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

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Defending His Seat

Casey Knudsen Wants to Continue Repping North-Central and Northeast Montana

 


“I don’t like going around asking for free publicity,” explained Casey Knudsen, speaking to the Courier about why it had taken so long to do the interview. “It’s hard right now to go around asking for money from people and asking for free publicity is like asking you for money.”

Knudsen is currently the sitting representative for Montana House District 33 which spans from Havre to Glasgow mostly north of Highway 2 until it hits the Glasgow area where it encompasses a large portion of Glasgow’s westside to Highland Drive. Knudsen was elected in 2016 after then incumbent Mike Lang termed out and ran for the Montana Senate.

It was in 2016 that Knudsen cut his teeth in politics taking on Michael Burns in a competitive Republican primary that ultimately ended with Knudsen on top. He went on to handily defeat his Democratic challenger and ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections in 2018.

In 2020 he faces a new primary challenger in the form of Joyce Stone who—like Knudsen in 2016—is a newcomer to politics or elected office.

“I’m of the opinion that competition makes us stronger,” said Knudsen, discussing the challenge. He added that it keeps him aware of what’s important to the communities and keeps the process more open. “I like being pushed.”

Knudsen touted and defended his record as the area’s representative over the last two legislative sessions. He said his biggest accomplishment is a criminal justice reform bill that prevented courts from suspending driver’s licenses for individuals who did not pay fines on time or were convicted of misdemeanors or traffic violations. He described it as the “bill that I am most proud of” saying the system was set up to put people in a downward spiral of debt and punishment.

“You want someone to pay for something but you take away their means of going to work. Then it spirals,” he said. He commended the bill—HB 217—for enjoying wide bi-partisan support.

Along the same lines of criminal justice, Knudsen’s other legislative success story was removing laws banning the ownership and carry of switchblade knives. He explained that the idea for the bill came after he tried to purchase a blade online but could not order it due to the state’s weapon restriction laws.

“I was shopping,” said Knudsen, when he found a quality knife he wanted but the dealer’s map would not allow it to ship to Montana. “I was like what the heck Montana?”

After talking to law enforcement officers that had been carrying switchblade style knives for ease of use and other benefits on the job, he discovered that there was not even an exception for law enforcement officers to use the blades. The switchblade repeal—HB 155—enjoyed wide support with only one of the 100 Representatives voting against it and 49 of Montana’s 50 Senators voting for it (the leftover senator was listed as “Excused” on the voting roll).

Knudsen said criminal justice reform was something he had taken to fondly during his time in the legislature. He described it as a balancing act between law enforcement needs and wants, and the needs of the public to be protected from unreasonable legal threats.

“It’s a fine line, you want to make cops’ jobs easier but everything needs restrictions, even law enforcement,” he stated. Knudsen looks for a balance between the state infringing on people’s rights and the rule of law. “It may only be one in one million but there are people that would abuse the law.”

Aside from criminal justice issues, Knudsen’s Phillips County ranching roots made him an ideal candidate to serve as the Vice Chair of the Agriculture Committee. “I enjoyed that one quite a bit,” said Knudsen, adding that the job was not as controversial as many of the other tasks he had to take on in session.

In fact, the most controversial topic the committee dealt with in the last session was a registry for honeybee owners, according to Knudsen. He explained that he was generally opposed to the idea but that it was destined to pass due to the need to monitor for diseases among the hives. So, he explained that he worked hard to cap the fees the state could charge beehive owners for registering.

“If there is no upward end,” explained Knudsen, then, “it tends to turn into a revenue stream for the state. Everything needs limits.”

Knudsen also discussed some of his most controversial votes, the ones that spurred his opponent to run and caused much of his criticism among some parts of Glasgow’s health care workers.

In Feb. 2019, a series of bills aimed at making it easier for people to avoid mandatory vaccinations were introduced in the House. Two of the bills—HB 575 and 574—were introduced by Rep. Theresa Manzella, a Republican from Hamilton.

