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State, federal candidates stump in Chinook


October 22, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Conan Cuts the Rope, from left, Taeshon Schaeffer, Democratic U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams, Montana Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., stand during a blessing Sunday during the Blaine County Democratic Party spaghetti fundraising dinner in Wallner Hall in Chinook.

Democrats U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams, Clerk of Montana Supreme Court candidate Rex Renk and Public Service Commission candidate Doug Kaercher spoke Sunday to a crowd of more than 120 people at the Blaine County Democrats Spaghetti Dinner.

Tester is facing Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale and Libertarian Rick Breckenridge in his bid for re-election; Williams is challenging U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., in his bid for re-election; Renk faces Libertarian Roger Roots of Livingtson and Republican Bowen Greenwood of Helena, and Kaercher is facing Sun River Republican candidate Randy Pinocci in November’s general election.

Williams and Tester during the dinner received gifts from Fort Belknap Indian Reservation Aaniiih Nakoda tribal elder Gerald Stiffarm during the dinner, with Conan Cuts the Rope and Taeshon Schaeffer in full regalia presenting the gifts.

After the gifts were presented Cuts the Rope and Schaeffer danced as John Stiffarm and Sid Goes Ahead played the drums and sang.


State Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, who is facing off against Libertarian Conor Burns and independent candidate Bob Sivertsen, both of Havre, in his bid for re-election, introduced Williams at the dinner.

Bachmeier said there are 16 days before the election and it is important that everybody gets out and works to get their candidates elected. He added that Williams, a three-term state legislator, has developed the reputation of a non-partisan, no-nonsense worker who has delivered by creating jobs, providing health care and protecting public lands for the state of Montana.

He said health care is one of many people’s top priorities and it is important that the state sends someone to Washington, D.C., who represents Montana’s values.

“Thank you for tonight’s celebration, what a wonderful gathering, what a wonderful celebration of culture, of family, of commitment to the future,” Williams said in her opening remarks.

Williams said she is not tired of campaigning and it has been an honor to travel the state that she has worked to serve for 24 years.

“It’s incredible,” Williams said.

She said she is absolutely committed to rural Montana and to Native country and she is excited for the chance to serve those communities in U.S. Congress.

Drawing from her own experience — her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s before dying — she knows what effects a health care crisis can have on a family, Williams said. She said she has worked for more accessible, more affordable, health care for years while in the Montana Legislature and she can take that experience with her to the U.S. Congress.

She added that, if elected, there are many other issues she wants to look at in Congress.

“We are talking about fostering opportunity,” Williams said. “Whether it’s for public education or rewarding careers with good pay and good benefits, or secure and dignified retirements, protecting Social Security and Medicare.”

“All those things that help us live the American Dream, the Montana Dream, whether it’s removing barriers or just providing a little bit of a floor to help people get ahead,” Williams said.

She added that she has also spent her career for 35 years looking for “win, win, win” solutions to protecting Montana’s outdoor heritage.

The issue might be polarized, she said, but if people work together there can be a solution.

If elected, Williams added, she wants to help the St. Mary Diversion of the Milk River Project get more federal funding to repair and enhance the system. She said she has been a part of the discussions about this project since 2002, and she understands the business of water and would be an ally in Congress — a Congress, she added, that is in desperate need of a return to dignity, integrity and honesty.

“Congress is so close to broken that it’s terrifying,” Williams said. “It’s really terrifying that we have an institution that is so non-functional because of hyperpartisanship, divisiveness, inexperience, inability to get anything done and really only considering what seems like is prohibiting whichever party from being in power the next time around. That is not the way to run a business, it’s not the way to run a government, it’s not the way that Montanans operate.”

She said she never thought she would be talking about export markets and tariffs damaging agricultural markets that Montanans have worked for generations to build overseas. She added someone in Congress should have stood up and talked about the importance of these markets and how once market shares are lost it is very difficult to get them back.

She said the way she won in the primary was that she was able to align support from progressives, independents and moderate Republicans.

“This state went 20 points for Trump but elected (Gov.) Steve Bullock at the same time,” she said, “that’s the coalition that all of you need to help us with.”


Democratic candidate for Montana Senate District 14 Paul Tuss of Havre, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Russ Tempel, R-Chester, in his re-election bid, introduced Tester, the keynote speaker for the event.  

He said he doesn’t need to do a long introduction for a man that everyone knows so well.

“But this is a man who has absolutely committed his life to public service,” Tuss said, “and not in any superficial way, but public service is in his marrow. It’s in his DNA.”

Tester has a long history of serving Montanans, Tuss said, adding that everyone has a lot of work to do in the next 16 days before the election to get Tester re-elected.

“Our state would be significantly less if Jon Tester was not re-elected,” Tuss said. “The United States of America would be significantly less if Jon Tester was not in the United States Senate.”

