The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Meet the Candidates for House of Representatives Election


May 17, 2017

When Congressman Ryan Zinke was appointed by President Trump to be the Secretary of Interior, that left Montana’s only seat in the House of Representatives vacant.

Three men are running for that seat in a special election to be held toward the end of May. They are Mark Wicks, Libertarian; Greg Gianforte, Republican and Rob Quist, Democrat.

“The Blaine County Journal/Big Sandy Mountaineer sent each candidate a set of questions to answer for readers of this newspaper. Here are the questions and the answers by the candidates.

Do you favor a single payer health system? Why or why not?

Gianforte: I firmly reject my opponent’s calls for a single-payer health care system. If you thought Obamacare was bad just wait until the government is in complete control of our health care system. Bureaucrats back in Washington D.C. will be deciding what health care you receive and when you receive it. The results: Rationed care, reduced access, and higher premiums. It would cost trillions of dollars and only worsen our health care system.

I’ll fight for reforms that reduce premiums for average Montanans and preserves access in rural areas. We need to allow people to buy insurance across state lines to improve options. We need to allow more flexibility in how packages are structured so Montanans have choices that fit their needs. We need to do more than just insurance reform—we must also deal with underlying healthcare costs, like rising prescription drug prices and frivolous lawsuits that drive up costs.

Quist: It is the right of every American citizen to have access to quality, affordable health care, but nearly everyone agrees that health care costs today are too high. In Congress my goal will be to maintain quality and access in our rural communities while also driving healthcare costs down. I think we need to look at fixing the system in place and come up with bipartisan solutions to lower costs. This is a clear difference between me and my opponent, Greg Gianforte, who stands with the D.C. politicians who would raise premiums on Montanans, while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans like him and creating a special new tax break for health insurance executives. It is unacceptable, it is un-American and when elected I will steadfastly oppose these kind of policies.

Wicks: I don’t favor a single payer system. I have never seen the government get involved in any endeavor and make it easier, cheaper or even function properly. Right now the government runs the VA hospitals and we see how well that functions.

I lived in Sweden where they use a single payer system. The taxes to pay for it are atrocious, (Think $7 for a beer.) Not only that when I did need to go to the “free” hospital it cost @$100 per visit. When I got home I went to the Liberty Medical Center in Chester and paid $42. That seemed pretty crazy to me, that it cost more to use free health care than the capitalist healthcare. I am in no hurry to reproduce the same results here.

If we are heading toward a universal health system for all Americans, how important is it for all of Congress and government employees to be on the same system?

Gianforte: That’s the problem: Washington plays by two different sets of rules. There’s one set of rules for members of Congress and another for Americans. It’s not right. The same rules should apply to everyone.

Quist: There should be no special treatment for politicians and millionaires. Every American deserves access to quality, affordable health care, no matter where they live.

Wicks: I think it is ludicrous that elected officials are on their own healthcare plans, they should have to wade into the same morass as we do and enjoy that fun filled experience. How can we expect good government when the elected officials are exempt from the consequences?

We are in the middle of the Golden Triangle that grows wonderful crops when we get rain. How would you craft the new farm bill to help farmers or should there even be a farm bill?

Gianforte: Montana absolutely needs a Farm bill. The current Farm bill is set to expire at the end of FY 2018. Negotiations are already beginning and I want to make sure the concerns of Montana’s farmers and ranchers are heard. Just last week I met with leaders from the Montana Grain Growers to listen to their concerns. In light of falling commodity prices, we need to get a head start today to address this issue.

Quist: I grew up on a ranch and wheat farm outside Cut Bank, so I understand how farming is more than a profession for many Montanans -- it’s a way of life. I’ll fight for our farmers and ranchers -- not Wall Street banks -- and I’ll listen to their input as Congress crafts a new Farm Bill. We need to make sure the Farm Bill is built to withstand the rock bottom prices that producers have faced these past couple of years. We also need to strengthen support in the Farm Bill for young farmers and ranchers to start out on their own.

