Republicans call for a change of governor

Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Alastair Baker
Montana Senator David Howard speaks at the Carbon County Republican picnic at Lions Park, Red Lodge, Sept. 8.

Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Alastair Baker
Left to right, Gubernatorial candidate Dr. Al Olszewski, Attorney General candidate Austin Knudsen and Forrest Mandeville, Secretary of State candidate, answer questions from the audience.

The candidates’ message was clear and precise; that Montana needs a Republican Governor and less governmental bureaucracy. Speakers at the Carbon County Republican picnic at Lions Park, Sept. 8, all stressed that after 16 years of Democratic rule it is time for a change.

Gubernatorial candidate Dr. Al Olszewski heavily criticized the government for “screwing things up.”

“I’ve watched health care become unaffordable, and to the largest degree it is because of what the government has done. There is nothing the government can’t screw up. Forty percent of healthcare costs is down to regulations that do nothing than make it harder for you to get affordable healthcare,” Olszewski said. 

“It’s not just health care the government is screwing up, they’re screwing up agriculture, screwing up banking. Every time they say they want to fix something for the small guy, they screw it up. So what I’m seeing right now from our last two governors is that they’ve screwed up our government and what is going on is that we have a bureaucracy that doesn’t serve you; typically they think you work for them and that has to stop,” he said. 

“In Montana, conservative Republican principals are the tone of the day. If we could have an election based on issues, we’d win because Republican’s serve, they don’t rule,” he said. 

“So why don’t we win?” he asked the 50-plus audience.  

Olszewski believes it is because the Democrats “have been clever” and placed personality before issues.

“What we’ve learned is that the Democrats try everything they can to keep this conversation and this election about personalities over issues.  If we want to get to the issues, we have to get passed the personalities,” said Olszewski. “Those little things they like to fight on: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Did you homestead?’ ‘Are you a nice person?’ ‘Can you tell a joke?’ Mike Cooney is a nice guy and he can tell a good story and we have to be able to find someone who can do that because until we manage personalities and friendliness and that good ol’ boy attitude we are not going to get to the issues. This election is for us to win and for them to lose.” 

He finished by listing three items he would change when he is governor; that being to protect property rights and repeal the Salish Kootenai Water Contract because the water belongs to the people of Montana for common enjoyment. The second is to stop the DNRC from taking water from ranchers and “pumping water to publicly leased land. That’s wrong.” The third issues is to “save the cowboy” from “very rich billionaires” who are “pushing out hard working ranching families.” 

“I get they want to build an American Serengeti. We love Montana, it’s a great place but the people of Montana are not irrelevant, they are the reason we are here to fight and protect and serve them,” he said.  “Public lands belongs to us, a common property right we all own. It is time to tear down those gates on forest lands keeping us from enjoying those lands.  We are not the tourist state we are the Treasure State and once we get money from our treasure we have to fix property tax. It’s killing us, it is driving you from your homes.”

The government should not make you rent your own private property with these high taxes that keep going up and up he said. 

“And finally as your governor we’ll make sure that this government lives within its means because it isn’t a problem about how much money it gets but how much it spends and where it spends it,” said Olszewski.

The issue of government spending and bureaucracy came up in the question and answer session when Austin Knudsen, Attorney General candidate, commented that the Department of Justice budget under the present incumbent Tim Fox has grown 25 percent.

“When he took over it was $86 million. Now it is $106 million. I don’t think we’ve seen $20 million worth of better policing or crime control,” said Knudsen. “I want to be a lot more aggressive with the crime problem in Montana.”

“Again I want to take nothing away from Attorney General Fox, he’s one of the nicest men that I know but he has never set foot in a court room, and a lot of his staff have never set foot in a court room. They’ve never prosecuted a criminal. I think that is an important distinction you have to have when you are bringing in someone who is the leading law enforcement in the state of Montana?” he said. 

“State government has grown an incredible amount. We have a lot of full time employees and a lot of fully funded full time employee positions that aren’t necessarily filled with people. That agency just wants those dollars to put in their budget. That’s a budget trick,” said Knudsen.