Tester said this is a big election. One of the biggest issues facing rural communities, such as the small communities on the Hi-Line, is health care, Tester said, adding that Washington, D.C., needs to do bipartisan work to assure these rural communities maintain their health care providers and figuring out ways to move forward that lowers the cost of health care, whether it be health insurance or the actual delivery of health care.

He said that last year, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chair Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and the committee worked with different groups and government officials to come up with ideas to drive down health care rates. Tester said it was a bipartisan effort with people coming from across the isle to address a serious issue and work to resolve the problem, but “all of a sudden somebody pulled the plug.”

“It is my belief the plug was pulled because folks look at this in Washington, D.C., from a perspective of politics and how do we make it the biggest political gain out of this,” Tester said, “when in fact the folks that are suffering are the folks that are on the ground.”

He said his family has been in rural Montana for generations, watching the communities being built, and he understands the importance of hospitals in rural communities. He added the possibility of losing these hospitals in these communities would be devastating.

Tester said everyone needs to work in a bipartisan way and the best way to start is to lead by example.

“The truth is Montana was built by people working together,” he said. “ … It’s that same sort of work-together attitude that has to start impacting Washington, D.C.”

It is important that someone is in Congress who represents rural American Tester said, adding that there are many differences between himself and his opponent, but he doesn’t say he is something that he is not. He is in Congress for Montanans, he said.

“If you want somebody that understands Montana, the choice should be obvious,” Tester said.


Event Master of Ceremony and Montana Department of Transportation Commissioner Greg Jergeson introduced Kaercher.

Jergeson, a long-time state senator and former chair of the PSC, said the race is important to him. He added that although the PSC is held by one party — entirely by Republicans — it is highly dysfunctional and more partisan than it has ever been.

Nobody can agree on the issues, Jergeson said, but there is a chance with Kaercher for that to change.

Kaercher said he is running for the PSC because the PSC needs some balance. It is adversarial to the industries and, as a certified mediator, he can work to change that, he said.

He added that he wants to broaden Montana’s energy portfolio. Coal is important to Montana, Kaercher said, but coal’s future is uncertain as a long-term energy source. The current PSC does not support utilizing renewable resources for energy, he said, and they have done a poor job of making sure renewables are in the state’s energy profile.

The state does not have a replacement for the base power resource that coal provides, Kaercher said, but the technology is coming along very quickly for renewable energy and it is important to invest and prepare for the future.

Building a secure portfolio helps create safe, affordable energy for the future, he said.

He said he has a unique expertise and background and he wants to make sure everyone’s voices are heard by the commission.

“I want to make sure that we keep consumers first,” Kaercher said, “but we always make sure that Montana is there.”


Former Blaine County Clerk of Court Kay Johnson introduced Renk at the dinner.

She said she could say a lot of great things about Renk but the most important thing to know is that he has always been a hard worker. Renk, who is the deputy clerk of the Supreme Court, and the entire staff in the Montana Supreme Court are always there to help, Johnson said.

“They are so efficient, they are so effective,” she added. “He never ceased to amaze me. He’s the right person for the job.”

Renk said he has been all over the state running for this office, an office that doesn’t get a lot of press coverage but is still vitally important. This is the sort of job that is a direct service job and is a bipartisan position, he said.

He added that this coming election is extremely important and he has enjoyed traveling the state with “the leadership of Jon Tester, the incredible passion of Kathleen Williams” on the campaign trail.

Renk said he has spent his entire career trying to help people get their cases heard before the state Supreme Court. In his 24 years in the office, 23 of those years were as the deputy clerk, Renk said. He added that he has been in the forefront of everything that they have done to protect access to court records during that time.

He said he has received bipartisan support from more than 40 clerks of district courts across the state, he has also received a variety of endorsements from past and present justices of the Montana Supreme Court, and support from former U.S. Clerk of the Supreme Court William Suter.

One of the reasons that he has this support, he said, is that the experience people have with the clerk’s office is positive. He added that the clerk’s office is what people interact with when they have an issue that they want to bring to the state Supreme Court.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Democratic U.S. House of Representatives candidate Kathleen Williams talks Sunday during a Blaine County Democratic Central Committee fundraiser in Chinook.

“I think it’s really important that if people come to the Supreme Court they are treated fairly and with respect,” Renk said. “And they know that they are getting at least some assistance, not legal advice, but some assistance. The impression that they take away from that branch of government and their experience is going to be a positive one. … In this day and age I think that is important and not only for our state but our society, too, because it builds faith in our institutions.”

Given the political climate, Renk said, he remembers a quote from Rep. Sam Rayburn, D-Texas.

“‘Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one,’’’ Renk said, adding that Kaercher, Tester, Williams and himself are carpenters.  

“We have such wonderful candidates, all of us, our values are important because we know we need one another,” Renk said.

He added that carpenters build form the ground up, and what they were all doing at the dinner that night was building a grassroots campaign to serve.

“It’s enough to serve,” Renk said.


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