The candidates in the race for House District 34 in Hill and Blaine counties agreed on a couple of issues but had some disagreement on others in a forum held in Havre Wednesday.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, and Democrat Dana Sapp Seidel introduced themselves and then provided answers to three questions before making closing remarks during the forum, sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, Bear Paw Development Corp. and the Havre Daily News.
The two candidates did have sharply different views on one question: If the state economic picture doesn’t improve and the revenue is short of expenses, would they support tapping the principal of the coal tax reserve trust fund?
That money is placed in a trust, with revenue generated off of the principal used to fund some programs.
Both candidates cited a presentation Gov. Brian Schweitzer made in Havre just two hours before the forum began. Schweitzer said the actual projections lead to a $40 million shortfall, far below the $330 million the state has in reserve.
“So right now we sit with a projected revenue maybe still with $290 million in the savings, so we are looking pretty good right now,” Seidel said. And that money is in addition to the coal money that is banked also. So I would hope we wouldn’t need to take money out of there right now."
“I’m feeling really encouraged just by our talking a little while ago,” she added.
Warburton contested those numbers. She said the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Division called legislators back to Helena earlier this year to present a much more dismal forecast — at the time listing a $400 million revenue shortfall, which now has been adjusted to a prediction of a $330 million shortfall.
“The numbers are in conflict with what Governor Schweitzer is pointing out,” she said, adding that she believes he may be using one-time funding such as federal stimulus money in his figuring.
“I hope he’s right. I hope it's a rosy picture,” Warburton said. “It certainly would make it much easier. But I think we do need to err on the side of caution, be prepared to make cuts to certain programs. We're going to have to be lean and mean.”
She added that she does not support digging into the coal tax trust fund.
“That’s a great asset that we have,” Warburton said.
Another area where the two differed was in their descriptions of themselves.
Warburton talked about growing up on her family ranch south of Chinook, attending grade school in Zurich then graduating from Chinook High School and was “very blessed to receive a full academic National Merit Scholarship to go to college in Virgina.”
Warburton graduated from Liberty University, and then worked in a variety of fields, business, nonprofit, education and political fields on both the East and West coasts before coming back to north-central Montana.
“(I have) experienced some of the things different states do differently, sometimes better than us, sometimes not so good,” she said.
Her work in politics helped her in her first term as a legislator, which itself has helped her gain experience in representing her constituents, she said.
Seidel said she is a Havre native married to another Havre native, with three girls, a son-in-law and a grandchild.
“So I know the hardships and benefits of family life,” she said.
She attended Havre schools and received her nursing degrees from Montana State University-Northern.
“I am very happy I had that opportunity, since I came back as a mom with two girls when I ended, so it was very fortunate for me to have a college where I could do that.”
She said she has a wide variety of health care and correctional experience, including her current position as nurse at the Hill County Detention Center and as deputy coroner, and ranging from caring for children to the elderly over her career.
On other issues, Warburton said, when asked what her top priorities would be in human services, that it would have to be ranking what would be cut the least.
“We don’t want to cut any of it,” she said. “But we’re going to have to look at everything.”
She said she would want to look at how to do the least damage. That could be done by making programs run more efficiently, Warburton said.
Seidel said her top priority would be protecting programs and services for the elderly and the children, and services such as in mental health.
She said another priority would be in improving programs for people with problems in mental health. She sees people coming into the detention center as if it is a revolving door, with some of that due to mental health issues and related problems, Seidel said.
“We pay out more in our correctional system by not treating these issues,” she said.
Both agreed that the issue of the explosion of patients and caregivers in the field of medical marijuana needs to be revisited and improved.