Four of the five Republican primary candidates for the U.S. House seat from western Montana met in a debate Friday hosted by the Montana Farmers Union. The candidates discussed their plans to help rural Montanese.
Candidates generally agreed they wanted to limit big government, but differed on how to address specific issues such as attracting teachers to rural areas and access to mental health care.
The debate held at Whitefish brought together Al Olszewski, Mary Todd, Matt Jette and Mitch Heuer. Candidate Ryan Zinke, who vastly outclassed his opponents, did not participate. He was also absent at a previous GOP debate in Kalispell.
Olzewski, an orthopedic surgeon, called out Zinke for not participating in the forum. Olzewski said if elected, he would draw on his experience as a former state senator.
“I’m the only candidate who has actually worked and served you and has an extensive voting record when it comes to agriculture.”
Todd, a Kalispell pastor and small business owner, says she will bring to Congress a hard look at governments around the world.
“I’m here to run to end government corruption, to expose the actors in it for themselves, and to be fresh new leadership.”
Jette, a teacher from Missoula, says he understands the challenges ordinary people face after facing serious health issues, learning disabilities and higher education.
“Whatever your fate in life, I understand where you come from. It’s time we put in someone who actually understands the issues and understands where you are in your life.
Heuer, a Flathead entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, says he brings a different experience than his opponents.
“I’m a guy who thinks outside the box and I have solutions to tough problems, including the housing crisis, the mass shooting crisis and a new transportation solution.”
On how to attract and retain teachers in rural Montana, Olzsewski suggested eliminating the federal Department of Education and siphoning off the dollars used for that agency to the states.
“And let’s turn it into block grants and send it to all the states, let the states decide how to use that money, and one of the ways can be to improve rural and frontier education.”
Todd said parents should be in the driver’s seat.
“If the federal government is another overreach telling us how to put teachers in our rural schools, what to do with them, what to teach these kids, I think that’s a problem.”
Heuer said he disagreed with the sentiment that the federal government has no role to play and said education should be nationally consistent, to promote a unified country.
“We need a national education program that works and has national standards, so that America will become united and united in our education and cross-training.”
Jette talked about her teaching experience and the bureaucracy that comes with it.
“There are teacher unions at stake, there are education programs at stake and there are [are] rules and regulations in play that really hinder and prevent good quality people from coming to this state to teach.
Candidates were also asked how they would approach mental health care in rural Montana. The state has long had one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
Todd said federal mask mandates and isolation requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to poor mental health.
“I really believe it’s because of the government’s excess of power and that people have to go back to managing their own lives, managing their own problems and not depending on the government.”
Jette said there are a lot of emotional elements to the issue and that Congress should address the root causes of anxiety and depression.
“You look at the economy, they are facing an economy that we have never faced before. There is something called structural unemployment, which means that if they go to school and have a job for 10 years, that job may not even exist.
Heuer said health care needs to be more affordable and college debt needs to be reduced.
“I don’t have a good answer to that at the moment, I have few ideas with a few small clinics. And back to education, with higher education, I think we can move away from expensive colleges if we went to a program where we offered higher education for a trade.
Olszewski said the federal government needs to better reimburse mental health care through Medicaid and Medicare.
“I believe in limited government. I also believe that if the federal government promises a product, it should pay for it fairly. »
On other topics, the candidates agreed that the federal government should restore country-of-origin labeling for meat products and require manufacturers to give farmers and ranchers the ability to repair their own equipment.
Absentee ballots must be mailed by May 31 to be counted on time, or dropped off at a polling station or election office. The primary election is June 7.