MTPR

Montana politics

In a debate that seemed as late as Friday not likely to happen, Republican Ryan Zinke met Democrat John Lewis in a statewide debate that focused on experience and education Monday night in Billings.

Montana PBS had already cancelled broadcast coverage after Zinke cited a scheduling conflict, but the Monday evening debate was available across the state on radio. You can listen to the debate from Yellowstone Public Radio.

Neither candidate has widespread name recognition – Zinke having served in the state legislature and Lewis as state director for former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus – so the debates are a vital piece of both men’s campaigns, according to University of Montana political science professor Christopher Muste.

I think Zinke will attack Lewis for being inexperienced and Lewis will attack Zinke for being out of touch and having extreme views on a number of issues,” Muste said in the pre-debate analysis with Montana Public Radio.

The debate, in the end, was largely a civil and substantive affair. Zinke stuck hard to the issues of education and energy independence, claiming that Montana “had enough coal to support the nation at peak consumption for the next 100 years.”

Lewis countered that Zinke would pursue oil and gas exploration at all times and criticized him for not support limits on energy exploration near Glacier National Park, a position supported by current U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.

On education, Zinke stated he rejected the increasingly controversial learning standards known as Common Core and wanted to boost more training for skilled labor.

Lewis focused his efforts in staking out support for higher education and reducing student loans. He said by financing student loans “much like you would a house” and ensuring continued access to Pell Grants, he could cut the amount of debt many Montana students have. He added that Zinke would cut support for higher education, making it more expensive for students.

The two meet again on Saturday for a debate in Bozeman.

Montana Senator Jon Tester.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Yesterday Republicans pushed a massive tax overhaul through the U.S. House, now a similar plan will be debated in the Senate. Like the House measure, it would slash the corporate tax rate and reduce personal income tax rates for many.

But Montana’s Democratic Senator, Jon Tester, isn’t a fan.

L to R, Candidates Tom Woods, Jared Pettinato, Kathleen Williams and Tom Woods. Not pictured is John Heenan, who appeared via Skype
Eric Whitney

Democrats in Butte last night got a chance to try to find differences between five candidates running for their party's nomination to challenge Congressman Greg Gianforte next year.

Surprise: The candidates agreed on a lot. But over two hours and more than a dozen questions, some differences did emerge.

Sen. Jon Tester.
PD

Senate Republicans are pushing for a broad tax cut, contingent on the repeal of the law requiring Americans to buy insurance coverage. Montana Senator Jon Tester wants no part of it.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says eliminating the individual mandate would leave millions uninsured.

Montana Capitol.
Corin Cates-Carney

Republican state lawmakers say they want the special legislative session that starts Monday to be expanded beyond what Governor Steve Bullock is calling for.

Last week Bullock said he felt like he was close to having a budget deal with Republicans, but conservatives leaders say that’s not the case, and have their own plans.

Courtesy Bill Cole

Billings has a new mayor.

Bill Cole won nearly double the votes of his opponent, former Republican state lawmaker Jeff Essman. Cole has focused on drawing young people to Billings and turning it into the kind of city where people want to stay. 

"I was a little afraid that my message would scare off the voters, but i think it resonated powerfully," Cole said.

Cole has called for more parks and trails and more downtown revitalization. Essman had criticized the costs associated with those proposals and possible tax increases to pay for them.

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