Editor’s note: As candidates for Montana’s newly drawn eastern congressional district competed in their respective party primaries this spring, Montana Free Press asked each of them to complete a written questionnaire to help voters understand their positions on key policy issues. We initially published their responses as part of our 2022 election guide prior to the June 7 primary election. Now, as campaign season heats up in advance of the Nov. 8 general election, we’re republishing responses from the remaining candidates here, displaying them side by side so readers can easily compare their answers. Note that it’s been a few months since we solicited these responses, meaning candidates have had time to hone their stances — or shift them. Additionally, you may want more detail on where candidates stand on specific topics than they’ve been able to convey in the brief space our questionnaire gave them. Given both of those caveats, we’d love your feedback. What more do you want to know about the candidates’ policy positions after giving these responses a read? Are there things you consider key issues that we didn’t catch here? And lastly, what do you want us to push the candidates on as we seek live interviews that provide more opportunity for follow up questions?
Tell us what you think, if you’re so inclined, through the form embedded at the bottom of this page. Thanks in advance for sharing your insight with us.
Q1: Polls indicate many Americans are concerned about the integrity of the nation’s democratic institutions. Both as a political candidate and as a potential member of Congress, what can you do to promote Montanans’ faith in American democracy?
The two most important things I can do are to work to hold our government agencies accountable and to keep my promises to the voters who elected me. Since being sworn in I have fought tooth and nail to make sure Montana’s voice is heard and to keep my promises I made during the election. I promised to not vote based on the political winds of D.C. and stand up against bad legislation — and I’ve done just that. I’ve introduced legislation to prioritize securing our southern border, improve access to health care for veterans, and voted against Biden’s massive, irresponsible spending bills. And I will continue fighting against this administration and its irresponsible policies, if re-elected.
I am a proven leader who will work with people doing the right thing for Montanans. That’s why I worked with Senator Daines to bring home Montanans stranded in eastern Europe at the onset of the pandemic, sat with Senator Tester on a panel for issues impacting our tribal nations, and have worked with the Gianforte Foundation on the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. It’s why I am working with Senators Graham and Blumenthal on federal policy addressing crimes against children. We need to talk to each other as neighbors and fellow Montanans. Civility has been lost in the highest levels of government, and the people’s trust has been compromised. Our politics are busted, but we’re not broken. I’m not blind to the problems, but I see the possibilities that lie within us and extend beyond us and I am committed to working for all Montanans. Together, we can put people over politics. When willingness is there, it really is that simple.
First, I would hold accountable those involved in the January 6 coup attempt. We will not deter future similar actions unless those involved are prosecuted for their undemocratic way of not accepting a fair election. Our leaders must confront the threat and act as if it can happen in America. We are similar to every other country. Thinking we are immune from a coup just because it is dressed up like a loud buffoon? The attempt to destroy our system of government was real. Second, the U.S. Communications Decency Act should be amended so big tech providers can be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by others on their platform, meaning they can be held liable for violent speech, disinformation or misinformation. Newspaper editors did what big tech should be doing: keep society calm by keeping a lid on extreme and disturbed speech. Third, all of us should honor democracy by defending it and debating it.
Montana’s concern about the integrity of our system and the negativism of our two-party system is one of the main reasons I filed as an independent. The other principal reason I am in this is Matt Rosendale’s refusal to back Ukraine. In a recent national Harvard poll, 58% of Americans would support an independent if faced with a Trump/Biden rerun. As a member of Congress, I would oppose any attempts to limit access to vote. It is time to quit attacking local election officials who have done their damndest to provide fair elections.
Q2: Do you believe Joe Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020?
There were some irregularities in many states’ election returns after the 2020 election that have endangered people’s faith in our electoral system. I supported an effort to do a 10-day audit of the election returns, conducted by an Electoral Commission — which I think is a reasonable step to help restore folks’ faith in the election process.
We must focus our efforts on improving both the access to and the affordability of health care, and I believe the best way to do that is through enacting market-based reforms to allow true competition and choice in the insurance industry. Among the first bills that I introduced was the Direct Primary Care Accessibility Act, which would protect the ability of Americans to purchase health care from their doctors without going through an insurance company first and is viewed as an effective way to increase access to preventative care and primary care physicians at a much lower cost. I’ve also worked to expand access to telehealth and mental health services for those on Medicare by introducing the Rural Telehealth Expansion Act that would expand Medicare to cover store-and-forward telehealth services to all 50 states and introduced legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs by shedding light on the practices of pharmacy benefit managers.
