Hansen, Mattson battle in primary
Winner to face Jergeson in fall
Last updated 5/6/2014 at 8:15pm
The Republican primary race for a newly created massive state Senate district sees a state representative in her first Senate race facing an opponent new to legislative races.
The winner will face the most seasoned veteran of the Legislature in the fall election.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, and Carl Mattson of Chester are the primary candidates in Senate District 14, which stretches from the Canadian border in Liberty and western Hill counties, including Havre, through Chouteau County to the northeastern edge of Cascade County, just outside of Great Falls.
Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Havre, is unopposed in the Democratic primary. He served almost 30 years in the Senate until 2002 after term limits were enacted. He then served two terms on the Public Service Commission until 2010 and came back to the Senate in 2013.
Hansen, a native of Peoria, Illinois, who was born in 1969, won her first term in the House in 2009 while serving as chief deputy Hill County attorney. A military veteran who served in Iraq last decade, Hansen now is in private practice as an attorney.
In her second term as a representative, Hansen chaired the House Education Committee and served on the House Taxation Committee and is on the interim joint Legislative Council and interim joint Education and Local Government Committee.
Mattson, a Chester native born in 1951, is a semi-retired Hi-Line farmer who farmed for 32 years and served on the Chester school board and numerous other boards, organizations and associations as well as working on the staff of the Montana Grain Growers Association as a conservation associate from 2005 to 2010 before going to work for the Montana Stockgrowers Association in 2010 to work on conservation and program development issues.
Select issues discussed
The Havre Daily News asked the candidates about themselves and their positions on some hot-ticket issues in the last two legislative sessions. Their answers follow.
Why should the voters vote for you?
Hansen said the time she spent in the Legislature makes her the best candidate for the position.
“I’ve spent the last two sessions learning and getting some experience and becoming knowledgeable on the issues that are important,” she said. “We are in an era that it appears is going to require some new ideas, new technologies, new systems, even, and I think I have put myself in a position to be ready to explore those things, maybe even offer some insight into those things.”
She said that, even if it is not apparent from the outside, she has developed good relationships with other legislators on both sides of the aisle. She can call Republicans and Democrats to ask their opinions and if they will work with her.
“Sometimes the answer is no, but when it’s yes it’s a very good thing,” she said, adding, “so, I think I work hard. I think you get your money’s worth for me, and I think I will do a good job.”
Mattson said his experience make him the best candidate.
“I think we have a very diverse Senate district, I mean, it’s huge … ,” he said. “I think my agricultural background, my business background, the years I spent on the school board give me a very diverse background to be the right guy for a very diverse district.”
He added that, with his work on both MGGA and the Stockgrowers, he knows many sides of agriculture.
“I feel very confident visiting with cowboys and farmers about what their needs are,” Mattson said.
Freedom of education
Hansen was a strong proponent last session, while chairing the House Education Committee, for providing more options and alternatives to students, including sponsoring a bill that would set up a state-funded savings account to help parents pay for other options.
She said that still is her goal — while the graduation rate is improving in the state, some students still don’t make it.
“We still have children, and we have had children and we probably always will have children, who don’t perform well in the public school system,” she said. “We need options for those kids. We need them to have the ability to go to school and be educated in a situation where they can thrive.”
She added that the comments that the schools would lose money is false — the bills would have kept funding for the schools the year the student leaves that district, although the student would not be counted for funding in future years.
Mattson said he is opposed to any cuts in public school funding,
“When you’re short on money to start with, I just don’t understand how we can responsibly do that,“ he said.
He added that people have options now — St. Jude Thaddeus School in Havre was one example, and people being able to go from Havre to North Star High School or from the North Star district to Havre High School is another, he said.
“People do have choice,” he said. “And I would like to see them exercise that choice before we pull money from public schools.”
Hansen also is an advocate for expanding charter schools in Montana.
Under Montana rules, a school district now can set up a charter school, which operates under a charter and could focus on particular area such as agriculture, arts or engineering. The school would operate under the same rules and the administration of the state Office of Public Instruction.
Hansen said expanding charter schools is an increase in choice she thinks everyone should be interested in. It allows more flexibility, which is something school administrators and board members regularly tell her they want, she said.
