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Mass of candidates face off in GOP U.S. House primary


Last updated 5/13/2020 at 12:29pm

Joe Dooling

The most competitive race in Montana this election cycle is in the Republican primary to advance a candidate to November to try to take the seat in the U.S. House being vacated by U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, with six candidates in the race.

Gianforte ran in the special election to take the seat when it was vacated by Whitefish Republican Ryan Zinke when he was appointed secretary of the interior.

Gianforte also won the election in 2018 to retain the seat, but announced last year he was again running for Montana governor instead of running for the House.

Gianforte won the Republican primary for governor in 2016, but lost in the general election to Steve Bullock.

After Gianforte announced he was running for governor, the Republican ticket for the House seat filled quickly, including Montana Secretary of State Cory Stapleton and Auditor Matt Rosendale filing in the House race instead of running for re-election to their state offices almost immediately after Gianforte's announcement.

Lewis and Clark County Republican Central Committee Chair Joe Dooling, Butte electrician John Evankovich, Debra Lamm, both a former Montana Republican Party chair and former Republican state representative from Livingston, and National Guard veteran and Montana Youth Challenge counselor Mark McGinley of Dillon also have filed in the race.

Joe Dooling

Age 44

Resident of Helena

Education: BS, agribusiness, ag economics minor, Montana State University, 1998

Rancher and farmer, president of water, infrastructure funding and advocacy company Yellowstone Strategies

Chair of the Lewis and Clark County Republican Central Committee; served on Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds Board; served on Montana Stockgrowers Association Foundation Association Board; appointed to Farm Service Agency Committee by President Donald Trump, resigned to enter congressional race.

Dooling said he wants to go to Washington and build some tenure in Montana's U.S. House seat.

"This will be our fifth congressmen that we have sent in the last 10 years, and Montana has lots of wants, needs and wishes from the federal government, and we can't do that having a freshman in a body that's based on leadership and seniority," Dooling said. "And so, I have no desire to be the governor, I have no desire to be a senator, my only desire is to be the congressman, and so that was one of the biggest reasons why I ran. The second one was because of the pending ag crisis. I was the (President Donald) Trump-appointed member of the state and farm service agency."

"... I know Congress is going to have to sort through this farm crisis and I think somebody who understands production ag needs to be at the table," he added. "Last, and most and then most importantly, I think somebody that has to understand Montana needs to represent Montana, and I looked at the candidates that's running and I didn't feel as if those folks really understand Montana, so that's why I'm running."

He said he is the best candidate because he is exactly what the forefathers wanted. They wanted somebody to step away from their life, their businesses and so on to go back and serve for a period of time and then go back and live in the laws they had passed.

The House of Representatives is called the People's House for a reason, he said, adding that it's supposed to be the closest to the people, and it is very important that it truly is closest to the people.

He wants that job, he said, and not another job.

"We need someone who actually wants to do the job," Dooling said.

He said he thinks the federal government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well on a yes-and-no scale.

He has been concerned about the inflationary spending that the government has gotten into, he said, adding that he wishes Trump would have worked with the nation's foreign friends around the world and suspended trading in stock markets and commodities for 30 days, so that the nation didn't have a panic and a pandemic at the same time.

"When we saw oil go into minus $45 a barrel, that's due to panic-driven scenarios, and that doesn't do anybody any good, and so we needed to bring in stability - so I'm always cautious when Congress just passes bills that cost $3 trillion, and they passed them in a week, then there's a lot of unintended consequences with it," he said. "This bill has got a lot of problems with it and so I wish they would've taken a break and did it right and actually addressed the folks that are in trouble and not just stress everybody."

He said the relief the government gave to business owners that had to shut down was the right message.

The relief has also driven the federal deficit and debt, and he said, the House needs to get in order and understand what that debt is.

That debt isn't just debt to Americans in terms of Americans have bought bonds, Dooling said, all that debt is inflationary spending - what they did was increase the money supply and bought their own bonds back.

"That is the most dangerous inflationary type activity that countries can do," he added

He said there is suspected an 18 percent to 24 percent increase of goods just due to inflationary spending.

If someone has fixed assets, this is going to be trouble for them, he added.

"I think, in my mind, when you think of this congressional seat and you think of the folks that have lived, who have served over the last years I think of myself as a Ron Marlenee, Denny Rehberg-type congressman where we fight for the projects in Montana," Dooling said. "... We live in Havre, we live in Dillon, so that people can live in New York City and so we need a congressmen who actually wants to advocate for projects not advocate for their own personal agenda."

John Evankovich

Born in 1971, Butte

B.S., business, from Montana State University; journeyman and master electrician and journeyman, served apprenticeship in the Montana J.A.T.C.