Health care is a fundamental right, especially for veterans, and needs to be addressed as such. Not only are costs an issue, but so is access for too many Montanans. Updating and improving Medicare reimbursement is a step in the right direction as may be adjusting the age of qualification for Medicare. The high cost of prescription drug prices must be dealt with also, especially lifesaving drugs like insulin. Additionally, in rural Montana, doctors are few and far between. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 46 of Montana’s 56 counties are underserved by primary care doctors, and almost a third of Montana’s primary care doctors will retire by 2030, according to the Robert Graham Center. Medical programs to train doctors in western states help, but more needs to be done. That’s why I support S.1893, the Rural Physician Workforce Production Act of 2021. These are short answers to a complex question.
I’m not sure the federal government can do it alone. Six in 10 Americans have an underlying chronic health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, which can be prevented. Individuals should make healthy choices and be encouraged to a greater degree by health providers through behavioral education when they interact. Individuals need to help the country and not just treat symptoms. Telehealth will help rural states like Montana and allow patients to be near to home and reduce travel. Providers need to pass the savings to consumers from fewer interpersonal interactions. I would support funding for updating telehealth equipment in rural hospitals and areas. A faster FDA drug review process should be tied to price concessions. Reduce the number of patents and limit how long they survive. Doing away with the prohibition of Medicare negotiating drug prices and allowing Medicare to exclude drugs from their formularies would improve bargaining and therefore lower prices.
No American should be bankrupted by illness. My experience on the two largest hospital boards in Montana tells me we cannot weaken Medicaid and Medicare, nor The Affordable Care Act. The ACA is imperfect but helps thousands of Montanans. I do think some hospitals have become obsessed with new construction and need to pay more attention to doctors, nurses, and other caregivers. It is also time for Montana lawmakers to quit attacking our caregivers.
Primary victors Republican Matt Rosendale and Democrat Penny Ronning and independent Gary Buchanan will compete in the November general election. Libertarian Sam Rankin also led his party primary late Tuesday.
As we have seen prices for homes increase, we’ve also seen a dramatic increase in the cost of materials. The government-mandated COVID shutdowns have wreaked havoc on our supply chains and the irresponsible spending of the Biden administration has pushed inflation so high we are not only seeing concerns with housing affordability, but basic necessities like milk and eggs. We absolutely need to put an end to the out-of-control spending that is increasing inflation and contributing to the inability of average Americans to afford homes.
In the past year, median household incomes in Montana rose only 4.7 percent, but rentals rose 15 percent, and homes a whopping 29 percent. There are 10,000 fewer homes in Montana than we need, according to Freddie Mac. This gap between wages, housing costs, and housing availability needs to be addressed. Infill development in urban areas helps lower infrastructure costs, preservation of rural housing helps avoid displacement in rural areas, and low income and workforce housing tax credits help incentivize affordable housing development. These are a few areas that can be addressed immediately to begin promoting housing affordability in Montana.
The federal government has numerous programs to aid extremely low-income and moderate- to middle-income families to obtain decent housing in Montana — the Housing Trust Fund program and the HOME program, to name a few. I don’t see serious outreach in order for the average person to know the programs exist much less to apply for them. Lenders utilizing those programs should provide more small balance mortgages (under $100,000) with reduced fees/costs and lowered down payment for first-generation buyers as part of those programs. The Community Reinvestment Act, along with the above programs, needs to strengthen and encourage banks to make loans that incorporate repairs. Modular, panelized and pre-cut homes can help house poor families or individuals. They cost less than on-site builds. The density requirements in cities need to be revisited with federal incentives to build more condominiums. Current restrictions on condominium lending are a problem to first-time buyers. I support such revisions.
According to the NYT over the last two years, Americans who own their own homes have gained more than $6 tril in housing wealth. As a capitalist I see this as a factor of supply and demand. Wonderful for owners but tough for first-time homeowners and renters. In Montana this has led to very serious problems for university, hospitals and student recruitment. One of the solutions would be for joint federal, state, and local cooperation on housing. Section 8 housing assistance should be expanded. A lot of Montanans live in modular, mobile, and manufactured homes and pay rent for the land they stand on. Several of these “parks” have been recently purchased by a Utah-based corp that has raised rent and offers very poor service. One near me has dealt with serious water issues not resolved by out-of-state management. It’s time for FNMA to stop providing cheap financing for such corporate efforts to monopolize dramatic rental increases. Incentives should be directed to homeowners to actually buy their parks as they do in Livingston.
Q5: To what extent do you see climate change as an urgent issue? What if any federal action would you support to mitigate its effects?
