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.

Governor Steve Bullock launched a statewide tour today to, in his words, "highlight the health and economic benefits of Medicaid" in Montana.

At Missoula’s Providence Hospital, Bullock cited a University of Montana economic analysis released last week that says the Medicaid expansion Montana launched in 2015 will pay for itself. It found that expansion offsets other state agency costs, and yields economic benefits that exceed state spending on Medicaid expansion.

A ballot initiative group hoping to generate new state revenue to fund Medicaid expansion services has been approved to start gathering signatures for an initiative raising taxes on tobacco and e-cigarettes.
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A ballot initiative group hoping to generate new state revenue to fund Medicaid expansion services has been approved to start gathering signatures for an initiative raising taxes on tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Zuri Moreno speaks at the launch of Free and Fair Montana campaign in Billings, Tuesday, April 17, 2018 in this screen capture from Free and Fair Montana's Facebook video.
Screen capture from Free and Fair Montana's Facebook video.

A group called Free and Fair Montana is urging voters to oppose the so-called “bathroom ballot” initiative that would require people to use public restrooms and locker rooms that align with the gender on their birth certificate rather than the gender by which they live and identify.

Jeff Ament at MTPR studios in Missoula, April 17, 2018.
Josh Burnham

The band Pearl Jam is embarking on a brief, four city North American tour that includes a show in Missoula. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to a get-out-the-vote effort in Montana.  The band’s founding member, bassist, Montana native and part-time Missoula resident Jeff Ament sat down in our studios with Sally Mauk to talk about that – and about music and politics.

Tish Haas (background) waves a shooting target with a bullet hole smiley face at a gun rally in Kalispell April 15, 2018.
Nicky Ouellet

In less than two months, Montana voters will head to the polls to select challengers for U.S. Democratic Senator Jon Tester and Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte. Between now and the June 5 primary, Montana Public Radio is talking with voters about political issues important to them.

I hung out at a pro-gun rally in Kalispell’s Depot Park this weekend to hear what’s on voters’ minds.

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