Two candidates for the state Legislature, coming from vastly different backgrounds, also show a vast difference with their take on many issues for the state.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, has extensive legal experience in the public and private arena, including for the Montana Army National Guard, while her opponent, Democratic retired business professor Brenda Skornogoski, started working including as a waitress and highway construction laborer before becoming a certified public accountant and then going into teaching.
Their opinions on the actions of the last Legislature are just as varied.
“Last session was a frustrating session, ” first-term Rep. Hansen said. “We really, I thought, did have the opportunity to make some positive economic strides for the state, and it’s really frustrating that the governor frustrated that effort. He’s the governor. He’s entitled to his veto, and I have respect for that as part of our process, but I really would have liked it if some of the legislation could have made it through, particularly some of the health care we had proposed in lieu of accepting the Obamacare proposals. …
“In part, that is why I want to run again, ” she added. “There are these possibilities out there. There are still these options out there. ”
But Skornogoski said the reason she decided to run was to change the Legislature, which she said focused on grandstanding and failed to focus on important issues.
“I decided to run because of the political gamesmanship in the last Legislature …, ” she said. “I felt little time was spent on important issues like the budget. ”
Hansen, who resigned last year as chief deputy Hill County Attorney to go into private practice, said that practice is focusing on legislation. She is working as a consultant helping people draft proposed legislation, including reforming the tax code, reforming public school funding and on family value issues.
She added that the work on reforming the income tax comes from her request for an interim study on the code, which was the top-rated interim study request in the 2011 Legislature and received bipartisan support.
The result is back, but the committee was unable to agree on a draft of a bill, she said.
“So now it’s back to my lap to follow up with legislation, and that’s part of what I am working with the accountants (association) on, on how we can simplify the income tax, and my ultimate goal is to be able to file the Montana income tax on a post card.
“If we could get it down to one page, I would be happy, but the goal is maybe even a postcard, so that will be a high priority of mine, ” Hansen said.
Skornogoski said that, as a life-long Montanan and an active member of the Hi-Line community, she wants to take her values to the Legislature.
“Now that I’m retired, I have time and skills, especially in accounting, to help in things like the budget, to help my neighbors, ” she said. “My goals, and I’m separating that from issues, are to work toward consensus in the Legislature, to listen to my constituents and to make Montana an even better place.
“I am fiscally very conservative, ” she added. “I think the best thing we can do is not spend as much and spend more carefully.”
State role in health care reform
Another sharp contrast between the candidates is on their stance on health care reform, often called Obamacare.
The a U. S. Supreme Court ruling early in the summer declared the health care reform bill, including its mandate that all people must buy health insurance or pay a penalty, which the court ruled is a tax, but allowed states the option to expand their coverage under Medicaid.
Hansen said she opposes expanding Medicaid. Part of the reform — which continues or expands current practices, she added — is that health care providers are not fully reimbursed under Medicare, which she said Obama wants to cut further.
That cut is used to pay for reform including the Medicaid expansion, Hansen said.
“We are already not paying fair market value to our hospitals and doctors for Medicare, and certainly we don’t have the ability to expand care when we’re not even paying full value for the care that is being given, ” she said.
She said she opposes many other parts of the reform, such as requiring coverage for issues like contraceptives, and the mandate itself.
“Whether the court called it a tax or not it is still a mandate. It is still a requirement. It is a penalty for individuals who choose not to buy a product, ” Hansen said. “I think that is untenable. It is an enormously slippery slope. If can we tell people they are penalized them for not buying things, we are going in the wrong direction, and I can’t support it. ”
But Skornogoski said she does support the Medicaid expansion.
“With our aging rural communities, I think we need to help our neighbors that way, ” she said, adding that when she served on the board of Bear Paw Credit Union, she saw two main causes of bankruptcies: medical costs and gambling.
“When people have high medical costs, they’re destroyed financially, and I think we need to do that to help our neighbors, ” she said.
She said she has seen and experienced benefits from the changes already in place, such as prohibiting health insurance payment caps and allowing parents to keep their families on their policies through age 26.
“I don’t think the federal law is great, but it’s something, and I think it needs tweaking, ” she said.
Opposition on views of civil unions
The two had sharply contrasting views on a case still awaiting a ruling from the Montana Supreme Court. In April the court heard a case in which the plaintiffs claimed they were discriminated against as same-sex couples. The plaintiffs requested the courts to rule that Montana laws violate their rights and direct the Legislature to give same-sex couples the same rights as married couples.
Skornogoski said the Legislature should not debate the issue.
“My opinion on this is that it is one of the issues the Legislature wastes their time on, ” she said. “It’s not an issue Democrats and Republicans can reach a consensus on, and it simply wastes time and polarizes groups.
“Last Legislature, I talked about them grandstanding, ” she added. ‘This is the sort of thing they did. They chose issues they could not find consensus on instead of working on things like the budget that needed the … effort.
“On a personal level, I believe in marriage, commitment, between people who love each other and have decided they want to spend the rest of their lives together. … I think we will probably look back on this in 20 years like we look back on interracial marriage being illegal in many states and saying it’s discrimination, ” Skornogoski said.
But Hansen said the court case is wrong on several levels, including it attempting to undermine the voter-approved 2004 initiative that amended the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a women, and by violating the separation of powers.
In other states, rulings approving civil unions also have led to lawsuits demanding that same-sex marriage be approved, she said.
“I am not in favor of a civil unions law, ” she said, adding that she filed a brief in the case for the Legislature arguing that the court cannot order the Legislature to pass legislation. The Democratic minority was asked to join as signatories on that brief.
“I think because of the underlying subject matter the Democrat leadership declined to join the brief, ” she said. “I think that the suit itself attempts to undermine the marriage amendment, and I am not in favor of that happening, nor am I in favor of the Supreme Court ordering the Legislature to enact a civil unions law. ”