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Interview with Sen. Jeff Essmann

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Answers have been cut for literacy and brevity by the Big Sky Weekly editors. This is the first in a
series of interviews with the Montana gubernatorial candidates.

Senator Essmann (R) is running for the Montana Governor’s seat in the 2012 gubernatorial election. He
represents Senate District 28 in Billings.

TA Last time we spoke was July, when
your bill aimed at drastically limiting
Montanans with medical marijuana
cards was due for a ruling in
court. As it sits today, what are your
thoughts on the outcome?

JE SB 423 was a compromise bill endorsed
by over two thirds of the legislature.
It has worked to accomplish most of
its major goals despite the ongoing
court battle. First, many Montana cities,
towns and counties have used the
explicit power granted in the bill to prohibit
the storefront sale and promotion
of marijuana which many people felt
sent an incorrect message to our youth.
Second, the number of registered
cardholders has dropped nearly 40 percent
from May until December from
31,522, down to 19,239 due to more
stringent requirements for obtaining
a certification. Finally, a recent MSUBillings
poll of 2,400 Montanans, a
large sample size by Montana polling
standards, revealed that 62.3 percent
of the public supported the goals of the
bill and only 28.3 percent opposed it.
TA A slogan on your website reads:
Lower Taxes, limited government.
Do these come hand in hand?

JE An ever growing, more powerful government
requires higher taxes in order
to support a growing number of public
employees to enforce the increasing
number of regulations. Bigger government
and higher taxes are inextricably
linked. As governor, I’ll continue the
fight against both.
TA Though your website doesn’t list
what exactly you’re for or against,
the tone falls along the lines of
giving the power of government
back to people—a common theme
in Republican politics today. What
would you do to give it back?

JE First, I would put the state checkbook
online so that every Montanan can see
how their tax dollars are spent. If the
money is spent wisely, which is a big if,
there should be no shame in allowing
everyone to see exactly how it is spent.
Second, I will install a red tape hotline
in the Governor’s office so that people
who are having trouble getting a state
permit can have a point of contact so
that we can cut the red tape and get this
economy moving again.
TA This implies that you’re unhappy
with the state of affairs in the Montana
Governor’s office today. What
has Gov. Schweitzer done wrong
during his leadership? What has he
done right?

JE I have supported the Governor’s efforts
that recognize a system of dual
sovereignty that exists under our
federal constitution and that the federal
government has intruded into too many
areas that are either legally or practically
better handled on a state level.
His efforts on the Real ID Act and
bison issues come to mind. However,
he has failed to be consistent in efforts
to be aggressive on the management of
wolves, and his failure to encourage Attorney
General Bullock to participate in
the legal challenge to Obamacare.
TA It was recently announced that
Montana could have a larger budget
surplus than estimated during the
Legislature. Do you agree with
these estimates?

JE I think the legislature’s policy of following
the estimates prepared by its
nonpartisan professional staff has been
wise. The only times I have offered
different policy suggestions have been
when our local anecdotal knowledge
of the economic trends have indicated
prudence and conservative caution.
That brings to light some cuts that
were made to the budget in 2011. It’s
been said in the media that the current
governor proclaimed Republicans were
cutting too much. Here we are, and we
find he may have been right.
TA Why did we get two different
outlooks? How does something
like that happen and how could we
eliminate that next time?

JE The entire debate on whether the
legislature cut too much is premised
upon the assumption that every dime
is being spent wisely and that every
one of the hundreds of state programs
we have is actually working. [But] in
fact we have no idea whether these
programs are performing because the
Schweitzer bureaucracy has resisted
almost every attempt the legislature has
made to adopt performance standards
and review. Even the most timid efforts
are only begrudgingly followed. It
also assumes that every dime available
should be spent on growing the
government and its programs instead
of being returned to Montana families
and small businesses where it could be
spent more efficiently. I would start by
eliminating the bias in favor of a growing
TA What would you do with the extra

JE I would return the money to its rightful
owners, the Montana taxpayers.

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