Candidates square off at Twin Bridges forum

Candidates for House District 71 participate in a discussion forum Thursday at Twin Bridges Public School. From left Robert Kennedy, Ray Shaw and Bob Wagner. Photo by Ben Coulter

TWIN BRIDGES – Several community members from the Ruby Valley and Madison County gathered Thursday in Twin Bridges to hear a forum discussion between legislative candidates for Senate District 36 and House District 71, where candidates explained their political views and motivation in running for election.

The forum was moderated by Sheridan resident and local Realtor Frank Colwell, who presented the candidates with three out of six questions previously given to them by the Rotary Club. Each candidate was given three minutes to answer each question.

“This is a great opportunity for us to learn from the candidates a little bit more about them, to get more information about their ideas and what they want to accomplish if elected,” Colwell said.

The forum began with each candidate giving a brief introduction about themselves and their background before they were asked to describe how their political views differ or agree with other candidates.  SD 36 candidate Richard Turner (D – Dillon) explained that his views on education and women’s’ issues contrasted sharply with those of the incumbent candidate, Senator Debby Barrett (R – Dillon). Barrett responded by explaining the way she voted on recent legislature.

The next question asked candidates whether or not they supported the Affordable Care Act that provides health care for all Montanans. Barrett responded by saying that she does not support the act because “it won’t make things better.”

“It will put too much of our health care, too many decisions in the hands of politicians, and it will cost more money,” she said.

Turner said that he thinks the Affordable Care Act doesn’t go far enough in providing coverage for Montanans.

“I think it was a giveaway to the health insurance industry,” Turner said. “It’s not a government plan at all.”

“I’d like to see something like Medicare for everyone,” Turner continued, referring to the Canadian health care system. “Why should companies have to buy health insurance for their employees when we could all support it for actually cheaper?”

Following the forum between Barrett and Turner candidates for House District 71 took their turn at fielding questions. After comparing and contrasting political views, the candidates were asked if they supported the states traditional funding of public education and whether or not they agreed with private schools.

Candidate Robert Kennedy of Cameron said that he would like to see more funding for public education come from the development of natural resources, while Ray Shaw of Sheridan said he supports citizen’s rights to choose home schooling or private schools, adding that he thinks “the system works pretty well.”

Incumbent candidate Bob Wagner of Harrison cited Article 10, Sections 1 and 3 of the Montana Constitution as related to educational goals, duties and funding.

“Bob Wagner is for every option on the table to make our schools more competitive, and Bob Wagner is for every opportunity for the local people to dictate the success of their own schools and provide for the funding thereof,” he said.

The next question asked candidates how they would improve upon last year’s legislative session in Helena, which the question described as “unproductive, highly partisan and contentious, with too much attention to national issues and constitutionally controversial proposals.”

Wagner quickly countered the question.

“With all due respect… our legislative process was very productive,” he said.

“What people don’t report in the paper is all the bad bills that we’ve killed,” Wagner said. “That’s real progress.”

Shaw emphasized the importance of reaching across political party lines to work together towards accomplishing a common goal.

“We need somebody that’s going to represent the people first and then the state. There are a lot of big projects that need our attention,” Shaw said.

“I think grown men and women should darn sure be able to sit down and work things out,” he continued. “That’s the way it’s always worked here, and I think that’s the way it should work there.”

After a short reception, candidates came back together to take questions from members of the public. One question asked candidates what might be done about oversize truck traffic on local roads and highways that creates a safety hazard for other motorists. While none of the candidates had a concrete solution to the issue, the all agreed that oversize vehicles on roads like Highway 84 between Norris and Four Corners present a problem.

“I do have bad feelings of them using Route 84, especially in the summer,” Kennedy said. “There needs to be some restrictions.”

Ray Shaw shared that same sentiment.

“That river gets a tremendous amount of use from young people,” he said. “It’s terrible in the summer time.”

Shaw suggested the use of road traffic signs to help direct truckers toward a less congested route through the area.

“Educate those truck drivers the way to go,” Shaw continued. “We can’t keep them off there.”

Bob Wagner suggested the solution lies in stronger enforcement of traffic regulations.

“It’s not necessarily just enforcement against the trucks,” he said. “It’s enforcement against the partiers on the river in that stretch.”

“Of course we all hate to see some young person who gets in a wreck,” Wagner continued. “But these are the consequences of a society that basically puts up with it.”

Candidates were also asked to share their thoughts on the Mountain States Intertie project, a proposed 500 kilovolt transmission line that would run through southwest Montana starting in Townsend and ending in Jerome, Idaho.

“What benefit do we get out of it?” Shaw asked. “Not very much.”

“Private property rights are of the utmost importance,” he continued. “If that line happened to come through here, what will it do to the property values?”

Barrett also voiced her concerns about the MSTI project.

“It’s a foreign merchant line that’s taking the land,” Barrett said.

“Imminent domain can only be done if it’s for the good of the people,” she continued. “Well, MSTI ain’t for the good of the Montana people, it’s for the good of the California people. So I oppose everything about it.”

The 2012 Montana primary election will be held June 5.

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