While it is critical that we work to promote a clean and healthy environment, developing our abundant natural resources like coal, oil, and natural gas and protecting our air and water resources are not mutually exclusive. We already have rigorous processes in place to ensure the protection of our environment and right now, with millions of Americans struggling to put food on their tables and fuel in their cars, I think our priority needs to be cutting government spending and reining in our out-of-control inflation.
Climate change is an urgent issue. In Montana and throughout the country, farmers and ranchers have been at the forefront of responsible land stewardship and will continue in that role as we understand more about how to address climate change. I support more funding for public research and development for crops and cropping systems; for methods to maintain healthy soil conditions, develop crops, varieties, and animal breeds that perform in more extreme conditions; and to examine options to combat drought. I also support the United States becoming energy independent. Montana can help lead the way through the many opportunities we have for wind and solar power development, biofuels, clean coal technologies, and responsible oil and gas production.
It overshadows all issues. I support the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s requirement on publicly traded companies to disclose climate risks such as greenhouse gas emissions. Investors can make informed decisions and want it. Some companies already publish the data. I support renovation of the 100,000 public schools in healthy ways for kids, saving money and the planet through HVAC, insulation, and lighting upgrades. I also support modernizing by transitioning the 500,000 yellow school buses to electric power. I do not support heavy subsidization of citizens’ use of energy. One way to get people to lower their energy usage, save money and the planet, is for them to do simple things themselves, such as fixing a drafty window. Let the market dictate energy prices. People will conserve on their own if they have to pay the actual costs.
I support part of the Build Back Better bill regarding the Civilian Climate Corps. It is similar to a program in the 1930s under the New Deal which trained and employed young people to improve public lands.
Climate change is already here and complicated. The U.S. should continue to rejoin and be a significant supporter of international climate organizations. The Ukraine war has shown us that we are not prepared yet to move quickly to non-fossil fuels. We need to increase drilling in the U.S. to help. We cannot let Ukraine tanks and support vehicles run out of gas, nor the American consumer. In Montana we need continued and expanded efforts from the feds and state to install charging stations. We have to stop the world’s largest beef producer, JBS, from buying cattle in Brazil which come from illegally deforested lands. Utilities like NorthWestern Energy have to allow net metering efforts to alternative energy producers.
Republican incumbent Matt Rosendale is the clear favorite as he seeks re-election to Congress in Montana’s newly drawn Eastern district. That hasn’t stopped a crew of motivated challengers from trying to convince voters to support a more moderate vision of Montana politics.
Q6: Do you see reining in the federal debt as a priority? If so, how should that be accomplished? If you support new taxes or spending cuts, please identify specifics about who would pay more or what budget areas you’d cut. (We assume that working to minimize waste, fraud and abuse is a given.)
Absolutely. With our deficit reaching unsustainable levels and the national debt over $30 trillion, something has to be done to ensure financial security for our children and grandchildren. We are in this situation because we spend too much, not because we tax our people too little. Since my first day in Congress I have voted against irresponsible spending and sought to reduce our national debt — and while it hasn’t always been popular, it is a promise I made to Montanans throughout my campaign and a promise that I will continue to keep. If re-elected, I will continue to oppose tax increases on Montana families and businesses, and I will support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Policymakers need to consider policy changes both to revenue and to spending while making certain that essential services are not cut. High national debt places a burden on folks having to scramble to pay for food, utilities, transportation, health care, childcare, and more. This is why I endorse an increase of the tax rate for the very wealthy, while keeping taxes at their current rate for families earning under $400,000. President Biden’s American Families Plan will raise $1.5 trillion over a decade by making the wealthiest 1% of Americans pay their fair share. The plan would also raise levies on capital gains and ordinary income and increase tax audits for those earning more than $400,000 a year. Long-term changes in spending and revenue require legislation, but executive actions can contribute to a sustainable fiscal future. For example, taxes paid must match taxes owed, not the average $381 billion/year tax gap.
It’s a priority, but not my highest. Everyone knows nothing will change in any substantial way. Why? Because Congress is on the take and only does what big money, i.e., corporations, PACs, and lobbyists, want them to do. And they don’t want their subsidies/tax breaks reduced to help the deficit. The only way to reduce the deficit is to elect politicians who refuse to take corporate, PAC or lobbyist money as a candidate or in office. If I were elected because of my refusal to accept corporate, PAC or lobbyist money, and was free from that financial obligation, I could easily find numerous federal giveaways, i.e., subsidies for many businesses, tax loopholes, etc., affecting both conservative and liberal institutions. Recent large tax breaks for the wealthy should be repealed along with the dynasty trusts that shelter money for generations without paying taxes on increased value. Those would be a start to a balanced budget. I would ask for equal sacrifice from right- and left-leaning institutions.
