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Virtual debates set for governor, Democratic U.S. House and attorney general races


April 23, 2020

Havre Daily News staff

Agricultural organizations and a Democratic organization are sidestepping the COVID-19 and offering some debates in the Montana governor’s race and the Democratic primaries for Montana attorney general and the U.S. House of Representatives races.

Montana Farmers Union, Northern Plains Resource Council, Montana Cattlemen Association and the United States Cattlemen Association are holding debates between gubernatorial candidates that will be aired starting at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Gallatin County Democrats have scheduled debates on Zoom that also will be live streamed on its Facebook page for the Democratic U.S. House primary Friday and for the Democratic Montana attorney general candidates a week from Friday, May 1.

A press release said governor candidates will have the opportunity to state their positions on rural and agriculture issues by virtual primary debate Saturday.

Cowles Media Television Network and Northern News Radio Network will air the debates statewide beginning at 7 p.m. All candidates have been invited.

Democratic party candidates Whitney Williams and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Republican candidates Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski MD, R-Kalispell, have confirmed.

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., had not confirmed he would attend as of this morning.

“We are hoping Greg Gianforte will confirm soon to participate in this important discussion on rural and agriculture issues,” the sponsoring organizations said in the release.

“We look forward to hearing the candidates’ positions on rural and agriculture issues,” Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer said. “Montana farmers and ranchers are facing some real challenges. Price gouging by multinational meat packers, plunging cattle prices and a loss of markets for all agricultural commodities are just some of the challenges. We need real solutions to help our family farmers and ranchers survive. “

“Agriculture has always been the backbone of Montana’s economy, but our independent producers have been under threat for far too long, “said Jeanie Alderson, a Birney rancher and chair of Northern Plains Resource Council. “Family ranchers have been struggling for decades, and the current pandemic has only made an existing crisis that much worse. We hope to hear how office-seekers will stand up for Montana’s independent ag producers with meaningful actions to encourage and enforce fair market competition. The future of our rural economies is at stake, and we need courage from our prospective leaders.”   

“For the past five years, Montana’s cattle ranchers have silently suffered through a depression in cattle prices, the result of an increasingly non-competitive dysfunctional market for cattle,” said Gilles Stockton of Montana Cattlemen Association. “Just since 2015, two and a half billion dollars have been extracted ranch families and from the Montana economy as whole. The coronavirus pandemic has caused cattle prices to crash to even new lows. Too many of Montana’s politicians are seemingly oblivious to the economic struggle faced by rural communities.  This coming debate will give voters an idea about which candidates know and care about rural Montana and which do not.”    

Candidates for governor issued the following statements regarding the debate:

“I’m delighted to take part in the Farmers Union debate so Montanans can hear our positions on bringing bold, new leadership to Helena,” Williams said. “Our farm and ranch economy are key to Montana’s future — from our Main Streets all the way to Wall Street. As a businessperson, I look forward to discussing policies, Buzz and I will take to Helena to ensure a strong and vibrant ag economy.  This pandemic has presented new challenges, and we’ll talk about how we will guide Montana through this health and economic crisis.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with farmers, ranchers and rural communities all across the state for many years during my time in public office here in Montana,” Cooney said. “I’m looking forward to having a robust debate about the current challenges and opportunities we’re facing and how as governor I will be a committed partner in addressing these issues.”

“I’m disappointed that Greg Gianforte is yet again ducking the debate stage,” Fox said. “He would rather try and buy the election than discuss his ideas with voters. Montanans deserve to hear candidates’ vision for our state’s future; how they plan to address our greatest challenges. That’s why I look forward to joining Dr. Al on the debate stage, and hope voters will hold Greg Gianforte accountable on Election Day for his unwillingness to speak to voters about his plan for the future.”  

“I’m excited to share my story and my vision to promote and protect Montana’s number one economy,” Olszewski said.

The debates will air live on:

• Great Falls:  ABC, FOX and SWX

• Helena: ABC, FOX and SWX (SWX has same signal as Great Falls

• Bozeman/Butte: ABC, FOX and SWX

• Missoula/Kalispell: ABC, FOX and SWX

• Billings:   SWX

Northern News Network will air the debates on is KGHL AM790, 94.7FM and network affiliates.

The Gallatin County Democrats Zoom events also will be live streamed as a Gallatin County Democrats Facebook event.

The Zoom links to both events will be available at the Gallatin County Democrats Facebook page.

Friday, House candidates former state Rep. Kathleen Williams of Bozeman and state Rep. Tom Winters of Missoula will debate starting at 7 p.m.

And a week from Friday, May 1, attorney general candidates state Rep. Kimberly Dudik of Missoula and Raph Graybill, the legal counsel to the governor, will debate starting at 7 p.m.

Retired Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Wheat will moderate both debates.

Both debates will be posted to the Gallatin County Democrats website at https://gallatindemocrats.com .


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