Gianforte stumps in Havre
Last updated 5/4/2017 at 11:54am
Republican Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte threw several jabs at his Democratic rival and talked about President Donald Trump's proposed budget and other issues at a campaign event in the Vineyard Room of Havre's Duck Inn Wednesday.
Gianforte, a retired Bozeman entrepreneur and the unsuccessful Republican candidate in last year's gubernatorial race is running for Montana's lone seat in the U.S House of Representatives. The seat has been vacant since March when Ryan Zinke resigned after being confirmed by the Senate to be secretary of the Department of the Interior.
Gianforte faces musician-turned-Democratic candidate Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks in the May 25 special election.
Gianforte told the audience that the election is critically important because Montana needs an effective voice in the U.S House of Representatives.
"There could not be a clearer difference between myself and my opponent," he said about Quist.
Gianforte said his stances differ with Quist on defense spending, which he said Quist would like to cut. He also criticized Quist for supporting a national gun registry, a common line of attack lobbed against Quist by Gianforte and Republicans.
"I've been very clear on a gun registry: registration is the first step to confiscation and it won't happen on my watch," he said.
Quist was hit for the support he has received from celebrities, particularly a donation from actress and gun control advocate Rosie O'Donnell.
"Who wants Rosie O'Donnell to come to Montana and tell us how to live our lives?" Gianforte asked. "How about all of her friends from Hollywood coming up here and telling us how to live our lives?"
He said Quist's campaign has been receiving money from out-of-state donors, particularly from New York and San Francisco.
Gianforte refuted claims by the Quist campaign made in ads that say he has had 22 liens on property for not paying taxes.
Gianforte said the liens were against RightNow Technologies, a software company he founded in Bozeman and then sold to Oracle and any tax discrepancies came after he sold the company. He then alluded to tax liens filed against Quist that have dogged the Democrat's campaign.
"I've said to people, I am in favor of lower taxes, people should be able to keep their own money, but I do think we should pay our taxes - that's the big difference between me and him," he said.
An Emerson College poll last month showed Gianforte beating Quist 52-38 percent with Wicks receiving 5 percent and another 7 percent undecided.
Though he is in the lead, Gianforte said polling shows liberal-leaning voters are more motivated. He said recent polling shows close to 80 percent of liberal-leaning voters know the special election will take place May 25, compared to close to 50 percent of conservatives.
Before the event, Gianforte said he disagrees with parts of the budget President Donald Trump proposed in March, specifically a proposal that would end funding for Essential Air Services.
In his proposed budget released in March, Trump eliminating Essential Air Service, a 40-year old program under the Department of Transportation that subsidizes commercial airlines serving small airports. Airports in Montana served by the program include the Havre City-County Airport which has one daily commercial flight to Billings.
Gianforte said small airports served by Essential Air are "the backbone of rural America."
He added that he also disagrees with another part of the president's budget that would cut $330 million used to clean up Superfund sites where hazardous materials have been spilled. The program's website lists eight such sites in Montana.
"I believe we need to bring fiscal discipline to Washington because we have been spending like drunken sailors, but when there are issues that arise where it is doing the right thing for Montana or supporting the president I am always going to be on Montana's side," Gianforte said before the campaign event.
The U.S faces a $20 trillion federal deficit and there is no practical way to "cut our way to a balanced budget," Gianforte said. He said the only way to eliminate the debt and balance the budget is to grow the economy.
"What we need is a vibrant private sector that is growing so that tax revenues actually go up albeit potentially at lower tax rates," Gianforte said.
As someone who has started five different businesses, including Rightnow Technologies, Gianforte said, he knows the impediments entrepreneurs face.
Gianforte said Trump's proposal for tax reform was little more than a one-page outline, but he added that the tax code is too complex and needs to be simplified. He said the idea of making the income tax flatter by having fewer brackets, doing away with deductions and lowering rates is something he agrees with,
The specific number, however, will be worked out in discussions between members of Congress, he said.
Gianforte said he supports repealing and replacing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. House Republicans proposed American Health Care Act, a bill that would do just that in March. The bill, however, ultimately did not come up for a vote because of divisions within the Republican conference.
Gianforte said he opposed the bill because it did not lower premiums. He said any Obamacare replacement should lower premiums and preserve coverage for people with pre-existing conditions as well as rural access.
GOP leaders said they expect today to pass a health reform bill in the U.S. House.