Clarena Brockie and Tony Belcourt are running for the Democratic nomination for a two-year term in the Montana House for District 32, which includes Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian reservations and adjacent areas.
Belcourt is seeking his third term in the House. He is CEO of Chippewa Cree Construction Co., and has been involved in a variety of community activities on the reservation and in the general Hill County community.
Brockie has been involved in numerous school and church activities in Harlem and Hays. She is now the dean of students at Aaniiih Nakoda College, formerly Fort Belknap College.
The winner will face no Republican in the Nov. 6 general election. The district is heavily Democratic.
The Havre Daily News posed questions to the candidates about key issues facing Montana. Here are their answers.
This is the first in a series of three such features on contests in Tuesday's primary.
What are the major issues you see confronting the 2012 legislative session?
Belcourt: The budget will be a huge issue that the Legislature is going to have to tackle. With the ever rising costs of health care it has to be addressed. Another major topic that will be facing the Legislature is the creation of jobs. This needs to be everyones focus when they are entering the session or returning. Without a job everything else really does not matter. Plus if we create enough jobs it will decrease a lot of the other costs that we are currently absorbing.
Brockie: Affordable health care, who can afford it and will it be available for everyone; the economy, we need more jobs to address the unemployment rate. The difference between off-reservation and on-reservation is vast; oil and gas production, are we prepared for what this will bring, do we have the infrastructure in place, i.e., housing, health care, police force.
What should Montana do to improve education, high school and secondary as well as college?
Belcourt: I think we need to take a step back and look at the educational funding formula. It is way too complex right now and very difficult to understand. I think with today's technology we need to upgrade a lot of the schools to keep up with the advances that are happening around us. I think the two year schools and trade schools are excellent ways to fill the increase in jobs we are needing in the short term. With the four year university system we need to look at each one and do what makes sense for each school rather than paint them all with one brush. I think with a little more effort into research and development there is huge potential to maintain the university system.
Brockie: Elementary and secondary education: We need to have adequate salaries for our teachers; those we entrust with our children’s education.
It appears that the state will have a rather substantial surplus at the end of 2012. What would you like to see done with that money? If spending, in what area?
Belcourt: I think we need to carefully draft several pieces of legislation that would create jobs on several fronts. The infrastructure issue and housing issues related to the oil boom need to be addressed. Not with just a Band-Aid approach but a long-term solution. In order for the jobs to be created and sustained in this industry we need to stop looking at this as a short-term boom. Instead make it a long-term investment. Our school systems needs some upgrades as well that would also create hundreds of jobs. Plus save long-term operational and maintenance costs.
Brockie: As a member of the Legislature, I would look at the programs that they have cut and if these cuts hurt our economy or the people who benefit from them, I would ask that they be restored.
• What should the state do to bring more jobs to Montana? Should environmental laws be loosened? Should taxes be lowered?
• There will be more jobs with the oil and gas boom and Keystone Pipeline, and I would like to see a percentage of those jobs go to Native Americans. In the long run we have to look at how we can sustain these jobs.
• Environmental laws were put in place for a reason; we need to be caretakers of our environment, if we don’t look after mother Earth, who will.
• Should taxes be lowered? For the middle man or woman, who sometimes gets left out.
Some of the highest poverty areas in the state are on Native American reservations. What should the state do to improve the situation on reservations?
Belcourt: I think we need to look at each reservation individually. They all have their elected governments that are responsible to carry out the government functions on each reservation. Too many times they all grouped together and what works for one will not work for the other. There is huge potential of job growth and creation on reservations. With everyone coming together we can make it better for all parties involved. We need to stop fearing what we don't understand.
Brockie: Well as a Native American living on the reservation, I see the effects of no jobs, children go without and sometimes people just barely have enough to get by. We need to do our job, and I think we are doing that through the tribal colleges, we are getting more people education, and we have moved into providing more workforce training, tying into the economy.
What we need is to have more Native Americans employed off-reservation. For example at the Blaine County office there is only one Native American employee, and she was elected. Construction companies come through the reservation, we have Highway 66, a state highway running through the reservation, and they bring their own crews with them, only a small percentage are hired from this area. Hopefully we can get more jobs with the Keystone Pipeline and the Bakken oil and gas exploration.