The only area we seem to have bipartisan agreement is that deficits only matter when the other side is in power. An independent would be able to call that out. Federal revenue could be vastly raised, not by raising taxes, but by eliminating myriads of tax rates and loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations. I think the internationally supported 15% minimum tax rate is a start and would bring money from profitable corporations who are paying nothing. On the other hand, I disagree with the progressive move to cancel student loans debt. A loan is a loan, not a grant. Restructuring is one thing. Elimination is not right. Like the Wall Street Journal has stated, the repeated extension and “temporary pauses” have cost over 100 billion in money Congress has not appropriated. Universities and colleges have to be more responsible about encouraging students taking on debt. This is true particularly at the graduate level — borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to obtain jobs that pay little is irresponsible.
Q7: What do you see as the most important priorities for the management of federal lands in Montana? Should the federal government consider transferring some federally held land into state ownership?
I oppose a federal lands transfer, and will work tirelessly to protect public access to our public lands. As a member of the State Land Board, I expanded access to over 45,000 acres of state public lands, while protecting environmentally sensitive areas and putting our natural resources to work for our state. As congressman, I have prioritized improving federal land management and encouraging natural resource development in a way that respects the environment and fosters job creation. I have also introduced legislation to prevent frivolous litigation aimed at stalling responsible timber harvest and forest management practices that are needed to improve habitat and mitigate wildfire risk.
Some might say that transfer of federal lands to the states would keep public lands accessible and generate revenue for the states. There are good reasons to be skeptical though, as a recent report by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit located in Bozeman, reveals. Transfer of federal lands to the states might produce more revenue, but it wouldn’t necessarily reduce expenses, especially when it comes to wildfire suppression and environmental planning. No one disputes that public lands offer many benefits ranging from recreation to resource development. But when costs go up, states will be tempted to sell off what had once been land accessible to everyone. I’m not alone in feeling that federal land should remain federal land. In fact, a report authored by the former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke “does not recommend that a single acre of federal land be removed from the federal estate.”
We need to keep them out of the hands of profit-seekers, unless they agree beforehand with performance bonds, to perform reclamation on the land to meet EPA standards. If left to the whims of state legislators (in all states) and the financial influence they cannot seem to resist, I would be against turning over control of federal lands to Montana. Federal public lands in Montana and the west in general should be fertile ground for: developing renewable energy; establishing a Climate Conservation Corps; restoring public land; continuing sensible agricultural and water usage and practices; zero or reduced tillage; crop residue inclusion in fields; nutrient management; preventing organic matter loss; and soil erosion control. Climate change requires federal lands to be used for laboratories to help save the planet, not further exploitation by private industry. We need to honor tribal nations’ sovereignty in implementing any land use policies. They were here first.
Federal lands should stay in the hands of the federal government. Just the total cost of recent forest fires should sober up those who want to transfer federal land. Montana cannot afford future fire control by itself.
Q8: What do you see as the single most significant issue facing Montana’s public education system, and what if any federal action would you support to address it?
One issue facing our schools is hiring and retaining teachers. Historically, Montana’s starting pay for teachers was among the lowest in the nation. Governor Gianforte and the Montana State Legislature have acted to incentivize local governments to increase teacher pay by passing the TEACH Act, and I applaud the great work they have done on this important issue. Overall, I believe that parents and local Montanans know better than the federal government when it comes to the education of our children.
In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, later becoming known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Throughout the history of the legislation, Congress has not yet fully funded this critical act. By Congress not fully funding the law, the burden falls on state and local taxes to make up the difference. I support the IDEA Full Funding Act (S. 3213/H.R. 5984) and the Keep Our Pact Act (S. 72/H.R. 764). These create a mandatory 10-year path to fully funding both IDEA and Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Investing in educator recruitment and retention, higher education, and meeting the mental health needs of students and educators are also critical investments in our country.
Low teacher pay. Classroom teachers and on-the-street law officials should be paid like professionals. As with law enforcement on the street, teachers deal with everyone who comes their way. Some are difficult to deal with, to put it nicely. I would support federal funding for subsidizing teacher pay in rural areas with minimal oversight from the federal government. Suggestion: There are 824 schools and 490 districts in Montana. Most have at least one superintendent and principal, and some can be consolidated with the money going to teacher pay. A second issue would be to allow school boards to run the schools. Trying to incorporate every parents’ wishes will only deteriorate the public school system. I cannot get three people to agree on a date for a church bake sale. How could teachers incorporate 30 parents’ requirements of what and how to teach? They can’t. Communities should not be intimidated by extremists, and rational people should run for the school board.
