The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
For The Courier 

House Debate Projects Montana Values, Civil Discourse


A.J. Etherington/For The Courier

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau (l) and Congressman Ryan Zinke (r) prepare to discuss a wide array of issues at Frazer Public School on Aug. 29. Juneau and Zinke are candidates for Montana's At-Large Congressional District.

The hopefuls for Montana's sole House seat sought to contrast their visions for the Big Sky State at Frazer Public Schools on Aug. 29. Confronted with questions from panelists and audience members, the candidates, Congressman Ryan Zinke and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, set out to debate the finer points of their policies and to highlight their opponent's woes.

Yellowstone Public Radio's Jackie Yamanaka served as moderator, posing questions provided by the audience. Panelists Grant Stafne and Sierra Stoneberg Holt, P.H.D., also posed questions to the candidates. Stafne is a member of both the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board and Frazer Public School Board. Holt hails from a ranching family of longstanding in the region, and holds a specialization in botany. The panelists represented the wide range of Valley County residents and Northeastern Montana voters.

The candidates met each other on stage for exactly one hour on topics ranging from refugees and immigration to "free-roaming" bison release efforts, along with education, coal, federal lands, water rights, sovereignty and the antiquities act all being addressed. The event was well-attended, with approximately 150-200 people in the audience.

Both candidates presented a civil atmosphere, in bold contrast to the national election stage. Andrew Richards of Frazer said, "I thought they were both well-mannered. Compared to the debates we've seen so far this year this was pretty civil. They showed good Montana values." Courier correspondent Ginevra Kirkland of Glasgow echoed this sentiment: "It's refreshing to see people treat each other like human beings."

Others in the audience wanted more from the candidates. Superintendent of Frazer Schools, Jim Decoteau, said, "I would prefer more on education. Like how to retain and recruit teachers in Northeast Montana. I mean our turnover is atrocious, and I hear a lot about how we have no mountains or trees so no one wants to come here."

Panelist Stafne appeared pleased with the candidates' answers, commenting, "They answered all my questions. Denise is obviously more well versed in Indian Country issues," alluding to his support for the candidate.

Holt was likewise pleased with candidate responses: "I certainly didn't feel like they were coming out of left field on any issue, which is good." Holt qualified her enthusiasm somewhat, stating, "It is difficult to have a well-reasoned opinion on an issue and to be disagreed with by both candidates, but I'm glad they had the gumption to not say what I wanted to hear. I was trying to make sure the agriculture voice was heard... we have to hand it to both candidates to come to Northeastern Montana and talk Ag issues."

Civility aside, the candidates did spend some time pointing fingers and making accusations. Zinke took on the theme of comparing his rival to Secretary Hillary Clinton, accusing her of outright lying and invoking the word "truth" by way of response multiple times throughout the debate. Likewise, Juneau mentioned multiple times that Zinke has spent time "stumping for Trump," or just generally attacking his support for Trump by saying, "It must be a very lonely place being the last man standing behind Trump."

A key contrast between the two candidates' views came when Juneau discussed the American Prairie Reserve's (APR) use of private land for Bison grazing, saying, "I don't feel the federal government has a place inserting itself in those contracts between private landowners," referring to APR's use of combinations of private and public land to graze bison. Zinke held that the federal government must intervene between neighbors who adversely affect each other, commenting on the wide array of negatives "free-roaming" bison release could pose to cattle ranching in the area. Communications Director for Congressman Zinke, Heather Swift, later commented, "If she (Juneau) thinks that there should be private free range bison at APR, then she doesn't understand the issue."

Another intense moment came when discussing refugees, specifically women and children, to which Zinke expressed his opposition to immigration, citing concerns that refugees could not be adequately vetted. He reinforced his position of banning child refugees by commenting on the potential radicalization of children and their role in committing terrorist acts. He brought forth his own personal experiences, saying, "I am also horrified of what I have seen in war... I have had to engage children with weapons." Juneau would be far less restrictive on refugees, but made it clear that only vetted refugees are acceptable, and that "American safety is first and foremost."

Although the civility was in keeping with Montana's values the contrast between the candidates was apparent, both offering visions for Montana that played to their particular audiences and objectives. The candidates did appear to be moderating the national political stage and its tone to a Montana audience. Fort Peck Tribal Chairman, Floyd Azure, said it best when he said to an enthusiastic applause, and only half-jokingly, that, "I think both candidates have Montana in their hearts, and maybe we should have these two running for President instead."


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