By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A 23-year-old man in the insurance business is trying to upset a 63-year-old retired teacher's bid for re-election in the race for House District 34.
The new district, part of the redrawing of Montana legislative districts after the 2000 census, includes part of Havre as well as northeastern Hill County and northern Blaine County.
Both Republican challenger Andrew Brekke of Harlem and Democratic incumbent John Musgrove cite their age as an advantage.
"My youth, I think, adds a unique perspective to the race," Brekke said.
He said he would be able to understand the needs and demands of the young constituents better than Musgrove.
"Adults who have paid taxes for years and have been out of school for a long time don't necessarily see how youth of the state and youth of the Hi-Line perceive things," he said. "I understand the youths' perspective but I am also quite capable of understanding the issues from an adult perspective."
Musgrove said his experience helps him be an effective legislator.
"Experience of the right kind - and I must include that because you can have experience in something that might not be correct - but my experience over a broad range of areas gives me an ability to solve a broad range of problems," Musgrove said.
Musgrove attended school in his home town of White Sulphur Springs, served three years in the U.S. Navy, attending Western Montana College in Dillon, going to work in California for a few years before returning to finish his degree at Western, then teaching at Havre High School from 1973 to 1998.
After being, in his own words, an unsuccessful house husband for two years, he ran for the Legislature in HD 91 and was elected in 2000.
Brekke grew up on his father's farm in the Harlem area, attending elementary and junior high school in Zurich and Harlem and graduating from Chinook High School in 1999.
He graduated from Montana State University-Bozeman in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in political science.
In 2001 Brekke worked for the commissioner of higher education as a legislative intern, which he said gave him valuable understanding of the Legislature.
"You get a different point of view than someone sitting in the gallery listening to the debates," he said.
Brekke, who works for Erickson-Baldwin Insurance Associates in Havre, said the state needs to completely revamp the tax system.
Taxes are driving away business, Brekke said. Most Montana businesses are small corporations or individually owned businesses that pay taxes under the individual income tax system. The 2003 Legislature did some work to reduce that problem, but more needs to be done, he said.
If the tax system is improved, it would attract more business to the state, especially high-tech firms that could easily locate here and enjoy the high quality of life, he said.
Brekke said he might support a sales tax, especally if local property taxes were reduced. A sales tax could transfer some of the burden for funding local services and schools to tourists and travelers.
Musgrove also supports changing the tax structure. He said some taxes should be dedicated to funding certain programs, such as a revenue stream specifically for K-12 education.
Musgrove added that he thinks a sales tax is regressive, affecting poor people the most, but if a sales tax could be made less regressive he might support it.
The state government should set up programs to help small business grow from within Montana, rather than giving tax protection to large corporations, Musgrove said.
A top priority has to be funding education, although what is done depends on what the state Supreme Court decides on an appeal of a court ruling that the current education funding system fails to meet state constitutional requirements about providing a quality education.
"Regardless of that, the state has to step up to its responsibilities," he added.
Increasing both K-12 and higher education funding could reduce expenses in welfare and the corrections system, he said.
"Education can be the salvation of some of those folks who get caught up in the system and don't know enough to be a major player," Musgrove said.
Brekke lists education funding as one of the top three issues facing the 2005 Legislature, along with funding for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Corrections.