By Tim Leeds
Republican Dennis Rehberg and Democrat Nancy Keenan, candidates for Montana's single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives presented their views on a variety of issues Saturday in a forum sponsored by The Havre Business and Professional Women's Association, The Havre Daily News and Yellowstone Public Radio.
Rehberg said Montana needs support for its current industries, such as agriculture, timber and mining, and needs to develop an infrastructure to take advantage of new broad-band technology. He said Montana needs to diversify its income, and he has experience in that area. Rehberg said he doesn't believe government solutions are the only way to solve problems, and that the government doesn't create jobs, people do.
Keenan said the election is about who the voters trust; she said it's about a proven record and integrity. She said she wants to have an economic development plan in the state, and to increase the minimum wage, giving a raise to 57,000 Montanans. She said she wants to protect education and social security, and doesn't think it should ever be privatized.
Keenan said she has a record of working with parents, teachers and school boards as superintendent of public instruction, and she gave her word she would continue that kind of cooperative work as a legislator.
Both Rehberg and Keenan said they believe in and support the sovereignty of Indian nations. Rehberg said he has a strong background in the area, with both his grandfather and mother working for Indian Affairs in the state, and he worked on many issues as lieutenant governor, including work on the Rural Development Council. He said he helped to start a $200,000 project for clean drinking water and economic development that had a major impact in the area, mainly for Indian families.
Keenan said she believes totally in Indian sovereignty. She said jurisdictional issues should be handled by the Indian nations, and other issues should be handled government to government. She said it is an issue of respect, honest government to government relations with responsibility. She said it is difficult to believe there is currently total respect, especially with some issues such as gaming and water rights.
Rehberg said he believes in parental choice for education. He said he supports tax credits and tax cuts for the middle class and the poor to allow them to choose the education they desire. He said parents should have the choice to use whatever education system will best serve their children.
Keenan said she is opposed to any form of public support for private education. She said it diverts already scarce funds from the public schools.
"The beauty of the public schools is that we don't choose, we serve them all," she said. " public schools belong to the children."
Rehberg said Social Security needs to be strengthened, and he supports giving people the option of diverting part of their funds into a different account for the possibility of higher growth.
Keenan said she wants to shore up the Social Security fund, put it in a lock box and that she opposes any privatization of the system. She said she wants to put $40 billion to help the Medicare program, and to help provide some kind of insurance for the uninsured. She said she supports providing voluntary prescription coverage under Medicare.
Rehberg said his experience as a fourth-generation agriculture producer and in the legislature and governor's office gives him a strong perspective on agriculture issues. He said he is sensitive to problems in the inheritance tax and alternative minimum taxes, supports giving a tax-deferred fund similar to a 401k for agriculture producers to use during bad years, increasing research and development, expanding overseas markets and giving a 100 percent credit for health costs.
Keenan said the Freedom to Farm Act has failed. She said it was written by agribusiness, not family farmers, and if elected, she would make sure the next bill is written by the family farmers. She said a safety net is greatly needed. Keenan said antitrust legislation has to be enforced. She said big business has gotten too big and is running over the family farmers.
Both Rehberg and Keenan said they support the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and oppose any further gun control legislation. Keenan said both she and her opponent receive an "A" from the NRA, although Rehberg has the organization's endorsement.
Rehberg said he would like to review current laws and see if some have gone too far. He said there is a difference between being a supporter of the NRA and being an advocate.
Keenan said she is a supporter of personal property rights and of the rights of land owners in Montana. She said she also supports CARA, which earmarks federal funds to purchase Montana land for public use. She said she believes there can be a balance between private ownership and public land used for hunting, fishing and recreation.
Rehberg said the federal government already owns enough land in Montana. He said it's a question of who should be managing Montana land, Montanans or someone 2,000 miles away in Washington.
Keenan said there should be targeted tax cuts, helping small businesses to create new jobs. She said tax cuts should target acquiring new technology and training workers.
Rehberg said targeted tax cuts are unfair, picking who gets a cut and who doesn't.
"That's a matter of unfairness in taxes," he said.