“Charter schools provides them that option they get to create a school, create a learning environment, based on the needs of their kids and the needs of their community,” she said.
The problem with the current system is that it is one page in the Administrative Rules of Montana, she said, while the proposed changes would provide the regulation.
“Fundamentally, you’ve got this one page thing saying … you can create a charter school,” she said. “It doesn’t tell them how to do that … it’s just this one page rule that says you can have one. “What the bill does is set out … an accountability framework.”
“… I think it’s just fear of the unknown, and because I’m so deeply involved in it I’m not afraid of it any more, whereas some people are still not so sure where this is headed.”
But Mattson said the opposite.
“That law has been in effect for quite some time,” he said. “I don’t favor any changes. I don’t mind if people want to start a charter school, but I just don’t want to pull any money out of an already short public school account.”
Infrastructure in the Bakken and elsewhere
Gov. Steve Bullock last session vetoed a bill to provide funding for infrastructure at the booming area of the Bakken, saying it overspent his goal to provide a $300 million reserve ending fund balance. He has proposed offering a special loan rate on the state revolving fund and selling $45 million in bonds to fund existing infrastructure improvements and improvements in the Bakken.
Hansen said the discussion needs to go further than the Bakken, and that she has problems with selling bonds when the state has money in the bank.
The state has many projects, including rehabilitating the St. Mary Diversion that provides much of the water in the Milk River each year, that the federal governments says it will fund but the money isn’t coming, Hansen said.
“We have to have a serious statewide discussion about what can we pay for ourselves,” she said.
As to the bonding, Hansen said the governor is asking for $45 million while the state has $350 million in a projected ending fund balance.
“With no explanation that I recall of what (Bullock) intended to do with the $350 million in the bank,” she said. “So, no I don’t agree that the state should go into debt for 45 million … I think 305 million in the bank would be perfectly adequate and the 45 million we can use to pay for the infrastructure.”
Mattson said he is not familiar enough with the bond issue to comment on it, but he wants to help reduce the strain in the Bakken.
“We’ve got oil money there, we have money being generated, there should be a way to get the social services and everything needed to keep it a civilized community,” he said. “There should be a way to keep it all to get help these folks out when things are growing faster than they can handle it.
“I’m not for just throwing money at it,” Mattson added. “I’m for really looking at it and being very cautious of what we do, but I’m certainly for being there.”
The ending-fund balance
Hansen said maintaining that $300 million ending fund balance isn’t one of her biggest concerns. The ending fund balance previously was usually in the $160 million to $180 million, range, she said.
“I don’t recall that we’ve had many or any times we busted that fund,” she said. “So, again, without Bullock giving an explanation for why we needed the 120 million to 150 million addition in the bank, I don’t know that I’ve seen a good reason for it. Unless were going to use it for infrastructure.”
Mattson said he is not sure, without more experience, if he could support Bullock’s reserve fund goal, although keeping a reserve is a good idea.
“Things always do come up,” he said. “I know we had some things that, toward the end of the session, there were lots of vetoes. I think some of that money probably could have been spent. I don’t know.”
Bonding for state buildings
The 2011 Legislature voted down Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s proposed bonding bill to pay for state building construction, citing concern that revenue would be less than predicted. The 2013 Legislature voted down Bullock’s bonding bill, voting to pay in cash instead because the revenue actually was higher than predicted.
Hansen, who lobbied hard in 2011 to bond for the new auto-diesel building scheduled to be built at Montana State University-Northern, said she does not oppose selling bonds to fund projects, but not when the state actually has cash on hand.
“I would support a bonding measure in a time of a down turn, in a time we don’t have the cash. I don’t think bonding is inherently bad … ,” she said. “But I don’t think there’s a need for it in times when we can actually pay cash.”
Mattson said he is not familiar enough with the bonding bills to comment on that, but that he supports helping the education system.
“I’m a product of and a proponent for our public education system, and that includes our Montana University System,” he said. “Any way we can support it in a financially responsible way, I’m interested in being a part of.”
He said he needs to learn more about how the system works, but, “I tell you what, education is one of the important things to me.”
Towns and rural areas of Montana depend on their schools, which is a major part of the economy, he said.
“I’m all for whatever we can do to give our economy a boost and support our public education, but it has to be fiscally responsible,” he said.