What would solve this he was asked? “A Republican governor,” Knudsen replied.

“Most of those agencies are run by the governor. Obviously if I’m the Attorney General I’m in charge of the Dept. of Justice, that’s my agency, and you have my assurance we are going to trim a lot of fat there.” 

“What we do is attrition,” said Olszewski. “In state government we have somewhere between 10-15 percent of all government state employees leave their job by attrition and you don’t fill it. Say Joe just left this job and he was here for 13 years … can we absorb that job? Does anyone want that job? It is something you want to do? And if we find it can’t be absorbed we don’t fill that position.  Then it becomes a vacancy saved. We don’t have to fire anyone or lay anyone off but through a period of attrition within 5-6 years we can reduce the size of government by 20-30 percent.”

Forrest Mandeville, Legislature Rep. for Stillwater County and now running for Secretary of State, added “Look at the state wide office, the ones we are in charge of, the Montana Secretary of State's office, Corey Stapleton cut bureaucracy and consolidated offices, as well as Matt Rosendale at the auditors office. There were two offices that grew, the Attorney Generals and the Governors.” 

“What is worse as we found out in the budget process 2017 was that a lot of Governor Bullock’s agencies were hiring more and more supervisors and we couldn’t figure out why but what we found out was for every one employee there was one supervisor,” said Knudsen. “What sense does that make at all? We are dealing with a party whose ideology believes, jobs in Helena is the pinnacle.”

The drug epidemic sweeping across the country was also raised. 

Knudsen acknowledged it is a “huge problem.” 

“But we have improved things in Montana with opioid abuse and a lot of that credit goes to the Montana Medical Association. They have, within their own ranks, recognized the problem and they have cracked down on abuse but it is still a huge problem in the entire country. Most of the drugs like Oxycodone is not coming from here but out of state. Unfortunately there are bad doctors who write bad prescriptions,” he said.

Closed primaries was also brought to the table with Mandeville saying he is looking into options from other states such as top two primary system or the range vote system.

“Closed primaries do not get rid of the shenanigans either,” he said. “We have stopped same day registration. Preregistration makes things run a lot smoother.”

Mandeville spoke briefly about his opponent, Bryce Bennett, who he said is “running on a platform to get dark money out of politics" but "he runs a liberal dark money organization himself in Missoula.”   

Mandeville likened electing Bennett and putting him in charge of elections in Montana would be the same as “putting a weasel in charge of a chicken coop.”

“We cannot do it. Montana cannot afford to put a Democrat in that office,” he said. 

Mandeville also touched on developing Montana’s natural resources. 

“Mining can bring benefits to the state, it brings people and business, helps with the tax base so the school district and county benefits,” he said. 

Tony O’Donnell, Public Service Commission, commented on how judges were siding with the “Dark Greens of the super environmentalists.”

“That is completely wrong and a violation of federal law to do that but that makes no difference to them,” he said.   

“I have been working to save Colstrip. I’ve been to Washington and I’m really confident the federal government has good plans for Colstrip. Some people want Montana to be the wind energy capital of the whole northwest. I’d rather see Montana become the stable, reliable, firm base coal power resource for the entire northwest,” he said.

Also present and stepping in for Gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte was staff aid Casey Collins who told the assembled that Gianforte is 10 points ahead in the primaries and about 9 points ahead in the general.

“We’ve been going around Montana, meeting a lot of people and we’ve decided to use the same playbook as Donald Trump uses because I think everyone here agrees that the President is doing a pretty good job. Right?” said Collins to a large ovation. 

“It is pretty simple, keeping the fruits of our labors and not giving it back to the Federal government. Focusing on getting Montana’s taxpayers’ money and investing it the way they need and invest in the economy. With a strong economy we’ll be able to fight the drug epidemic that we are facing through the state and be able to stop exporting more of our children and keeping them closer to home,” said Collins. 

David Howard, Montana Senator, was also present and opened his speech  “We all understand what we are up against today” before he gave a brief history of the Civil War between America and England equating it with the need to fight against all forms of oppression especially Socialism and to defend the country’s freedoms otherwise it would “perpetuate evil.”