Industrial oilfield electrician in the Bakken, part owner-operator of Cats Paw Card Room - live poker game that employed 15 dealers until the COVID-19 pandemic, when he sold out to his partners.

Evankovich said he wants to bring some stability to Montana's seat in the U.S. House.

"(I am running) because when our current congressman got re-elected and then decided eight months later he no longer wanted the position - I knew that he was running for the governor's position - I am a Republican conservative, I knew we had two very qualified individuals running for that position, I knew how bad he was jeopardizing the opportunity of losing that lone seat (in Congress) because I ... I was trying to help one of the people get elected as our U.S. senator in 2018 election they lost in the primary," Evankovich said. "I knew who our frontrunner was going to be and I know he does not represent Montana, I know he doesn't represent any of our values. ... I am born and raised, union-trained electrician from Butte, Montana, that can no longer affiliate with the Democratic party and I quite honestly believe skilled labor doesn't really have anyone representing them right now.

"I believe there could be a good marriage between the Republican party and skilled labor and I saw an opportunity, and so I decided to take it, try to cause some trouble and make a difference," he added.

He said the fact he is not a politician is his strongest point.

His platform, he said, is basic and simple - Montana needs jobs.

He said Montana has a lot of diversity in this state and people are being torn apart by the extremes on both sides.

"We need some kind of moderation that's going on and I truly believe that's what I am, I believe I'm a moderate conservative," Evankovich said. "I'd like to believe I'm constitutionalist that thinks he's an Eisenhower moderate and sadly, right now we're showing that we can't get a moderate elected, and so I just wanted to come out here and show people that maybe we oughta really start looking at that from someone who isn't a politician."

Health care is a broken system, he said, adding that he is currently working with an organization called Madison's Mission for type 1 diabetics.

"Any politician that sits there and tells you they have the absolute answer for health care they're just being a typical politician, they are lying to you to get you a vote," he said. "It's going to take a long process and whether or not I get elected I'm still going to work with Madison's Mission to try to figure out some kind of health care for type-1 diabetics, and we do that we're going to have a template I believe for health care reform."

As a conservative, he said, he has huge stance on the Second Amendment and people should not have those rights infringed upon.

"It's absolutely unconstitutional to bring up these gun control laws," Evankovich said. 

He said he also wants term limits in Congress, his biggest single issue.

The biggest problem in the country is that the nation, he said, that there are lifelong politicians in Congress and they are bought and paid for - they are not representing people anymore.

He said he doesn't think the federal government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well.

"There is just so much misinformation that is going on," he said. " ... There is something going on here, why all of the sudden did we have this crazy thing that happened to this country? How much worse was this than H1N1? How much worse was than severe acute respiratory syndrome - SARS? Why did this get so overplayed?"

Evankovich said he lost his job because of COVID-19.

He said he made a statement when the pandemic started about what the government should do.

"I said, 'why don't we go back and look at every taxpayer from 2019, every legal citizen, every taxpayer and every person over the age of 65 and cut them a check for $10,000 - it would've cost us less than that Phase 1 $2.3 trillion did," he added. "... There's too much government control right now. Our government has gotten so big and so out of hand and you seen this democratic-socialism taking place, and in my opinion you are starting to see a tyrannical government and something needs to put a stop to it."

Debra Lamm

Resident of Livingston

B.S., biological sciences and secondary education; Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in finance and management; Juris Doctorate - schools not listed

Private sector experience in health care own small businesses in healthcare consulting for assisted living and nursing home facilities, and health and wellness; general law practice including pro bono work as guardian ad litem for children; conducted GAL and spousal abuse training for other attorneys

State representative, 2015-17, vice-chaired Education Committee

Former chair, Montana Republican Party; worked for Montana Family Foundation, a founder of Montanans for School Choice and Montanans Against Common Core; organized pro-life group intsrumental in shutting down Livingston clinic that provided abortions

Married to Joe

Lamm said she is running because she thinks the country is at a crucial crossroads.

"I'm running because freedom is worth fighting for. It's about life itself," Lamm said. "I feel that we are facing a future that's either going to be defined as socialism or American exceptionalism."

She said she thinks she is the best Republican candidate to go head-to-head with the likely Democrat candidate because it eliminates the gender issue from the ballot.

Voters would have an opportunity to focus strictly on the issues and policy differences, she said.

She added that she has the best broad-based background in both the private sector and public service.

"I've been in the health care environment, education, been an advocate for children and family issues, I've had my own small businesses and worked in large businesses," Lamm said. "Also, my education background is broad and really focuses on problem solving and really getting to the root of problems.

Her undergraduate is in biological sciences and secondary education, she has an MBA in finance and management and then has a law degree, she said.

"All those skills together really enabled me to be an organizational troubleshooter, look at ways to solve problems and just kind of bring people together from different arenas and look at things differently," she added.

