By Ron VandenBoom
Republican candidate Merlin Wolery and his Democratic opponent, Antoinette (Toni) Hagener, agreed Tuesday during a candidate forum that Montana hasn't lost the war on drugs, but certainly hasn't won it either.
"We certainly haven't lost the war, but we're a long way from winning it," Wolery said.
Wolery told the forum we probably need tougher laws, but balked at the idea of going to Helena with the idea that we need more prisons.
"I think we got enough," he said.
Wolery said more education is part of the answer, but he also said he doesn't believe we will ever eradicate drugs.
"I think we have to look real hard at ways to control it," Wolery said.
Hagener agreed that we haven't lost the war on drugs telling the audience that we are doing everything we can right at the moment.
She told the crowd the pressure is tremendous (on dealers) because of the amount of money that can be earned.
"I don't think we can ever cut it out completely," she said.
The forum was sponsored by the Business and Professional Women's Club and the Havre Daily News in the new Community Center at the Holiday Village Shopping Center.
A question directed to Hagener asked her to clarify why she favored the elimination of Montana's inheritance tax (Referendum 116) that would cost the state $12 million in revenue, while opposing the flat vehicle tax Initiative 115 that would cost only $5.5 million in revenue.
She said she felt people who were affected by the inheritance tax had already paid a tax on that money numerous times. She also said people that want to pass their money on to a close friend or a child should have the right to do that, adding that it does not look like this was a tax that would be passed on the local level to make up.
The vehicle tax, she said, will probably pass and people will be furious when they discover that it's not going to reduce their tax as much as they thought.
"To me it's deceptive," she said, adding that it will also impact, through a very complex formula, our schools.
Asked whether he supported the idea of a sales tax and a "right to work" law, Wolery said he does not support "right to work" and is not running on a sales tax. He did however accuse the Democrats of supporting the idea of a sales tax during a recently held local government and education forum.
Wolery was quickly corrected by Rep. Ray Peck (D-Havre) who told the crowd that he had said it was something they should consider and that there was a difference between considering and supporting.
"No, I'm not supporting a sales tax," Wolery said. "The last time I looked in the mirror I didn't look that dumb."
A question about raising state funding for education from its current level of about 61 percent to 70 percent caused Hagener to tell the crowd that Montana needed that much of an increase just to keep us where we are.
"We've had cuts in education for approximately eight years," she said, adding that we have one of the best educational systems in the country and need to keep it that way.
Wolery said it's probably natural that our costs per student are so high because Montana's schools are smaller and Montana is such a large state.
Wolery was also asked why he opposed Constitutional Amendment 35 that would create a trust for a minimum of 40 percent of the tobacco settlement money.
"I don't think we have to lock everything up in a trust to make it work," he said. "I would certainly distribute the money ... to health care issues."
He said he would support spending it all on health care issues.
Asked what bills Hagener supported during her three terms as representative that she considered pro business and agriculture, Hagener said she was unable to recall which of the 3,000 or 4,000 bills she may have supported or voted against, but she had, she said, tried to be in favor of those bills that would genuinely assist in development. She reiterated that she would oppose any tax cut that was nothing but a tax transfer.