Republicans Brave Storm to Stump in Glasgow
November 13, 2019
National, State and local GOP candidates found their way to Glasgow, despite heavy snow and icy conditions on Nov. 10, to stump in front of local conservatives and avid political followers for the upcoming Republican primaries in Montana. Candidates for offices as diverse as US House of Representatives to local state legislators addressed the crowd to give a quick pitch on their policy distinctions for the primary and the party’s hopes for re-electing President Trump, taking back the governor's office and maintaining control of one of Montana’s Senator seats as well as the lone State Rep in the House.
Leading off the night was the only one of five Republicans seeking the party’s nomination for U.S. House in June, Debra Lamm. She opened her remarks with a passionate call to action citing her concern for the direction of the nation and lamenting the state of the Democratic Party.
To hoots and laughs in the crowd Lamm said, “The Democratic Party isn’t what it used to. They want open borders, to kill babies and to take all our guns away.” She then continued on to add, “We have a President who loves America, am I wrong?”
Lamm then gave a brief description of her past policy actions starting with how she started an anti-abortion rights organization in her hometown and she implied that the organization caused the closing of the abortion clinic on Main Street. Lamm then served in the State House in 2015 and later became the Chair of the State Republican Party.
Lamm’s primary opponents are Helena rancher Joe Dooling, Superintendent of Corvallis Schools Tim Johnson, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, and State Auditor Matt Rosendale. She will take on one of three Democrats running for that nomination: veteran and rancher Matt Rains, former state legislator and prior congressional nominee Kathleen Williams and freshman state representative and businessman Tom Winter.
Following Lamm was Forest Mandeville who is also in a deep primary pool of Montanans seeking the GOP nomination for Secretary of State. Mandeville is a former state representative and a land use consultant in Columbus. Mandeville said he was, “not running to have a new title or because he is bored.” Instead he said he was, “running to serve you in Helena.” He also compared corruption in DC to the government in Helena saying, “If DC is a swamp then Helena is a cesspool.”
Mandeville highlighted three key areas of focus if he is elected. He will “fiercely” enforce election laws in Montana. One key part of that is to push back on making it easier to register to vote. Mandeville stated that Democrats had attempted to set up automatic voter registration or even online voter registration. He said to the crowd that those measures would, “dilute the voting rights of Montanans like you.”
Number two on his list was to facilitate the issues facing small businesses. Mandeville pointed out that as a small business owner himself, he is uniquely qualified to make it easier for businesses to file their paperwork with the SOS office.
Lastly – and likely the most important to Mandeville, who works as a land use consultant – is natural resource development. He said the state has a rich history of natural resource development and that he supports the responsible use of those resources.
Mandeville will take on fellow Republicans such as current Clerk of the Supreme Court Bowen Greenwood, current Secretary of State Chief of Staff Christi Jacobsen and current President of the Montana State Senate Scott Sales for the party’s nomination. The only Democrat in the race is State Senator from Missoula Bryce Bennett.
The only State Auditor candidate to speak at the event was Nelly Nicol. She is one of only two candidates running for the Republican ticket against previous US Senate nominee-hopeful Troy Downing. Nicol laid out her ideal for the office early on saying, “What can I do to help put money back in your pocket each month?”
Nicol’s background is in the health insurance industry and she highlighted for the crowd how she thinks that will benefit the people of Montana. Namely, she hopes to “bring insurance into Montana,” as she believes this will open up further competition and drive prices down.
She further cited her experience in the insurance industry when she pointed out that she has first hand experience with why insurance providers refuse to do business in the state. She stated that the cause is a lack of consistency, market predictors and simplicity in regulation. She said that standardization with national policies would create a competitive market in Montana that could lower premiums by 25 percent.
The only candidate for Attorney General to make it through the storm was Culbertson-based Roosevelt County Attorney and former Speaker of the Montana House Austin Knudesn. Knudsen highlighted his experience as Speaker of the House for two terms, his private law practice where he worked on, “everything short of child custody and divorce, and bankruptcy.”
He commented on how his experience with crime in Roosevelt County compelled him to run for county attorney after leaving the House. His motivation, he said, was to do something about the “major crime problem in Roosevelt County.” He stated that after taking over as prosecutor he determined that the problem was state-wide and that he is now – less than a year after becoming county attorney – looking to take on the top law enforcement spot in the state.
Knudsen then highlighted some staggeringly high statistics. He said that violent crime in the state had increased by 30 percent since 2013. He said that rape had gone up by 32 percent in that time and that homicide had increased by 68 percent. According to the Montana Bureau of Crime Control, the numbers provided by Knudsen are steep. The MBCC states in their 2018 report on crime in Montana that violent crime was down for the year by one percent when compared to 2017, but was actually up from 2014 by 33 percent. However, homicides were up from 2014 by a mere 10 percent not 68 percent. Rapes were only up from 2014 by four percent, but were down from 2017 by 13 percent. The largest increase in violent crime was from aggravated assaults (up by 40 percent from 2014) and robberies (up by 26 percent since 2014).