HB 575 would have prevented daycares from rejecting children who were not vaccinated for religious and medical conditions.

HB 574 would have prevented DPHHS from denying foster care placement if children in the foster home were not vaccinated due to religious exemptions.

The last bill—HB 564 introduced by Republican Rep. David Dunn of Evergreen—forbid DPHHS from assisting schools with verifying the validity of claims for medical or religious exemptions.

Knudsen voted in favor of all three bills and all three bills failed by at least 20 votes (HB 575 failed 68 to 32; 574 failed 40 to 60; 564 failed 38 to 62). Knudsen defended his position on those bills arguing that their intent was to reign in DPHHS who, he says, was going after religious exemptions and the doctors that provided them.

“This is America and independent freedom is at the top,” said Knudsen. “To maintain that freedom there are always risks.”

He also pointed out that none of those bills were reducing requirements to vaccinate, but were instead preventing the state from unduly restricting already accounted for religious and medical exemptions.

“I am 100 percent pro-vaccine,” said Knudsen. He views vaccines as safe and necessary to prevent disease, but he also defended the opposing view that vaccines can be risky to people’s health. “The other side [of vaccines] is severe reactions—not autism, I do not believe that—but I’ve seen in my family allergic reactions and severe immune reactions caused by vaccines.”

Knudsen said DPHHS was going after “doctors—persecuting them for a lack of a better word—threatening their licenses and harassing them for writing these exemptions.” He said the bills, especially HB 564, merely reinforced the already on-the-books exemptions and removed their control from DPHHS and placed it in the hands of the legislature.

“This is America and there is a right to choose,” he stressed.

Knudsen also come under pressure from Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital CEO Randy Holum in the pages of the Courier for his vote against Medicaid Expansion in 2019. Knudsen said he felt compelled to vote against Medicaid after seeing the outcome of the district’s vote on a ballot initiative—I-185—that would have set up a tobacco tax to pay for Medicaid Expansion.

HD 33 voted against the initiative in overwhelming numbers. Knudsen said that even accounting for the tobacco tax it was clear that his constituents did not want Medicaid Expansion.

On top of the failed initiative, Knudsen was concerned about the measure’s potential for fraud and abuse. Namely, he was concerned about the “quintessential person” using government services despite an ability to work, but he clarified that he did not view that as the majority of Medicaid recipients.

Knudsen said the solution was simple and that he supported the bill after work requirements were added, but a Federal Court ruling that threw out work requirements in other states made him withdraw his support for the bill. The bill did pass the legislature with the work requirements intact.

“What I was fighting for,” he said, “was actually having these safeguards,” that would prevent abuse.

Knudsen also attacked the expansion bill because, in his view, it gave too much money to rural hospitals that he did not see a need for.

“There was a push by hospitals saying, ‘we need this money to survive,’” said Knudsen. “I can see needing it for basic health care like stabilizing someone before transporting them on, but a hospital that can serve 10,000 built in a town of 2,000? The numbers just don’t work out, it’s a bad business decision.”

Knudsen clarified that he was not “necessarily” talking about FMDH, saying, “I don’t know the specifics of their accounting practices.”

On the personal side, a lot has changed for Knudsen since he last ran in a competitive race for the House. Then he had recently graduated from MSU-Bozeman with a degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in aerospace engineering. He returned to Malta to work the family ranch, which he still does to date, while also taking on a job as a real estate agent for Missouri River Realty in Malta.

On becoming a legislator, Knudsen said he never really had a desire for the post. He had always wanted to serve the community in some regards but not necessarily in politics. But, when Mike Lang’s seat opened up, Knudsen said he met with other potential candidates and said he “didn’t think it was a good fit. So he threw his hat in the ring.”

“I don’t plan on doing this forever,” he said. “I don’t plan on climbing the ladder.”

 

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