Flathead County Republicans hosted their annual Lincoln Reagan Brunch at the county fairgrounds on Sunday.
Amid old-timey camp songs, against a backdrop of a swimming pool-sized American flag, half of the men hoping to win the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Jon Tester in the upcoming midterm primaries sat down for a candidate forum.
Dr. Albert Olszewski of Kalispell and current state auditor Matt Rosendale fielded questions from Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson at the annual fundraiser.
Both candidates said they support instituting term limits and both said they’d vote against the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Water Compact, a negotiated agreement to codify tribal, private and state water rights. The Montana legislature passed it in 2015, and Senator Tester introduced a bill to make it federal law in 2016. The bill stalled and it would need to be reintroduced to advance in Congress.
Last December, Republican Senator Steve Daines and Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte told the Daily Interlake that they were seeking more information and input from water users on and off the reservation.
"Remember: Western Montana was not at the table," Olszewski said. "We were on the table, and that can never happen again. So as your next US Senator, that's one of the first things I'm going to do. I’m going to kill this compact, and create a compact that’s no different than the other seven tribes, and we’ll give the Salish Kootenai, a moderate, I should say a reasonable water compact no different than all the other tribes in the United States."
Matt Rosendale also blasted the CSKT compact, saying he doesn’t see how treaties established off-reservation water rights for the Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
"At the end of the day, there were a lot of problems with the water compact, and that was clearly demonstrated by the lack of support it had within the communities and the legislature," Rosendale said. "We had other compacts that had to come through nearly unanimous support, again, from the communities and the legislature."
Both candidates agreed they would not have supported the federal omnibus spending bill that President Trump recently signed into law, and had similar approaches to address federal debt.
Rosendale said everything was on the table when it comes to cutting costs. He said we need to get control of healthcare costs, starting with price transparency in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Rosendale said he supports reducing regulations to stimulate the economy.
"When you free up the private sector to function the way they know best, they will generate additional revenue to pay down the deficit," he said.
Olszewski said he wants to get rid of waste through entitlement reform, and use additional revenue sources, like royalties from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to pay down the debt.
"And the first place I would pay it off is the Medicare trust fund and the Social Security trust fund," he said. "They're not entitlements, they were set up to be a retirement program that everybody voted for for a common good."
Troy Downing, a businessman from Big Sky, made a quick stump speech before heading to another campaign event in Bozeman. The combat veteran took digs at Tester, calling him a rubber-stamp for the far-left of his party, while touting his own business and military background.
"I think it's time we start sending people with private-sector success to D.C. because we’re running government programs like government programs," Downing said. "We need to use private sector accountability and problem solving skills to that. The other thing is, the state of Montana does not have a single person representing them or running to represent them that’s ever been in a war zone and I think that’s important."
Russ Fagg, a judge from Billings, was not able to attend but sent a letter thanking Flathead County Republicans for their support.
About 300 people attended the Flathead County Republican Lincoln Reagan Brunch.