  She said she thinks that the federal government has done extremely well in light of the circumstances the nation was dealt in handling COVID-19.

She thinks that it is important that the government gets to the bottom of it, so they understand what they're dealing with, she said.

"I think the response from both the government and our citizens has been remarkable," Lamm said. "I think it's definitely time to get back to work. I'm concerned about states like ours that saw very little impact from this disease itself and the devastation to our economy, so separating federal from state is two different things because the president recognizes that the states are run by governors and they have the say in how to run the state. I would just encourage our state to get back to work."

She said she was addressing the federal deficit and debt that could be impacted by the COVID-19 relief early on in her campaign.

The policies she sees the president encouraging, she said, should go a long way in the recovery, and once the economy recovers she believes the nation will go back to where it was in terms of growing the economy and business functioning again.

She added that she thinks the nation is going to see a lot of new business spring up and new opportunities for people, specifically entrepreneurs.

Long-term and prior to this, she said, things that she would be looking at is evaluating spending, not taking on new spending and making sure that the government is not compounding the debt by new regulations and giving too much authority to regulatory bodies.

"I'm not a career politician. I have served in the Legislature and I was the chairwoman up at the Montana State Republican Party, but I have come from a citizen activist perspective and a problem solver," Lamm said. "So, when I see something that is a major issue like for our state or even in the country I just start tackling it and have formed coalitions around those issues to do that problem solving. I would take those same skills along with my background to Washington, D.C., because there are a lot of areas that we are going to have to work on.

"One of the things I would challenge the other candidates is, how are they actually going to get the power back out of Washington and back to the states where it belongs?" she asked. "I've made a commitment to the regulation freedom amendment which basically allows the states to put pressure on Congress to stop giving regulatory authority to unelected bureaucrats, because that's where the problems are, and it takes the states to come forward and force Congress to stop taking all the power and return it to the states."

Mark J. McGinley

Age 56

Bachelor of Arts, Carroll College, 1988

U.S. Army National Guard, retired as lieutenant colonel after 30 years of service

Public school teacher in Townsend, suicide prevention program manager for Montana National Guard, prison ministry in Deer Lodge, lead admissions counselor for Montana Youth Challenge,

Member of Townsend Public Schools Board of Trustees

McGinley said he thinks his experience is something that will help him if elected to Congress.

"(I am running because) it's something I've always wanted to do, but my choice is because I really, truly believe I am the best-qualified candidate at this current time. I don't say that to disparage my opponents in any way," McGinley said. "I just think when you consider the depth and breadth of my resume over the course of my lifetime, I'm the best qualified to represent Montana."

He said he is the best-qualified because he has grown up in Montana, lived his life here, attended Montana public schools, went to college in Montana, worked as a public schools teacher, served on a school board, served as a military officer, and so on.

In the military, he said, he was the suicide prevention manager and during the last four years of his career in the military he did suicide intervention training.

"When you take all those of things kind of rolled up together I just think I'm the best-qualified and I think Montana, because we have only one representative in Congress, it's important that they pick somebody who can represent all of Montana, and I just think I'm that person," McGinley said.

He said he thinks the federal government has acted out of fear in handling COVID-19.

He added that he won't cast criticism at President Donald Trump or Gov. Steve Bullock; he thinks that the leaders have done the best they knew to do with the information they had.

"Looking back on it, we've made a lot of very drastic decisions based on limited information and sometimes probably inaccurate information and overreacted," he said. "... If you are just going to treat everybody the same, Havre, Montana, is going to be treated exactly the same as New York City you dilute your resources and your ability to affect, so that's a measured response and I don't think we did that, but that's 20-20 hindsight also, and so I think we have to learn from that."

He said he is not going to Congress to fight. He is a conservative, which is why he is running as a Republican, but is not a highly partisan person and one has to find middle ground with most issues, including the coronavirus.

"I think that's part of the problem was we all  'who gets the blame, who gets the credit?'" McGinley said. "If it's about that you are having the wrong conversation."

He thinks the federal government has made some mistakes in how they have responded - the nation needs to re-open - but doesn't think they were intentional, deliberate or malicious mistakes, he said.

He said one of his most serious concerns is that COVID-19 relief has driven up the federal deficit and debt.

"People think that federal debt or government debt is just public debt it doesn't matter, well, no, debt is debt, it's no different than your personal credit cards or my personal credit cards that is a debt that has to be repaid - when you have $3 trillion in the federal deficit that is going to be paid off by your children, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren," he added. "That's a serious issue."

"... This is a bipartisan problem it has to a bipartisan solution. Both parties are guilty for driving up federal debt, both parties have to be responsible," he said.

He said his priorities are going to Congress and limiting the size and scope of the federal government, and returning the power back to the people, which he says is required by the 10th amendment.

