By Jessianne Castle
EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – With nearly 80,000 voters registered in Gallatin County and a turnout of roughly 75 percent in 2016, the Nov. 6 general election could draw some crowds at the polling booths this year. In addition to casting their vote for representation in the U.S. Congress, voters will decide whether Medicaid will be expanded with an additional tobacco tax, and if hardrock mines should require further regulation.

Big Sky voters who have not submitted absentee ballots can cast their votes on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the Big Sky Water and Sewer District office at 561 Little Coyote Rd. from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

U.S. House of Representatives Race

First term Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte addresses the crowd gathered to see President Donald Trump at the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings’ MetraPark on Sept. 6. PHOTO BY DANIEL ENNIS

Three candidates vie for Montana’s single voice in the U.S. House of Representatives with Congressman Greg Gianforte defending his year-long tenure in a position that Democrats haven’t won in 24 years.

After his unsuccessful run for governor against Steve Bullock in 2016, Gianforte ran in a special election last year when then-Congressman Ryan Zinke vacated the seat to become President Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary. Gianforte won the race despite his widely publicized assault on a reporter.

Gianforte moved to Bozeman and founded the software company RightNow Technologies in 1997, and his supporters claim this experience in the business sector lends well to balancing a budget and setting priorities.

During his time in office, Gianforte has shown support for tax cuts, raising military spending, limiting congressional terms and reducing federal restrictions on wilderness study areas. His campaign promotes several of Trump’s policies, including building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and Trump’s appointment of conservative judges to the federal courts.

As reported by the University of Montana Community News Service, during a Missoula rally held at GOP headquarters, Gianforte strongly criticized the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, saying he would continue to vote to dismantle it, piece by piece if necessary.

Gianforte’s democratic opponent is Kathleen Williams, a three-term legislator also from Bozeman. Unlike Gianforte, Williams supports an expansion of Medicare that allows people ages 55 to 64 to receive coverage. She’s also in favor of gun restrictions that limit high-capacity rifle magazines and military-style assault weapons.

Williams, who has lived in Montana for 24 years, worked for several years as a nonpartisan staffer at the Environmental Quality Council, researching bills related to mining, water and natural resources. She was also a water program manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and in 2010, she won a seat in the Montana legislature where she served three terms.

Since achieving statehood in 1889, Montana has sent one woman to Congress—Jeannette Rankin, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1941 to 1943.

The third candidate for the House of Representatives is Elinor Swanson, a Billings attorney and the Libertarian Party’s vice chairperson. Among Swanson’s top priorities are reducing federal debt and defending individual liberties from state and federal infringement. She supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of marijuana, while she rejects gun control legislation and establishing a wall along the Mexican border.

According to a recent poll conducted jointly by Montana State University political scientists and the Montana Television Network between Sept. 15 and Oct. 6, the Republican incumbent leads by 7.5 points, while 8.6 percent of those polled were still undecided.

U.S. Senate Race

Voters will also have the opportunity to select representation in the Senate, with Democrat Jon Tester’s term up for re-election. Tester, who’s served two six-year terms, took his first victory to the Senate in 2006, winning over incumbent Conrad Burns by just 3,000 votes.

Tester is proud of his Montana heritage. Hailing from Big Sandy, Tester says he fights for rural Montana and is opposed to Trump’s tariff policy that negatively impacts the state’s agricultural producers. His campaign seeks to grow the middle class by empowering unions and increasing federal funding for higher education. He also says he’d like to lower costs of prescription drugs and put pressure on the federal government to provide funding for hospitals, particularly in small communities.

While Tester is a third-generation Montanan, Republican candidate Matt Rosendale moved to eastern Montana from Maryland 16 years ago, where he worked in real estate. Rosendale won a seat for the Montana Legislature in 2010, and after serving as the Majority Leader in the State Senate, he ran for Montana’s State Auditor in 2016 and won.