The cost of attending college has been increasing at a rate second only to health care. We need more financial literacy on student debt. We have to better educate our student borrowers. I learned while leading our government reorganization that the local school is a Montana shrine. It should be kept as local as possible — state and federal government should stay the hell out of banning books and forcing partisan education policies on local schools. I am proud of our local Yellowstone County Schools and how they behave on their own. I would encourage higher rural educator pay and expand broadband internet capability.
Q9: In the event Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, would you support federal legislation that either guarantees abortion access or that, alternatively, establishes legal protections for life beginning at conception? What specific provisions would you like to see included in future federal abortion law?
Editor’s note: We asked this question before the U.S. Supreme Court formally released its landmark ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June.
I support pro-life legislation that protects life beginning at conception.
Males and females create pregnancy, but females have historically carried the legal, financial, and lifetime responsibility at a much higher rate. All life is precious, but not all lives are treated equally under the law when it comes to conception. Holding female reproductive rights to a stricter and more burdensome standard than that of males when it takes both sexes to create pregnancy is not right. Reproductive rights must be decisions between patients and their medical provider, not the government. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, then it becomes even more imperative that Congress not pass legislation to interfere with reproductive rights or private health care decisions between a patient and their doctor. This should be the standard no matter gender.
As an attorney, I am aware that Roe v. Wade is not a law but an interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court based on the right to privacy implied in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress could pass a law making abortion legal, which approximately 60% of the public agrees with. Presently, the filibuster is what is holding back passage. I would support the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade and keep abortion legal nationwide. To cite the specific provisions of the WHPA that I support is not feasible here. I am pro-choice. Government should be kept out of the matter. It is a privacy issue and a personal question for individuals and families alone.
I believe strongly in everyone’s right to privacy in their personal lives. Montana’s 1972 Constitution grants an explicit right to privacy and on that basis The [Montana] Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in 1999, that a woman has a right to choose up to the viability of the fetus. While I am pro-choice, many of my friends and supporters are pro-life. One of my closest pro-life friends and I agree; decisions should be between the woman and her doctor. As grandfathers, we also agree that our adult granddaughters should make their own decisions in following their own conscience.
Q10: What changes, if any, would you like to see to current federal regulations regarding firearm ownership?
I support the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms and will vote against any legislation seeking to infringe on that right.
Currently, federal law prohibits domestic abusers from having guns, but only if they have been married to, have lived with, or have a child with the victim. Women are as likely to be killed by a dating partner as by a spouse and the law should reflect that. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) should be updated to include abusive dating partners as unauthorized to own a firearm.
Ghost guns are a problem. I agree with the governor on parts of his opposition to ghost gun regulation, but an all-or-nothing approach is not productive. There has to be middle ground between rural and urban America. There are too many deaths from firearms. I know that in my combat infantry unit, when entering the main rear base, we turned over M16s, M60s, M79s, ammunition, C-4, lemons, phosphorus grenades, etc. to the armory. We all thought it was reasonable because some were hot-heads, but in the field, we were focused and no one acted out. In America, the hot-heads (mental illness, drugs, etc.) have easy access to firearms. A reasonable discussion about this issue brings out the lobbyists who only want to sell more guns and incite anger. The public wants reasonable restrictions. I would not support owners registering their guns. However, I would talk to both sides. There must be common ground to slow firearm deaths in the U.S., if we could only get past the NRA rage machine.
I support the Second Amendment. My grandson fills his family’s freezer every season and I have given him some of my sporting weapons. We have to remember why the Second Amendment passed. It provided for the state to raise militias for general defense and protected frontiersman homes and families. The Second Amendment was not designed to establish heavily armed radicals like the Oath Keepers to overthrow our government. I support stronger background checks and decreasing access to firearms to criminals and bad actors. I would not embarrass Montana, as did Matt Rosendale, who is in federal court accused of accepting $400,000 in illegal contributions from the NRA.
Q11: Montanans voted to legalize adult marijuana use in 2020. Do you support removing cannabis from the federal government’s Schedule 1 controlled substance list?
I did not vote for legalization of marijuana, but Montanans overwhelmingly voted for this. I think we should accept the vote and allow local governments to sort out how to follow the majority vote. I do believe the federal government should remove cannabis from the Schedule 1 controlled substance list. Banning it, is like the prohibition, contrary to state laws, including Montana, and would not solve any problems.