By Tim Leeds
A self-employed writer and CD-ROM producer is challenging the one-term incumbent for the legislative seat in House District 91.
Republican Ron VandenBoom is running against Democratic Rep. John Musgrove in the district, which includes parts of Havre and Chinook and parts of northern Hill and Blaine counties.
Musgrove, a retired high school English teacher, ran unopposed in the last general election after winning the primary in 2000. Former Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, could not run because of term limits.
The primary concern for the 2003 Legislature will be the budget deficit, projected to be between $200 million and $300 million or more. That involves more than just balancing the budget, Musgrove said.
"A number of other issues are ancillary to that," he said, including the condition of economic development in the state, education funding, and energy.
The solution to the state's money problems is simple, VandenBoom said.
"Obviously economic development is the cure for all of our woes, revenue woes as well as jobs, goods and services, the economy in general," he said.
Without increasing revenue by increasing economic activity, the government will have to raise taxes on already overburdened taxpayers to pay for services such as education and health and human services, VandenBoom said.
The state can help economic development by continuing to provide a tax structure that is favorable to business, he said. Tax incentives provided by previous legislatures have already helped petroleum producers increase exploration and drilling, he said.
The state should also continue to recruit businesses through the governor's Office of Economic Development, and should try to remove "red tape that the state government imposes, making it easier and more efficient for businesses to thrive," he said.
Despite their opposing views, the candidates have some similarities. Both are veterans of the military, both have education degrees and both moved to Havre.
VandenBoom, a native of Quincy, Ill., was stationed at the base north of Havre while serving in the U.S. Air Force. He stayed in Montana after leaving the service in 1971, spending most of his time in Havre, with brief periods working in Great Falls, Shelby and the Butte-Anaconda area.
He attended Northern Montana College in the 1970s, majoring in history and social science with a minor in political science, and returned in the late 1980s and '90s, receiving a degree in secondary education with a social science broadfield.
After leaving his job as a reporter for the Havre Daily News in August 2001, VandenBoom began working as a self-employed writer. He has produced an informational CD-ROM about north-central Montana and is working on a second, he said. His wife, Debe, manages the Heritage Center.
VandenBoom is a member of the H. Earl Clack Memorial Museum and the Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association boards.
Musgrove is a native of White Sulphur Springs and a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
"The good outweighed the bad," he said about his military service. "It's an experience I think most people should go into. Not necessarily the military, but I'm a strong proponent of service to the country."
He worked as a sheet metal worker in California in the mid-1960s, and "spent a long time getting my undergraduate degree in college," Musgrove said. He has a bachelor's degree in education and has taken many postgraduate courses, mostly in theater.
He began working as an English teacher at Havre High School in 1973, retiring in 1998. His wife, Sue, works as a librarian for Havre Public Schools.
The size of the deficit will make balancing the budget involve more cuts than he would like, Musgrove said, but it's also imperative that it involve government efficiency at all levels and some creative tax reforms.
"I'm so uncomfortable with cutting any program because so many of them are bare bones after the governor's and special session cuts," he said. "We're not cutting programs now, we're cutting people. We're putting people into precarious positions without a safety net."
VandenBoom said he's not sure Musgrove's values reflect those of his constituents. Musgrove's voting record made him the 14th biggest spender during the 2001 session and the sixth biggest in the special session, VandenBoom said.
Musgrove received a 53 percent rating from the Montana Chamber of Commerce and a 40 percent from the Montana Stockgrowers and Woolgrowers associations, but scored well in the area of education and received between 80 and 95 percent from different environmental groups, VandenBoom said.
"I do wonder, does this truly represent the mentalities and values of Havre and Hill and Blaine counties," he said.
Musgrove said cuts of all programs will have to be considered, including in Corrections, the Department of Health and Human Services, education and the judiciary, although they have already received cuts.
"It's not a pretty picture," he said.
He added that it will take cooperation to balance the budget.
"A solution to our problem has to come from reasonable, moderate people," Musgrove said. "I'm hoping that the budget-balancing process will not continue to be as polarizing as it was last year."
Gov. Judy Martz's proposal to offset an income tax decrease with a limited sales tax targeting tourists is not appropriate at this time, Musgrove said.
"Any of the tax increases that were proposed to offset the decreasing rates of income tax should be first applied to balancing the budget," he said.
Musgrove is interested in other tax changes, including revisiting the reduction in the business equipment tax, passed in the hope for stimulating business. The reduction should have had a clause reimplementing the tax on businesses when it didn't benefit the state, he said.
School taxes could be simplified, he said. One option would be to make all districts K-12, rather than having separate levies and budgets for districts covering the same area, he said.
Another simplification would be making all levies countywide, simplifying the process and equalizing the taxes, he said.
VandenBoom said he wants to look closer at Martz's proposal before making a decision on it. His question would be how much it will affect Montana businesses, he said.
VandenBoom also is in favor of a local-option sales tax.
The across-the-board budget cuts over the summer may have been necessary, he said, but he prefers a surgical approach.
VandenBoom said he opposes cutting any programs that benefit children, such as the Children's Health Insurance Program, but others, like the state's tobacco-use prevention program, could be cut and the services provided by other agencies.
"It was a struggle coming to that one," he said.
Most areas of government need to be examined for the possibility of cuts, VandenBoom said, "to see how bloated the bureaucracy is."
He added that he is an advocate of private property rights, and is still watching the situation for Montana's elk farmers, who were restricted from selling the privilege to shoot their elk in an initiative in 2000. He's also an advocate of 4 for 2, the push to widen U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes across the state.
"It's not a guarantee economic development is going to take place, but without it you can pretty much guarantee it won't happen," he said.
VandenBoom strongly opposes Initiative 145, which proposes the state buy electricity-producing dams from industry. That sends the wrong message to businesses looking to come into the state, he said.
One issue that has risen in importance in Mugrove's mind is the problem that methamphetamine laboratories cause in Montana communities. Something has to be done to protect landlords from losing their property because of the high cost of cleanup after a lab is discovered, he said.
Part of the problem is a lack of information about precisely what type of contamination meth labs cause, and what acceptable levels of cleanup are, he said.
"We have to put some definitions in the laws," he said.