Rosendale’s campaign message is often tied to national politics and President Trump, who won Montana by more than 20 points in 2016. He supports securing the U.S. border with Mexico by building a wall and says he will fight to strengthen Medicare and Social Security while also seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The third-party candidate for the Senate race is libertarian Rick Breckenridge, a land surveyor from Proctor, Montana, who ran as a libertarian for the U.S. House two years ago. He says his priorities are less government and less taxation, and he’d like to abolish the Internal Revenue Service as well as the federal Department of Education.

As reported by the MSU-MTN poll, Tester was leading with support from 46.2 percent of voters, with Rosendale close behind at 43.1 percent.

I-185’s critics doubt its constitutionality; backers point to 2004 initiative

By Marti Liechty Community News ServiceUM School of Journalism

While debate swirls over the cost of an initiative to expand Medicaid by raising taxes on Montana tobacco products, questions over the measure’s constitutionality are drawing attention too.

Initiative 185 has the support of the American Heart Association, the Montana Hospital Association and Gov. Steve Bullock, who all hope raising the tax on tobacco would help fund an expansion of Medicaid. Opponents include major national tobacco producers and the Montana Republican Party.

I-185 asks voters to increase the taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $2. Additionally, the measure would amend the definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes and vaping products. It would raise the tax on all of these products by 33 percent. Supporters expect the initiative, if approved, would raise an additional $74 million a year by 2023.

Some critics predict a lawsuit if the initiative passes, saying I-185 would effectively create a permanent appropriation for Medicaid expansion and, therefore, violate the Montana constitution, which says, “The people may enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money … ”

But that’s not a sure thing, says professor Anthony Johnstone, a former state Solicitor who teaches at the University of Montana’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law. “We have not had cases on this for a long time,” he said. “There is some uncertainty here.”

Johnstone worked in the Montana Attorney General’s office when a similar argument was made about Initiative 149 during the 2004 election. That measure, which voters approved, increased the tax on cigarettes by 140 percent, providing subsidies for small business health insurance plans, veterans’ nursing homes and need-based assistance for prescription drug insurance.

The campaign over I-185 continues to be one of the most expensive on November’s Montana ballot, with spending from backers and foes totaling more than $17 million by late September. Anti-I-185 groups had contributed nearly 72 percent of the total.

Visions for Montana’s economy clash in fight over Initiative 186

By Marti Liechty Community News ServiceUM School of Journalism

The controversy over ballot Initiative 186 seems to be about two competing visions for Montana’s future economy, and water quality underlies them both.

The ballot measure, if passed, would amend the state’s 1971 Metal Mine Reclamation Act to provide for an additional $115,000 to $118,000 in annual revenue for Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality. The money would be used to analyze pollution cleanup plans in new mining permits and would not apply to permits approved before Nov. 6.

The initiative supported by the Yes for Responsible Mining coalition is backed by Montana Trout Unlimited, among others.

David Brooks, TU’s executive director and the coalition’s primary spokesperson, said mines are still permitted to leave behind sources of permanent water pollution. The initiative would give DEQ the money to hire someone to analyze mine permit applications to determine whether they offer clear and convincing evidence that their reclamation plans will work.

Brooks said the measure intends to hold future mines to higher standards of accountability and transparency.

But opponents, led by the Stop I-186 coalition, doubt the measure would result in the transparency Brooks envisions. Dave Galt, the group’s spokesman and a former head of the Montana Petroleum Association, said I-186 is vague, which would make it hard to enforce.

The two sides appear to agree on one issue: safeguarding jobs. The Stop I-186 campaign says the industry is responsible for 12,000 jobs and over $42 million in revenue, and warns passage of this measure could devastate these numbers.

Brooks said he appreciates concerns about mining jobs, but added that the initiative’s passage could boost jobs in other large Montana economic sectors, including outdoor recreation. Preservation of the outdoors will lure “top-notch corporate employees” to Montana, he said.