Wicks: We definitely need a farm bill, we have to provide price stability for farmers so they can borrow money for their next crop. Most of the country has forgot how important the farm economy is but it is the basis for the entire economy. This is hard for people in cities to understand, but agriculture is a $400 Billion plus industry and it can’t collapse without taking the financial and manufacturing sector with it.

I know as a farmer that has limped by many years on crop insurance how important it is, but one of the simplest things to help boost farm profits is to legalize hemp. Worldwide the current market for hemp is @$33 billion. This is just the beginning for hemp, we don’t know what the limit is for this incredible product. How much hemp will be grown in Montana is debatable but every acre hemp grown in the US is one acre of grain less that Montana farmers have to compete with.

Cattle prices are low. Is help on the way with you in Congress?

Gianforte: We need to tear up the trade deals that are hurting Americans and negotiate free and fair trade deals. Bilateral trade deals. This would ensure that when a country fails to honor their side of the agreement they are held accountable. If we can open up more markets overseas, our farmers and ranchers can sell their products to a new consumer base. Increased demand abroad is one of the best ways to help bolster beef prices.

Quist: Congress has nearly 300 millionaires, but not enough voices for Montana farmers. I’ve lived life on the ground and know how important ensuring fair prices for Montana ranchers and farmers is to our communities and our economy. I’ll work to re-negotiate our trade agreements to make sure American farmers are getting competitive prices and have fair access to markets for cattle and other Montana exports. Consolidation in the workplace has given a handful of companies a monopoly over beef production. We need to make sure that smaller outfits can compete, benefiting ranchers and consumers.

Wicks: Cattle prices are hard to control at the national level, but I would like to see country of origin labeling again. I really like knowing where my food comes from. I would also like to see more feedlots in Montana and processing the meat in Montana as well. It seems like a convoluted process that Montana calves go to Kansas to be fed and then butchered and shipped back to Montana. That’s a strange business model to use in a state full of cattle.

What are your greatest assets for serving in Congress?

Gianforte: I’ve spent my entire career starting businesses and creating jobs. Over 20 years ago, my wife, Susan, and I stated RightNow Technologies in the same home we raised our four children.

24 years ago, when Susan and I were deciding where to make our home and raise our family, we picked Montana. When we started our company – RightNow Technologies – at our kitchen table we picked Montana. I did what other people said was impossible. We took on the big California corporations in one of the fiercest markets. We competed and Montana won. We created over 500 high-paying Montana jobs. When everyone else said it was impossible, I wasn’t afraid to take on that challenge. That’s what we need back in Washington D.C., someone who’s not afraid of a tough fight. I’ll stand up to the special interests. I’ll drain the swamp. I’m not afraid of difficult tasks. I’m running to make sure Montana’s voice is heard back in Washington D.C. and I pledge to always be on Montana’s side in every decision that I make.

Quist: I’ve been a representative for Montana my whole life, and I understand firsthand the challenges facing our communities. As a political outsider, I’ll be an independent voice for our state. Wealthy out-of-state corporations have too many special tax loopholes and too much political influence. Montanans deserve someone who will stand up for them and not the millionaires -- Congress has too many of them already.

Wicks: My greatest asset for serving in Congress is my wide job experience. I have worked in agriculture, the oilfield, and ran my own businesses. My broad education in aviation, technology, history, earth science and Technology Education which is the study of communications, manufacturing and transportation is something that my opponents don’t bring to the table.

It looks like Congress is hopelessly divided these days. How could you help change this division and make Congress functional once again?

Gianforte: As an engineer, I’ve been trained to solve problems. I’ll work with members from both sides of the aisle to tackle the tough issues. I’m running because we need to bring accountability back to government. That’s why I’m supporting term limits, banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists, and holding politicians accountable if they can’t pass a balanced budget. I’ll join President Trump to take on the special interests and drain the swamp. Of course, there will be things I don’t agree with the President on and there will be things I don’t agree with Republican leadership on. And, that’s because when those differences of opinion come along, I’ll be on Montana’s side. I’m going to be looking out for Montana first. My number one priority will be to make sure that Montana’s voice is heard in Washington. It’s time to give the power back to the people. Washington may not like this, but it’s time America and Montana come first.