Knudsen went on to say that the state is seeing a violent crime problem in Montana that, he said, "is all being fueled by by Mexican drug cartels.” He highlighted meth distribution that is smuggled in from Mexico across the southern border.
Knudsen said that a major reason he is running for the office is because he is the only prosecutor seeking the post. He pointed out that since taking office in January he has been “aggressively prosecuting drug related crimes.” He would finish off by stating that he, “wants to be an aggressive attorney general leading law enforcement in Montana.”
Knudsen is taking on Jon Bennion, who currently works in the AG’s office, for the Republican nomination. Running in the Democratic Primary is state legislator Kim Dudik and the Governor’s chief legal counsel Raph Graybill.
Running to keep her seat for local House District 34 – encompassing Glasgow’s east side, up to Opheim, over to Plentywood and down to Culbertson – is Rhonda Knudsen. R. Knudsen is currently running unopposed for both the nomination and to keep her seat in November. She gave remarks anyway.
She started off by addressing her inaugural experience in the last legislative session by saying, “The thing I learned the most, is that there is not a tax in this state that someone cannot propose to take more of your money.” She listed taxes on plastic bags and others as examples of taxes she had voted against. “I spent most of my time saying no,” stated Knudsen emphatically, before going on to say, “I’m here to tell you we did a heck of a job and if you re-elect me, I will stand for you again and I will just say, ‘no to taxes.’”
Also running to keep his seat is State Senator for the Hi-Line Mike Lang. Lang touted his experience over the last three years as the area's local senator by highlighting his role as chair of the state's local governance committee and his privilege to share representation with the “two Knudsens” (referring to Casey Knudsen HD33 and Rhonda Knudsen HD34).
He said he was, “excited that we will have a Republican governor.” He railed against a perceived bias in the legislative services office which helps write the bills and do administrative work for the congressional bodies, and he said that he had heard anecdotally that lower echelons of the office were hopeful that the upper-echelons would be replaced by a Republican governor. Lang then briefly touched on the Sage Grouse and working with Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte on those issues.
Leading off for Governor candidates was State Senator and surgeon Dr. Al Olszewski. The northwest Montanan braved the icy roads form Kalispell to make the event. He started off by pointing to his family’s history of military service and his own service in the US Air Force.
He said, “That’s why I am running for governor. That sense of service.” He touted his central Montana roots and his upbringing in a large family where he was the eldest of seven kids and his dad was a floor layer and his mother would go on, late in life, to be a nurse.
Olszewski focused on his key policy issue of taxation. The doctor said he wants to bring more transparency to how property taxes are administered, how they are decided and how they are raised. He said he also wants to remove a tax on military pensions.
He stated, “Helena needs to go on a diet. It’s not that she is out of money, it’s that she is overfed.”
Last to speak for the evening was US Congressman Greg Gianforte. Gianforte was not only the event’s keynote speaker but is also one of three Republicans seeking the GOP nomination for the Montana Governor’s Race – against Olszewski and Attorney General Tim Fox.
The one-and-a-half term Congressman and governor hopeful talked about his time in Congress and being out on the road in Montana talking to Montanans. Gianforte discussed his background in business and customer service. Specifically he spoke about his role in founding Oracle – a technology company that helped businesses move their customer services to the internet – he then used that as a launching pad to talk about customer service in the state government.
“Who thinks our state government could use a little more customer service,” asked Gianforte rhetorically. He would go on to say that Montanans need business experience in Helena. On policy Gianforte railed against Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks saying, “FWP is at war with landowners.” He did not say what specific issues were causing the “war.”
He also discussed criminal justice. Namely he pointed out to the room that there are 1,200 women eligible for pre-release in the Montana prison system, but that they “aren’t getting out because they [the prison system] gets more money if they stay locked up.” He went on to say that thousands of children remain in foster care each year as a result of this flawed system. (At press time, the Courier was unable to verify the numbers put out by Gianforte.)
Gianforte also lamented a fact about attracting people to work in Montana, especially young adults who were raised here. He said that of his four children three do not currently live in Montana. He said that it was a problem for the state. “We export beef, grain and we export our kids,” said Gianforte, before going on to say that the state needed to provide better opportunities for jobs to be created in the state.
One way that Gianforte thinks the government could provide those opportunities is by, “leveraging natural resources while protecting the environment.”
On policy he said the state had 16 years of vetoes to look at to get started on policy, referring to the fact that the governor’s office has been occupied by a Democrat since Brian Schweitzer took the seat in 2005 from then-Republican Governor Judy Martz.
Like many of the Republicans at the event, Gianforte said he wanted to cut taxes, protect life and “that was exactly why he is running for governor.” He pledged to say no to all tax increases, always protect the second amendment, make communities safer and that he will, “always defend life.”