Rick Hill and Steve Bullock debated abortion and gay rights Wednesday as social issues made for the liveliest exchanges in their fourth meeting in the campaign for Montana governor.
Hill, a former Republican congressman, said he believes abortion is the destruction of a human being. Hill said he supports moderate measures that limit abortions, such as a ballot question in the Nov. 6 election that would require the parental notification of girls under 16 who seek an abortion.
"There is a lot we can do in the middle of the road besides banning abortion," Hill said.
Bullock, the Democratic attorney general, said Hill's support of outlawing abortions in the case of rape and incest is as an extreme a position as can be taken in the U.S. He said the ballot question has previously been decided by the Montana courts as an unconstitutional invasion of the right to privacy and the process for obtaining a waiver under the proposal would not be easy for a young girl.
But in the end, Bullock said, matters of abortion are best left to the woman, her doctor, her faith and her family, he said.
"When a girl is raped by her father, should Rick Hill or Steve Bullock be making that decision?" Bullock said.
Both Hill and Bullock said they oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Hill said he would not support classifying such discrimination a hate crime.
Hill said people should be held accountable for crimes but he was opposed to segmenting the population by adding a new group to the state's hate crime law.
However, when pressed, he said he would not go so far as to remove the hate crime law.
Bullock said he would support the classification.
Hill and Bullock met in Missoula in their second debate in two nights after a Tuesday meeting in Billings that focused on development and infrastructure issues. They are vying to replace Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who can't run again because of term limits.
The Libertarian candidate, Ron Vandevender, has not been invited to participate in any of the debates.
Wednesday's debate touched on a wide range of issues, including themes of the economy and education that have been discussed in previous meetings.
Hill said unequivocally Wednesday that he would not support a sales tax. It's an issue that third-party groups have been hammering the former congressman on because of Hill's work with Gov. Marc Racicot in the 1990s when the governor favored a sales tax.
Hill and Bullock both said they would veto a sales tax proposal as governor.
"If they want a sales tax they will have to put it on the ballot," Hill said.
Bullock, asked if he would support coal development even if it hastens climate change, said he would unless the U.S. government came up with a national energy policy addressing the issue.
Even then, the attorney general said, he would have to see if that policy is right for the state before adhering to it.
With Montana's reserves, it would be foolish to stop development without such a policy in place, he said.
Hill said he would invest some of the revenue from coal development into clean coal technology. But he said he would oppose moving away from coal development when world demand is rising.