By Kay Braddock
Prairie Community Center’s dining area was packed with Republican faithful during last week’s Lincoln/Reagan Dinner, where those seeking county, state and national seats spoke with the 50-plus attending.
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is seeking his sixth term in Montana’s lone House seat, led the list of conservative candidates during the Sunday, Mar. 7 event.
Addressing issues almost entirely based on criticizing President Barack Obama’s policies, including cap-and-trade and healthcare reform, Rehberg only briefly mentioned his opponents during the question and answer period.
Instead Rehberg’s 30-minute talk centered on the chasm he says exists between the current leadership and representatives of rural areas.
“Most of my time is spent trying to explain the realities of life as we know it in the West to somebody who’s never going to come out here,” Rehberg said. He cited the benefits of cattle grazing on federal lands and the timber industry’s benefit to forests by cleaning out dead and dying timber as two examples that often require explanation.
Estate tax kills small businesses, Rehberg said and a stimulus package won’t work when only 22 cents of every dollar can be “perceived as simulative” like construction, while the remainder goes to social programs like food stamps, Head Start and Medicaid.
“… that doesn’t build an economy. You don’t call it a stimulus package and hope to turn around your economy by spending governmental taxation dollars on something that’s nothing more than a cost,” Rehberg said.
The appointment of Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations is one example of an urban representative affecting rural economies, Rehberg said. He cited the last Farm Bill as tailoring new spending towards nutrition programs like food stamps, rather than farm production.
“So when we talk about things like healthcare reform - don’t kid yourself – it is more tailored towards Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and New York than it is the rural healthcare needs that we have in a place like this,” Rehberg said. Smaller communities have difficulty attracting doctors and nurses, Rehberg said, adding “dentists are almost a thing of the past in rural Montana.”
Rehberg acknowledged a “healthcare crisis” is facing the nation, calling it one of the top two difficult issues that must be solved.
“It’s incumbent on us to fix the healthcare cost issue in America,” Rehberg said, noting healthcare defensive medicine and tort reform must be addressed.
The other top issue, according to Rehberg, is immigration.
“A country that does not control its borders, cannot control its sovereignty,” Rehberg said, noting illegal immigrants affect the number of representatives some states hold and the allocation of tax dollars.
Addressing cap-and-trade, Rehberg said the transition from traditional energy sources to alternative ones would likely be a “painful process.” Adding, “They’re very serious about applying a tax to energy like coal, oil and gas to get us to one, quit using it or make it more expensive so that the alternatives like wind and solar look like a better solution.”
When asked specifically about Democrat Dennis McDonald’s chances of surviving the primary election, Rehberg said, “We’re not finding that he’s getting that support,” citing McDonald’s past as a San Francisco trial lawyer as a likely reason. “…(He) buys the boots, hat and the ranch and the next thing you know they’re going to try to convince us they’re Montanans.”
McDonald, once thought to be a shoe-in for the Democrat ticket for the U.S. House seat, will now face off against fellow Democrat and Missoula lawyer Tyler Gernant in the primary election. Other recent Democrat filings include Melinda Gopher, Missoula and Sam Rankin of Billings.
Two Republicans, Mark French and A.J. Otjen have also filed for the U.S. House seat and will challenge Rehberg in the June 8 GOP primary election.
Senate District 20 candidates introduced
As state Senator Keith Bales, Otter, prepares to vacate his seat for district 20 due to term limits, the list of candidates contending for the position, which covers all or portions of six counties, including Carter, Custer, Dawson, Fallon, McCone, Powder River and Prairie, continues to grow.
Two of those candidates, both of Miles City, attended Prairie County’s Lincoln-Reagan Dinner. Carol Lambert, Broadus, didn’t attend while Ray Roerick, a last minute filer, was also not in attendance.
Eric Moore’s economically focused message criticized Montana’s unfriendly business policies.
“It’s important to have people making decisions that have lived on both sides of a paycheck,” Moore began.
Moore, and his wife Lea, farm and ranch in Custer County and own a cattle-feeding company.
“We employ about 10 people full-time in the Miles City community. We pump about $4 million worth of commerce through the local economy on an annual basis,” Moore said, adding it’s important for state representatives to understand the value of money and to know what it’s like to go to the bank to get an operating loan.
“We’re the ones who make the local communities go,” Moore said of fellow Republicans. “We’re the ones that sign the paychecks, that pay the taxes, that provide the commerce, that sit on the charity boards and coach the little league teams. We’re the ones that make our local economies thrive and survive.”
Directly criticizing Gov. Brian Schweitzer as being “big on the talk, but shy on the promise,” Moore pointed to Montana’s three percent equipment tax, coal severance tax and policies of the Department of Environmental Quality as reasons why companies don’t move into Montana.
“They don’t get that kind of reception in North Dakota and Wyoming and that’s why that’s where they go,” Moore said.
Citing Montana’s current policies towards businesses as one reason he decided to run, Moore continued, “Folks we have got to get a more business friendly environment in this state.”
Another concern is Montana’s upcoming budget deficit. The anticipated $500 million shortfall in the next biannual could be even higher, Moore said.
“I want to represent agriculture in the rural districts,” Moore said. “Because I think that’s critically important. There’s not enough boots underneath the desks in Helena anymore.”
John Laney, who serves as Executive Director of the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce, concentrated his message on economic development as well, specifically addressing concerns of outlying areas like Eastern Montana.
Laney criticized the “mythical” boot figure used in Gov. Schweitzer’s economic policy.
“If you really use your imagination, it’s kind of shaped like a boot,” Laney said of the figure that represents the seven cities within the state where emphasis on economic development has been placed.
“The tip of the boot ironically is Billings, which I’m afraid in some instances in our state government right now that is where they think the state ends,” Laney said.
Laney argued that all economic energy shouldn’t be focused on those seven cities.
“There’s 56 counties with a lot of little towns in Montana that all need help,” Laney said. “We can’t concentrate on helping just the big seven or the magnificent seven, as I like to call them.”
Published March 17, 2010