By Ron VandenBoom
No bombshells were dropped Tuesday night as local candidates stumped for votes at the first ever Havre Daily News/Business and Professional Women Candidate (BPW) Forum at the Havre Holiday Village Shopping Center.
More than 50 people asked questions of the candidates ranging from what the candidates would do to solve the problem of gangs to what kind of change they would advocate if elected.
Candidates attending the forum who are in uncontested races were:
Kathy Bessette D. Hill County Commissioner,
Dena Tippets D. Hill County Clerk of District Court,
John Warner Judge District 12, no party affiliation.
Candidates running in the contested race for House District 90 attending the forum were:
Merlin Wolery R., and Antoinette (Toni) Hagener D.
Candidates running in the contested race for House District 91 were:
John Musgrove D. and Roberta Demarest D.
Asked what they would do about the rising problem of gangs in Montana, Musgrove told the crowd Montanans are too quick to say there aren't gangs in Montana or that they are only "want-to-be" gangs.s
"It hits at the very root of our culture and our upbringing," Musgrove said, laying the solution to the problem at the door of parents and the community as a whole
"I believe the answer lies with the common citizenry," he said.
Demarest responded that she had attended professional training while living in Great Falls in what to look for and how to react to gangs.
"It can't be taught in schools," she told the crowd, noting that criminal behavior is not something the common citizen is equipped to deal with.
"But we need to be aware of it and need to have professionals tell us what to look for," she said. "We also need to report it to the authorities."
All the candidates were asked what topics they would advocate for change if elected.
Wolery said he would encourage new ideas at the state and the county level and believed the current term limit laws might help to inject new ideas and change into the Legislature.
Hagener said Montana is in the middle of a technological revolution based on computers and the Internet.
She noted that change was going to come whether we wanted it or not. She suggested Montanans look at ways they can take advantage of new technologies, using them as a tool for the future.
"The change is here, folks, and we've got to deal with it now right now," she said.
Demarest told the crowd that if she had her choice of what change to advocate, it would be a change in per capita income so each worker could take home more money.
All of the competing candidates strongly opposed any kind of sales tax.
Hagener said that if any kind of tax needed to be raised, she would favor a "local options tax" that would be imposed locally, for a specific time and for a specific purpose.
Wolery noted in his objection that property taxes can really be punitive in Montana and that many current taxes, such as the bed tax and gas taxes, were already product specific sales taxes.
Musgrove referred to sales taxes as "the most regressive tax there is," while Demarest said no to sales taxes and noted that property taxes in Montana need to be evaluated.
All the competing candidates opposed making local elections non partisan, noting that the parties help define the candidates' identities.