By Ron VandenBoom
Sen. Conrad Burns, R.-Mont, paid a campaign visit to Havre Thursday and turned down a Havre Daily News offer to host debates between himself and his Democratic opponent Brian Schweitzer in August, but left open the possibility of a debate in Havre in late September or October.
â€œWeâ€™re going to lock in some dates in the middle of October or the tail end of September,â€ Burns said. â€œThatâ€™s the way weâ€™ve always debated before.
Burns said that is the time when people are truly focused on the election and thatâ€™s when you really want your debates.
â€œEverybodyâ€™s taken pretty much a position by that time,â€ he said.
By that time, Burns said, people are comparing your position to your opponentâ€™s, â€œand thatâ€™s the way youâ€™re defined and identified.â€
The Daily News has extended an offer to host debates along with Yellowstone Public Radio at the convenience of the two candidates. The debate would be broadcast state wide by public radio.
Burns said people complain the campaigns are too long as it is.
â€œBut weâ€™re going to debate and weâ€™ve taken some models of presidential debates..., they think about three debates are ample,â€ Burns said. â€œAnd if we have to have more weâ€™ll see how that plays out.â€
Right now Burns said he is focused on completing Congresses appropriations process.
â€œI wish the Democratic Party would sort of cooperate a little bit here and we can complete that,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™ve taken an attitude that they want to take this session of Congress right into October. They donâ€™t want to come home the first of October.â€
Everything that theyâ€™ve done is to drag out the process, he said.
The tactic, he said, is to force Congress to have to pass one big omnibus appropriations bill that would not be good.
â€œWe (the Republicans) are trying very hard to avoid that,â€ he said. â€œBut what they feel is their best chance of winning an election is to take us to the blade.â€
Even to the point of shutting down the government, Burns said. â€œThey always accuse us of that.â€
Burns did not rule out the possibility of a Havre debate noting that â€œthereâ€™s always a chance.â€
He indicated that the two camps would begin coming together â€œpretty quickâ€ to define the times, formats, and locations of the debates.
Burns also addressed his recent efforts to expand Amtrak service in the southern tier of Montana and the concerns expressed by supporters of the Empire Builder that service on the northern route might be reduced or discontinued.
â€œI think it has every possibility of maybe adding something to the northern tier,â€ he said, noting that there is expected to be a large influx of tourist into Montana in the next several years due to the anniversary of Lewis and Clarkâ€™s journey through the state 200 years ago.
â€œI think itâ€™s going to be very good for Havre and the Hi-Line,â€ he said. â€œBut adding a southern route, I donâ€™t know how that would impact the northern route at all.â€
Burns said that boarding through Havre and the Northern tier would have no competition from a southern route and the possibility that service might be cut or staggered â€œis not going to happen.â€
Burns added that he did not see the southern route as having all that good of a chance of becoming a reality, anyway, because coal interests along the route have what he called â€œslots,â€ set times when they use the tracks.
â€œThey look on Amtrak as a nuisance,â€ he said.