By Tim Leeds
Both Democrats running in Senate District 46 say the long campaign hasn't changed their focus. The issues they started with are still the most important after five months of talking to people about the issues.
Ken "Kim" Hansen of Harlem and Art Kleinjan of Chinook are the Democratic contenders in the district, which covers parts of Hill and Blaine counties and small portions of Phillips and Chouteau counties.
Ted Solomon of Havre is unopposed in the Republican primary in SD 46.
Democratic incumbent Greg Jergeson of Chinook, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits, is running for the Public Service Commission against incumbent Gary Feland, a Republican.
Kleinjan said he is still focusing on three key issues.
"I'm really sticking to those issues of experience and leadership and the return of local government to the people," he said.
Loss of local control over issues is a sore point for Kleinjan, a Blaine County commissioner. Local governments usually are better able to respond to local issues, he said.
"I opposed this last move of both welfare and the court systems. I'm going to oppose anything else that comes up," he said.
At the state level, a caller is likely to get connected to voice mail and transferred from person to person, Kleinjan said. "On the local level, if people have a problem, they have someone to come in and talk to," he said.
State and federal government are shifting tax burdens to local governments, and are failing to fund services that need to exist. If the tax base shrinks or if the state government fails to fund services, the local government has to raise taxes or eliminate the services, Kleinjan said.
"All of us at the county level, we're not out there wasting money on programs that aren't needed. By eliminating programs, we're hurting our constituents," he said.
Kleinjan is looking at tax reform. Montanans have said they don't want a sales tax, so that's not something to consider, he said.
"I don't know if there is a fair way to tax, but we are in the process right now of losing people on the Hi-Line by putting a bigger burden on the remaining taxpayers," he said.
Kleinjan supports responsible extraction of minerals and petroleum as a way to improve the local economy.
"I am for the production of oil and gas and even methane production, but only safe production," he said.
Wyoming has had trouble safely removing methane, Kleinjan said, but the problem there was starting before sufficient safety factors were in place.
A lifelong resident of Blaine County, Kleinjan has served as county commissioner for 20 years. He ranched in the county with his wife, Alice, until they sold the operation to Dennis Kleinjan, one of their five children.
Kleinjan has chaired the Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Producing Counties, is on the Justice and Safety Committee of the Montana Association of Counties, is on the Bureau of Land Management Central Montana Resource Advisory Council, and chaired Gov. Judy Martz's task force on the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Kleinjan also chairs the boards of Bear Paw Development Corp. and the Golden Triangle Mental Health Center.
Hansen said he is also focusing on the same issues he began with.
"I'm still hammering on the three E's energy deregulation, education and economic development," he said.
He sees education as a key to solving many of the state's problems, he said.
"I think education and economic growth goes hand in hand," he said.
Small schools facing declining enrollments and budget cuts need more state funding, Hansen added.
"The general fund needs to step up to the plate. I know it's hammered, but I'm putting education on the top of the list," he said.
Action could be taken to attract more teachers and keep educators from leaving the state, he added. The state could help teachers pay off student loans and improve teachers' benefits packages.
Using technology improvements to stimulate the environment interests Hansen. He attended the presentation of Bear Paw Development Corp.'s technology survey Tuesday, and sees great possibilities for the state.
Bear Paw and Applied Communications of Great Falls conducted a survey to see how businesses are using technology, what technology is available and what improvements the community should strive for. It is the first survey of its kind in Montana.
"I was just fascinated. It blows me away," Hansen said.
"Right now, it's such a new concept a lot of businesses and individuals were breaking new ground here. It's a little bit scary, but it's a thing of the future," he said.
Tourism is another area Montana needs to focus on, Hansen said.
But, he said, "I'm really opposed to the tourist tax the governor has proposed. It's a sales tax. I make no bones about it, it's a sales tax."
Hansen opposes energy deregulation. He thinks one way the state can help with energy costs is to buy back some of the hydroelectric facilities. Something needs to be done to help the consumers, he said.
"The 19 or 20 percent increase over the next two years, especially for the people on a fixed income, is really tough," Hansen said.
Hansen ranches near Harlem. He and his wife, Renee, have five grown children.
Hansen served on Gov. Ted Schwinden's Economic Development Council in 1993, and served on the Harlem School Board from 1987 to 1990.