The race for Montana Senate District 36 has shaped up between a challenger who has never held or run for public office and a long time legislator who is seeking her final term.
Debby Barrett, R-Dillon, is the incumbent and has served as a legislator in Helena for 12 years, first in the House of Representatives and one term in Senate.
Her challenger is retired educator Richard Turner, D-Dillon, who is tired of what he sees as radical ideology in Helena from what he considers are conservative extremists.
The deadline to file for statewide office was March 12. Turner and Barrett are the only two who filed for SD 36, which encompasses Beaverhead and Madison Counties.
Barrett is a rancher and sponsored several bills in the past session that focused on agriculture issues such as predator control, particularly with wolves and grizzly bears. She is frustrated by the state management of wolves in particular and has spent much of her time in Helena since the 2011 session working on ways to get Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to more actively manage wolves.
“The agency right now is not following the state laws,” Barrett said. “They could reduce the number of wolves today if they wanted to.”
Her senate district suffers from being so closely linked to Yellowstone National Park, she said. Much of the trouble ranchers are having now is the result of wolves and brucellosis, both of which came from the park.
“Wolves and brucellosis are really taking their toll on the county tax base,” Barrett said.
Brucellosis is a disease that is transmitted by elk, bison and cattle and can cause them to abort their calves. Ranchers in the region around Yellowstone National Park have to vaccinate and test their cattle and bison on a regular basis, which costs time and money.
With wolves, the harassment of cattle by the predator and the constant vigilance from the rancher is also taking its toll, she said.
“It’s putting people out of business,” Barrett said.
She also sees growth in the size of the state government as a big problem that still needs to be addressed. She puts the blame for this growth in the lap of Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer.
“Our government grew drastically in the last seven years,” Barrett said. “We’re a bit top heavy. We don’t need all the government we have.”
However, solving the issues faced by the citizen’s of Montana didn’t seem to be the primary concern by the 2011 Montana Legislature, said Turner. Last session the legislature took up bills calling for the removal of the United States from the United Nations and making hunting with spears legal. Barrett supported both bills.
“She and the other Tea Partiers in the legislature spent most of the last session trying to push through extreme, time-wasting, and often absurd bills,” Turner wrote in an email explaining his reasons for running for office.
It seems like the wealthy are well represented in Helena, but the common folks of Montana don’t enjoy the same kind of attention, he said.
“I just think in general we need to not forget about people without a lot of money,” he said.
Over the next several months, he plans on visiting with people across the SD 36 to try and understand their needs and concerns.
Turner is pro-choice and does support protecting a woman’s right to make her own decisions about what happens to her body. He supports equal priced health insurance for women and is a proponent of programs geared at providing health care to low-income and disadvantaged children.