have to have a little bit for everyone and they will work with the legislature, who knows their local area and important projects to the area, to make those decisions.

"That particular project would have to be a decision that would ultimately be made by the legislature," said Cooney.

The last infrastructure bill was opposed by the Governor because of a difference in how it would be funded, either through bonding, cash or a mixture. Where do you stand on this particular position?

A bipartisan group came up with a proposal after the bill proposed by the governor using bonding was killed by the legislature. It used a fixture of funding sources including bonding and cash. It passed the senate by a large majority and was killed in the House by one vote.

"I expect the next infrastructure bill will be a combination of both bonding and cash," said Cooney "It makes sense to bond but you also have to have some cash in it as well."

Do you see the Montana State Parks as an organization that should be self-sufficient or it is more of a public service?

"I think it is a public service to be supported by the people of Montana," said Cooney. There is now a commission on state parks to determine how to better support them. The infrastructure in state parks is very fragile and the commission is looking at how to bolster that

"Montanans need to decide how important these parks are, [whether] they are a priority and if so, how are they willing to help support it," said Cooney. "The state parks are a jewel in the state no matter where they are."

Where is the $300 million excess funding kept?

Cooney said it is all run through the Montana State Treasury and it is spread throughout a number of institutions. It is still very close to $300 million in the rainy day fund.

What is the state looking at doing to offset the rising health care costs for state employees?

The state health clinics provide a number of services.

The state legislature has been very tight fisted in giving raises.

"It is always going to be a challenge but it is always on the front burner," said Cooney.

Secretary of State: State Auditor Democrat Monica Lindeen, former state Senator Republican Corey Stapleton and Libertarian candidate Professor Roger Roots are all running for Secretary of State. Stapleton was the only candidate to attend the forum.

Stapleton is originally from Great Falls, Mont. but now lives in Billings, Mont. with his wife and four children. He joined the Navy after graduating from Great Falls High School. He graduated from the US Naval academy, drove aircraft carriers and cruisers serving for 11 years. After returning to the civilian world, he became a financial advisor and served eight years in the state senate from 2000-2008.

Stapleton sees the Secretary of State as having three primary jobs: overseeing elections, businesses services and serving on the land board being charged with natural resource development on state lands as a way to pay for state schools.

Stapleton feels that Montana already does well with their elections and he wants to continue to make that a priority.

Stapleton looks forward to improving business services with the new information system SIMS(BE) allowing businesses the ability to file and maintain business documents online. Stapleton said he solved the biggest computer problem of the state, the POINTS computer system, while working as a senator. Because of this accomplishment he was put in charge of the information technology committees for all three branches of government.

"I learned a whole lot and being in charge of the computer systems for elections and this new SIMS(BE) system for our businesses, I am exactly where I should be," said Stapleton.

Stapleton said the Land Board needs to take more responsibility and leadership in keeping natural resource jobs, maintaining industry and protecting public lands and access.

"I'm looking forward to serving as your Secretary of State because of my background in the business world, in the military, as a state senator and fourth generation Montanan, my business skills and leadership lend themselves almost identically to the tasks at hand for our Secretary of State," said Stapleton.

In what ways do you and Monica Lindeen (D) differ?

Stapleton said his life experiences are different serving in the military, in the state senate and for the past 20 years working in the private sector as a financial advisor with Stapleton Financial Group.

"It's amazing how you can take the application of sound discipline and practice at the family level and it makes a whole lot of sense at the state level," said Stapleton.

On the Land Board, how do you propose to deal with the sub-standard septic systems on state lease lots?

"I don't know the answer. That is the first time I've ever heard that being an issue," said Stapleton. "I'm light on my feet and quick to learn. If that is something that is important, I would love to study the issue. I don't expect to be just a member on the Land Board, I want to be an instant leader on the Land Board."

Where do you stand on voter ID regulations specifically to showing a photo ID?

Stapleton said his personal position is that he would like people to show a photo ID. However, the current state law says voters can show an alternative form of identification.

"As Secretary of State, my job is to enforce the law," said Stapleton. Stapleton did acknowledge that he could be a leader and bring forward legislation but would meet with both the governor and legislature on those issues.

Why do you want to be Secretary of State?

Stapleton said he knew at age 17 that he wanted to serve his country, which he did in the Navy and state Senate. "I have a passion around the important things," said Stapleton. "I'm someone that watches the news and thinks 'that's wrong' or 'we can do better than that.'"

