By Tim Leeds
A Montana State University-Bozeman student is taking on a member of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation tribal council in the race for House District 92.
Republican Alan Brekke of Harlem faces Democrat Jonathan Windy Boy of Rocky Boy for the seat in the district, which covers parts of Blaine, Hill and Chouteau counties.
The candidates agree that the most important issue facing the 2003 Legislature is the state budget deficit, projected to be $250 million to $350 million.
"It's going to be the issue that affects the entire session, where to find the money," Brekke said.
It will involve cuts, he added.
"We're constitutionally bound to cut programs. The Legislature is bound to balance the budget," he said.
The Legislature will need to fund the programs with the highest priority first, then look at other programs, he said.
"Education is my first priority, Medicaid is second. The third is corrections. Those are my three tops and then we go from there," he said. "You have to fund ones you're willing to fund first."
Windy Boy said he wants to try to streamline the government's operations to balance the budget.
"I think the approach I'm probably going to look at is budget reorganization," Windy Boy said.
Education and the Department of Health and Human Services shouldn't even be brought into the picture, he said, but there are a lot of programs that probably could be rearranged in other departments to reduce spending, he said.
Windy Boy has considerable experience in politics. He has three years as a Chippewa Cree tribal council member, and was chairman of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, which he resigned from after he declared his candidacy for the Legislature.
He has testified before the Legislature and Congress on several issues.
The grandson of one of the original members of the reservation, which was created in 1916, Windy Boy grew up on his father's ranch and graduated from Box Elder High School.
He attended Northern Montana College, now Montana State University-Northern, then transferred to the Southwest Indian Polytech Institute in Albuquerque, N.M. He received an associate's degree in telecommunications from the institute.
After working in oil fields for five years, Windy Boy returned to Native American dancing, winning the International Grass Dance Championship 14 times and World Grass Dance Championship six times.
He is also active in drug and alcohol prevention and youth empowerment, and makes presentations on the subjects around the country, Windy Boy said.
Brekke grew up on his father's farm, an occupation the family has had since his great-grandparents homesteaded near the beginning of the 20th century.
He went to school in Harlem and Chinook, graduating from Chinook High School. He is a four-time recipient of the Sweet Scholarship, and is majoring in political science.
A job in political science or going to law school will probably be his next step, Brekke said. He wants to either be a U.S. senator or a lawyer.
"Becoming president is my ultimate goal, but I've been lowering it step-by-step," he said.
Brekke served as a legislative intern for Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Crofts last year.
The cuts to balance the budget should start with the administration of state agencies, Brekke said.
"The first thing you should cut is bureaucracy," he said.
Then the Legislature needs to start looking at programs on a priority basis and seeing what can be cut, he said.
"It's not an all-or-nothing thing," Brekke said. "You start somewhere and work until you're at a point eliminating the deficit. The session's not going to be fun. It's going to be painful, but it has to happen."
Windy Boy said he thinks many areas of state governmentcould be reorganized to cut unneeded parts of the budget, but it needs to be done with care.
He is running for office to help poor to middle-class people, who he said are the first to feel budget cuts.
The cuts come at a time people have to make a choice whether to pay high electrical bills due to electrical deregulation or to buy groceries, he said. Cuts in Health and Human Services and other departments aggravate the problem, he said.
"To me, viewing all of this, it's just unfair for the common folk, the poor people, to always feel the brunt of the crunches," Windy Boy said. "We need to lay all the issues on the table and make clear, sound decisions that make sense to the common people."
He said he wouldn't support new taxes unless Montanans make it very clear they support them, Windy Boy said.
He has a problem with Gov. Judy Martz's proposal to offset an income tax reduction with a limited sales tax targeting tourists.
"If this thing moves forward, how are we going to define what a tourist is?" he asked. "Every time we go to the cash register, what are we going to do, pull out our driver's license or (other) proof we're a Montana citizen? It would be very tedious."
Brekke said any new or increased tax would have to be matched by a decrease in other taxes for him to support it. He hasn't read Martz's proposal, but if it includes reducing other taxes, he would support it.
"Taking revenue from tourists is a no-brainer," he said. "Not doing it is just ridiculous. The stream of money could be used for some program."
If the tax did affect Montanans, some sort of rebate or cut in other taxes could be implemented, he said.
"This is not meant to be a tax on Montanans and never should be," he said.
Windy Boy said he has concerns about issues and misconceptions regarding Native Americans and reservations, but he will represent everyone if elected.
"We're at a point in time, to me we're all in this together. We're all citizens of the state of Montana," he said.