By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BIG SKY – A meet and greet with Republican candidates Thursday night at the Corral had a relaxed, local atmosphere, with about 40 attendees mingling at the bar and steakhouse on Highway 191 south of Big Sky throughout the evening.
Candidates who made it through the construction traffic along Highway 191 included state House candidate Kerry White from District 70; his brother Steve White, who is running for re-election as county commissioner; Sheriff Brian Gootkin, also running for re-election; and gubernatorial candidate Jim Lynch. Representatives for Steve Daines (running for U.S. House), and Denny Rehberg also drove down from Bozeman.
The Corral has hosted several similar events in the past 10 years, said co-owner Dave House. The previous one, two years ago, was closer to the 2010 general election and had around 100 attendees, House said.
The idea is to get people acquainted and familiar with each other and the candidates, co-owner Devon White said. “We’re good Republican boys,” he added. “We need to stir this economy up a bit, get something happening, make money instead of spending it.”
Corral cook Kenny Alley said the event is worthwhile because it helps to know what’s going on and meet the candidates up close and personal.
Kerry White, a mechanic from the Gallatin Valley, is a fourth generation Montanan with a family history in state politics. While he’s worked on the county planning board for 10 years, this is his first bid for public office.
He spoke with a local man about the legislative process, how bills are introduced and how they become law. They also discussed the way state and federal governments interact, in the context of an issue like medical marijuana.
Mr. White said other similar examples that the state has to deal with are the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the management of wolves. “The cost to regulate, implement and monitor these things—the burden falls on the State, [but] they’re required by the federal government,” he said.
White talked about wolf management, and how Jefferson County has adopted its own policy toward the predators. Under a new state law, FWP is required to coordinate management with counties that put a policy in place.
“This is a good idea because FWP is removed from the people as an executive branch, with its director, [Joe] Maurier, appointed by the governor,” White said. Having input from the county commission is positive, he added, because they are elected by the people.
White said he likes to talk to residents, to see what the important issues are to them, and give them his take on what to would do about them. He pointed to tourism, transportation, beetle killed forest, resort tax and funding Ophir School as the main issues he saw in Big Sky and Gallatin Canyon. In West Yellowstone, his main concern is making the tourism industry more predictable and diverse.
White thinks the main issues in the 2013 state legislature will be budgeting, wildlife management and water rights adjudication.
County commissioner Steve White, who’s currently chairman of the commission and is running for re-election, spoke to the things that make Gallatin County different from others nearby.
“We have the valley, the canyon and West,” he said. West Yellowstone, he noted, sometimes feels “abandoned.”
Commissioner White was involved with the establishment of Big Sky’s new park district last year. He also noted that he was part of the introduction of a new bill in Helena that changed laws for new subdivisions and made it possible for developers to get extensions on their permits—something that passed both houses of the legislature unanimously and directly affected the Big Sky Town Center by allowing it to slow its development without having to re-start the permitting process.
He and House discussed how taxes from Big Sky’s residents in Madison County, which includes Big Sky Resort, Moonlight Basin and the Yellowstone Club, all go to Madison County. They also talked about the quandary of the school district lines crossing county borders.
Big Sky residents in districts 28 and 29 of Madison County contribute about half of the annual property taxes; since 2007, those districts have contributed 74 percent of the Ennis School District budget.
Sheriff Brian Gootkin brought his family to the Corral, which was a visit to old friends. The sheriff, who was voted in unanimously by the county commissioners Jan. 1 of this year, used to live in Big Sky.
“It’s awesome,” Gootkin said about his position as sheriff. “I love it. It’s all about people. Our job is to make sure you and your family are safe.”
Gootkin and the other Republicans will all run for their party’s seat in the primary election June 5. Residents should make sure they are registered to vote before Tuesday.