Quist: I am running to be an independent voice for all Montanans. That includes working with President Trump and the Republicans in Congress when they’re on Montana’s side, and standing up to them when they’re not. To start, I think we can come together to invest in manufacturing and infrastructure, and to make sure our trade deals are fair to workers and our agricultural industry. But overall, corporate special interests have too much influence in Washington and I’ll fight to overturn Citizens United to get dark money out of politics and make Congress work better for Montanans. I’m also refusing donations from corporate PACs and lobbyists so I won’t be beholden to D.C. insiders.

Wicks: Congress is hopelessly divided. There are 435 members of congress and almost every one of them is a Democrat or Republican, as a Libertarian I feel like there are a lot of situations where I could be the person to moderate from the middle.

Do you favor a national infrastructure bill?

Gianforte: I believe one of the basic duties of government is to provide for infrastructure. We need to identify and prioritize these critical infrastructure projects and provide the necessary funding.

Quist: Yes. We need to make an investment in our infrastructure, from roads and bridges to fixing up public schools and bringing high-speed Internet access to our rural communities. These investments will also create jobs and strengthen our rural economies.

Wicks: NO Answer

In Big Sandy we are twenty minutes away from law enforcement should there be an active shooter incident in one of our schools. What can you and Congress do relative to keeping guns from people who turn into active shooters?

Gianforte: I don’t believe gun control will actually stop gun violence in our nation because criminals will still have guns. We need to take a hard look at mental health care reform so those individuals suffering from mental illness can get the help they need. These decisions need to be made at the state level. It’s important Montanans have a seat at the table and that their voice is heard as we look to work together to address mental illness in our country.

Quist: Students should never have to face violence and fear for their safety in schools and we need to work with our local communities to strategize commonsense safety plans that could be put in place. I come from a ranching and farming background where guns were a part of life and I support Second Amendment rights. In Congress, I will look at every piece of legislation with one thing in mind and that is listening to the people of Montana and representing them.

Wicks: What can Congress do to keep an active shooter out of schools? Not a thing and anyone that tells you different is wrong. People that are intent on murder don’t care about following gun laws, if they can’t buy a gun they will steal one. A determined monster will always find a way. The deadliest school attack in US history used dynamite and killed 44. I will work to repeal the Gun Free School act, our children should not be left undefended. I believe that properly trained citizens are always the first line of defense.

There is much federal land in the Missouri Breaks north of the Missouri in south Blaine County. Much of it is historic in nature and needs to be viewed as it is wilderness as well. Unfortunately much of the access to those public lands has been denied by landowners who will not let people drive over their private land to get to historic sites and the river bottoms themselves. Is there anything that can be done about this so that private land owners are happy and recreationalists get to see sites that are theirs to view in a wilderness experience?

Gianforte: I’m here in Montana because of our public lands. I first came out to Montana 40 years ago on a backpacking trip in the Beartooth Mountains. It was this trip where I fell in love with Montana and knew it would be the place where I would raise my family. I firmly believe that our public lands need to stay in public hands. I do not support efforts to transfer federal lands back to the states. I’ll work to increase access to hunt, fish, and recreate on Montana’s public lands through voluntary programs with landowners and I’ll fight back against the Washington bureaucrats when they try and lock us out. When it comes to protecting our public lands, I’ll always be on Montana’s side.

Quist: The Missouri River breaks is one of the most scenic and cherished areas in Montana, and I’ve spent many happy times there floating and kayaking throughout my life. This issue is one of the greatest ways my opponent, Greg Gianforte, and I differ. Like other wealthy landowners from out of state, Mr. Gianforte doesn’t understand how important Montana’s public lands are to our way of life -- he actually sued the state to restrict public stream access through his property and even supported groups that want to sell Montana’s public lands off to the highest bidder. In Congress, I will work with Blaine County residents and landowners to reach a consensus and ensure the public can access our public lands, streams and rivers while also respecting private property rights.

Wicks: I am a Constitutional Libertarian and I believe that people should be secure in their property and I would not force a landowner to provide access through their property. The State or federal government has the option of making agreements with landowners to provide access, but I don’t feel that this is an imminent domain case where land should be taken.


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