Attorney General: Incumbent Republican Tim Fox is running for a second term against former state Senator Democrat Larry Jent. Jent was the only candidate who attended the forum.

Jent is a lawyer from Bozeman, Mont., state representative, state senator, West Point graduate, Green Beret Paratrooper and National Guard officer. He has worked in his private law practice for the past 32 years, is a citizen soldier and "considered myself a citizen legislator. It's a great tradition," said Jent.

In addition to his law practice, Jent said he is qualified for the job of the Attorney General because while in the house and the senate he was involved with the Public Service Agenda. He sponsored and passed laws on important problems including DUI, methamphetamine, created more and better paid positions for the highway patrol and DNA testing.

The Montana Trial Lawyers awarded Jent with the Public Service Award for preserving the right to jury trial. He received the Crime Fighter award from the National Rape, Abuse and Incest network for DNA testing and bills to solve cold cases. Jent received the Century Council Award for combating drunk driving. And his favorite was the Swimming Up Stream award from the local DUI task force. Jent was named the Conservation Legislator of the Year and received an award from the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association for a bill dealing with the problem of commercial poaching.

"It's the job of the Attorney General to be the people's lawyer, to keep our community safe and to seek justice," said Jent.

What are your priorities if elected?

Jent said the fundamental part of the job is to keep our communities safe and seek justice. The worst problem in the district courts right now is methamphetamine. While Jent said the drug is really terrible, it is the spin-out and its effect on families that is really terrible. He proposes immediate intervention for first offenders and immediate consequences when they screw up.

Jent also said there are a lot of issues with reentry after serving time in prison that he would like to work with as Attorney General.

How do you propose to deal with the growing inmate population?

Jent said it is mostly about drugs and reform of the parole board.

Jent likes a proposal by Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito on the idea of immediate intervention. The first time someone offends, they are evaluated, get into a plea bargain and then they are put into a system of treatment. Jent said that a "startling number" of inmates in Deer Lodge have co-occurring disorders.

"If you can identify that person right way when they first come to district country, you can come up with a punishment and treatment modality that can straighten him out then and keep him out of state prison."

Jent said he found that inmates were doing programs suggested by the parole board but that weren't ordered by the judge or prison staff. "Until you get people not only getting out on parole, but working with a reentry program that works, you can't just put the guy out of the prison without a job or any money."

Do you know if there are plans to bring Watch East DUI program from Glendive to other areas of the state?

Jent said he supports expanding that program because he's seen it work through using immediate consequences. "People want to be sober," said Jent. "The only way to get people sober is enforced sobriety and reward and punishment. That's why the Watch programs work."

What do you do about those being jailed for traffic offenses?

Jent said this is a nationwide issue that has to deal with bail. He doesn't agree with all the conditions that are placed on people who are released, however, he doesn't believe someone should be held in jail because they can't make bail on a traffic offense.

"The person ought to be able to make bail, either cash bail or released by the judge on their own recognizance subject to certain conditions," said Jent. "They shouldn't put people in jail until they have been convicted. The purpose of bail is to ensure the presence of a defendant. It's not to punish the defendant. They are presumed innocent."

Could things be done better or worse with child protective services (CPS)?

The attorney general can direct the county attorneys to file or not file cases. Jent said as Attorney General he would make sure the cases that are being brought by the county attorney are being done fairly. "I'm very concerned about due process," said Jent.

Where is our justice system when people are still driving after six or more DUIs?

Jent said he sponsored the aggravated DUI legislation. When the study asked who the people are, they fit a pattern of excessively intoxicated, twice or more the legal limit. If someone gets a second DUI it is almost guaranteed they will get a third. People are monitored for 24 hours, seven days per week for the period of time the judge sets.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Mike Cooney (D) running for Lieutenant Governor with Governor Steve Bullock.

"If they get to six or seven DUIs, they are a persistent felony offender. They can lock them up and throw away the key for a long time," said Jent. "There is only one remedy for the person with six or seven DUIs, jail."

What happens do someone that will not take a breathalyzer test?

Jent said if someone is arrested for a DUI, they have a right to refuse the breathalyzer test. However, if they go to court, that refusal can be told to the jury.

"They can still be convicted and in the current climate they will be convicted," said Jent.

Do you feel the idea of electing judges is a good idea?

"No. The reason I feel it is a bad idea is you can't have an election without politics," said Jent. However, Jent doesn't care for the other extreme of appointing federal judges for life. Instead he would advocate for a panel of citizens, lawyers, current judges to screen the best candidates and recommend them to the governor.


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