The two candidates for the seat in Senate District 17 in Hill and Blaine counties showed a sharp contrast on the issues at a forum in Havre Wednesday.
Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, faces Havre Republican Rowlie Hutton in the general election Tuesday.
They each answered the same three questions during a forum sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, Bear Paw Development Corp., and the Havre Daily News.
The contrasts started during their introductions, with Bergren citing his experience in the past four sessions, the last as speaker of the House. He cannot run for re-election to that position due to term limits.
“I take great honor, and it has been a privilege serving all of you in the House of Representatives,” he said.
He said the state has moved out of deficit spending into a positive mode, and that he is proud of his work in helping the state be one of two in the nation with a positive budget.
He added that he worked on that with a Senate controlled by the Republicans.
“I am proud to be one of the three signatures on that bill,” Bergren said. ‘That bill was crafted by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans.”
Hutton said when he was approached about running for the Senate, it seemed the time was right.
He and his wife of 28-years have raised their five children and now are “empty-nesters.” He said he took the opportunity of having Montana State University-Northern in town to recently earn his master’s degree, and added that he appreciates the people and business owners in town who taught his children small business, honor and integrity.
He said last fall he was contacted by state Sen. Taylor Brown and asked to run for the office.
“He said, sometimes you choose the time sometimes the time chooses you, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”
When asked about cutting business equipment taxes to try to stimulate economic development, Bergren said that is an issue on which he took some attacks for not suspending the tax. Bergren said he voted against cutting the business equipment tax because, if it was cut, the tax would have been shifted to local property tax owners.
He said he doesn’t believe property owners should have their taxes increased because the state cuts taxes to businesses like Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.
Hutton said he believes the tax is driving businesses out of the state. He said he was talking to a representative of Sanjel, one of the few oil field providers left in the state, and was told they pay $30,000 a year in taxes on each one of their trailers they use in their operation.
“Businesses like Sanjel, they can’t afford to operate in Montana,” he said. “If we want to keep our kids in the state, if we want to see the businesses grow, we’re going to have to provide some opportunities for them to stay here.”
When asked about what could be done to help smaller rural communities grow in eastern Montana, the two had sharp differences.
Bergren said the Applied Technology Center at Northern where the forum was held is an example of one way he has worked on that area.
He said he helped fund the center, as well as helping the center’s biodiesel research facility receive funding, is a way to stimulate the area.
Programs at Northern like its four-year plumbing program, heating and air conditioning program, agriculture programs and biodiesel programs will strengthen the region as well as many tying directly into agriculture, Bergren said.
“I helped create some of that and will continue to support it
Hutton said it is to be the result of smaller families and fewer people working larger farms. His brother now works, by himself, a farm once operated by his father and three of his uncles.
“That’s just the way things are going,“ he said “For the government, to think we can figure out a way to make that change just isn't going to happen.”
He said he agrees that the state needs to continue to fund programs like at Northern to help the young people who still are here.
“Some of this I’m not sure were going to be able to turn around just because the families are smaller, the farms are bigger,” he said. “That’s just the way things are working.“