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Ads stir controversy in two legislative races


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Recent advertisements have caused two legislatives candidates to cry foul several days before Tuesday's election.

Rep. Merlin Wolery, R-Rudyard, is contesting statements by his opponent for House District 90, Democrat Bob Bergren of Havre, about his record on House Bill 124, known as "the Big Bill."

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, says information in a newspaper ad run by Randy Pinocci of Vaughn about Tester's voting record is false.

In another development, Brad Lotton, chairman of the Hill County Republican Central Committee, said illegal automated telephone calls in opposition to Wolery were made over the weekend.

In ads in the Havre Daily News last week, Bergren contended that Wolery voted in favor of HB 124, which changed the way that the state helps fund local government.

Wolery in a subsequent ad denied voting for the bill. Bergren purchased radio commercials to run 32 times between Friday and today on each of New Media Broadcasting's radio stations, KOJM-AM, KPQX-FM and KRYK-FM. The ads say that "on the final vote on April 21, 2001, Wolery voted for HB-124, he voted against local control, he voted against education, he voted for property tax increases."

Bergren paid $457.20 for the ads, New Media Broadcasting told the Havre Daily News.

Wolery said today he never voted in favor of the bill. He only voted to amend it.

"I voted no four times," he said, adding that he opposed the bill because the Hill County Commission asked him to do so.

After the House adopted the 200-plus-page bill, the governor proposed some technical amendments that Wolery thought improved the bill, he said. He voted in favor of those.

"I thought (the amendments) made a bad bill better," he said.

Greg Petesch, director of legal services for the Legislature, said the bill could not have been stopped at that point.

"You can't kill a bill by rejecting the governor's amendments," he said.

Bergren said today he was working from information he had received, and would stand by his ads.

"I think he's trying to trivialize the other issues I've brought up in the campaign," Bergren said.

Pinocci's ad, which ran in Friday's Havre Daily News, states that Tester voted against a bill to give parents access to their children's library records, voted for a bill to include sexual orientation as a reason to claim wrongful discharge, and voted against a bill to bring criminal charges against someone when an unborn fetus is injured. Pinocci said he got his information from the Montana Family Coalition.

"It's so bogus and so totally off-base," Tester said today.

Tester said he did vote against the library bill because that issue is already controlled where it should be on the local level. There's no reason for the state to come in and dictate policy to local libraries, he said.

The other two bills never hit the Senate floor, Tester said. His votes were on procedural issues whether to bring the bills out of committee to the floor or not, he said.

He supported debating the bill about sexual orientation on the Senate floor but the bill never made it to the floor, Tester said.

"I never had the opportunity to debate it," he said.

He opposed debating the bill about damage to a fetus in the bill's original form, he said.

"It was not a good piece of legislation. I don't know how it got from the House to the Senate," he said.

Members of the committee that had the bill told him it needed to be worked on before it should be debated on the floor, he added.

As in Wolery's case, the voting record supports Tester's statement.

Julie Millam of the Montana Family Coalition said Tester is backing away from his voting record by describing some votes as procedural. Voting against letting a bill onto the floor or voting for it to go to the floor is the same as voting for or against the bill itself, she said.

Tester, a Big Sandy farmer, said he is pro-life. He also said he thinks homosexuality is wrong but doesn't want to impose his opinion on others.

Lotton said he found a message on his answering machine this weekend asking people to vote against Wolery.

"If you like Judy Martz, then you'll love Merlin Wolery," the automated phone call said. It went on to claim Martz needs Wolery to support her agenda of cutting public schools, denying seniors prescription drugs and raising local taxes.

Ken Miller, chairman of the Montana Republican Party, sent a letter to Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath Sunday notifying him of the automated political calls, which violate Montana law.

Lotton said the calls also block caller ID and prevent dialing "*69" to find the source, which also violates Montana Law.


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