This year’s race for House District 71 is so far shaping up to be somewhat of a repeat from two years ago, though the challenger is hoping for a different outcome.
For the last two legislative sessions, Bob Wagner, R–Harrison, has served the southwest Montana district in Helena.
Wagner is from Colorado and runs a family landscaping company. He’s a staunch conservative and in both the 2011 and 2009 sessions promoted bills seeking to return to some form of the gold standard. Last session he gained a bit of national notoriety by promoting Montana’s version of what became known as the Birther Bill, which sought to require long-form birth certificates for federal candidates. The bill in Montana and elsewhere in the country was centered on the idea that President Barrack Obama may not be a natural born American citizen.
And like in 2010, Wagner is facing a challenge from Sheridan businessman and rancher Ray Shaw.
Shaw is also a Republican and a native to Madison County. He runs a weed spraying business in the Ruby Valley.
He’s running again because he feels Madison County and the rest of HD 71 isn’t being properly represented by Wagner.
“We need somebody that’s going to represent House District 71 and not represent their own ideologies,” Shaw said.
Shaw and Wagner competed for the HD 71 spot in 2010. That race also included challenger Les Gilman, also a Ruby Valley rancher.
The 2010 race was essentially decided during the primary as no Democrat filed a challenge. Gillman, Shaw and Wagner split the primary vote with Wagner getting the biggest split at 1,151 votes. Gilman received 1,025 votes and Shaw received 504.
House District 71 includes all of Madison County and the southern end of Jefferson County including Whitehall.
And though Shaw isn’t pleased with how Wagner has represented his district, Wagner isn’t bashful about saying his priority is upholding his oath of office.
“By attending to that duty first I do more for the people of my district than dollars can buy,” Wagner said.
He takes very seriously the pledge he takes to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions.
“My first obligation and my only obligation to the office of legislator for House District 71 is to defend and uphold the constitution of the state and the United States of America,” he said.
But with his Birther Bill and bill to establish an alternate currency in an effort to move the state back to the gold standard, Wagner is pushing ideologies and not addressing the needs and concerns of his constituents, Shaw said.
“There are only 90 days every two years to get business done and you can not go to Helena and be nothing but an obstructionist,” he said of Wagner. “You have to represent the people. He’s not representing the people.”
However, Wagner continues to push the idea of dramatically changing the currency system in the nation.
Sound money, or money with value based on a commodity such as gold or silver, is not only right, it’s constitutional, Wagner said. It also is a way to protect the wealth of citizens.
“You can’t really build a stable economy or a state, county or federal economy without a stable unit of exchange,” he said.
The Federal Reserve decides to print money, the value of the dollar decreases because it’s not based on anything concrete. The fluctuating dollar impacts the value of the labor, Wagner said.
“Make no mistake about it, we must address these issues and we must draw a line in the sand as to just how much we’ll allow the federal government to encroach on the value of our labor,” he said.
Shaw would rather focus on issues he sees as more pressing to the lives of people living and working in Madison County.
Among the issues he’s concerned about and eager to address in the legislature are wolf management, natural resource development and education.
“We really need to promote our natural resources here in a responsible way,” Shaw said. “At the same time we need to use those resources and put people to work.”
Shaw also points out the need of continuing to support and promote local agriculture.
“The black cow still makes things work here,” he said.
In the past two years, Shaw has worked to become better informed about the issues facing HD 71.
“I’ve just become better informed and I’ve really talked to a lot of people,” Shaw said.
Wagner is still focused on promoting the ideas he has championed the last two sessions – smaller government, personal liberties and fidelity to the constitution.
“It’s always rewarding at least to me when you see progress in the right direction and I think there’s a lot for Montanans to look forward to in the upcoming legislative session,” he said.
One other person has filed for HD 71 but has decided to pull his name from consideration.
The deadline to file for candidacy is March 12. Without a Democratic challenger, the race for HD 71 will be decided at the June 5 primary.