He has a background in education, he said, adding that he is passionate about that and thinks education is the way through every storm.

"If we would reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy in education, return those powers and that money to where it belongs, to the state and local level - you could hire additional teachers, you could build new schools, you could update your infrastructure - the whole COVID thing has driven home a whole issue with the broadband access, the internet access," McGinley said.

"... I'm a very conservative person, I believe in limited government very much, I believe in private solutions rather than government solutions, and by doing that I mean if you can limit the size of government you limit the number of taxes you have to pay as well and people are able to keep their money in their pocket and spend it how they choose," he added.

Matt Rosendale

Born in Baltimore, Md., 1960

Educated at Queen Anne's County High School

State representative 2011-13, state senator 2013-17, Senate majority leader 2015; state auditor 2017 to present

Married to Jean, three children

Rosendale said he wants to continue the work he has done in the Auditor's Office on a national level.

"There is a lot of things that need to be addressed and I want to work on continuing my work to reduce the cost of health care and expand access to quality health care for the people across the state, and I think we can just spread it across the nation," Rosendale said. "I want to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors and for the many, many people that depend on those drugs every day for their lives."

He said he wants to expand access to the public lands and manage the resources on those lands in a better fashion.

He said he really wants to make sure that veterans receive benefits that they deserve, that they were promised because they fulfilled their promises to the people across the nation.

"(I am the best candidate) because I don't have to speak in theoreticals," Rosendale said. "I can point to the work I've already done and demonstrate very clearly that the kind of things I want to do going forward is the exact same types of things that I've already done in my past position."

He said he is able to point to the work he has done such as health care reforms for the state and reduce the premiums by 15 percent on the individual market, and that is a direct result of legislation that he was able to get passed.

He was able to get legislation passed to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and the analysis showed that it would have reduced the cost of prescription drugs in Montana from $7 and a half to $8 million a year, he said, adding that Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed that bill.

Rosendale said he also helped negotiate the largest purchase of land for public use in the Montana Land Board's history, an approximately 15,000 acre property in Rosebud County.

He said the land board has been able to expand access to a total of 45,000 acres across the state that previously people of Montana did not have access to.

"The other thing that we have got to do is get our arms around spending, and the spending at Washington, D.C., is completely and totally out of control," he said. "There is no fiscal discipline whatsoever and again instead of just talking about it, I've heard people at the county level, at the state level and the federal level talking about reducing spending, but I have not seen that anybody really has the ability to do so, and again, I've demonstrated. I've reduced operating expenses in my office by 23 percent and turned back like a million dollars to the state's budget just in the 2019 session alone."

He said the the increase in the federal deficit and debt due to COVID-19 needs to be addressed in looking at ways to reduce spending.

If the money was going to be sent down, it should've been sent down in a fashion that it was going to help the people that directly suffered from the COVID-19 shutdowns, he added.

Rosendale said the first piece of legislation that he would introduce would be the Truth in Legislation Act, which says that "you have a single subject on a bill title and you cannot amend other things into it that won't fit within that bill title." 

He said if the federal government really wanted to do something that was effective, going to help the businesses and bring them back to a whole position again, they could fill that gap for the people who had business interruption insurance and send the money directly to the businesses, not directed through the insurance companies.

"When folks are looking at candidates and trying who to support and instead of trying to go with someone that they have to hope would do what they would do they can look at Matt Rosendale and see what he's already done," he said. "Basically, to borrow a phrase from the president, it is simply, 'promises made, promises kept,' and, speaking of the president, it's awful nice to know that I do have the president's endorsement along with many others.

"... He's got my back and I've got his ear and that's really beneficial to whether we are talking about trade agreements for our farmers and ranchers or whether we are talking about improving our highway system and how critical it is because our state is so large - it is really good to know that your congressman would have that type of a relationship with the president," Rosendale added. 

Corey Stapleton

Born 1967 in Seattle

Graduated from Great Falls High School, 1986

B.S., engineering, U.S. Naval Academy, 1992; M.A., political science, Temple University, 1995; M.S., financial services, The American College, 2015

U.S. Navy, 1986-1997,

Naval officer, financial advisor

State senator, 2001-09, Montana secretary of state, 2017-present

Married to Terry, four children

Stapleton said he thinks he can represent the diversity of Montana in Washington, D.C.

"We're such a huge state, and we have so many diverse interests from rural to urban from east to west from Indian Country to the cities - I just think it's critical that we have someone who represents us, just one person, since we only have a congressional seat," Stapleton said. "Who understands that, who has grown up with that. I'm a fourth-generation Montanan, I have served my country and my state ever since I left high school, Great Falls High in 1986."

He said his father served in the U.S. Army, he served in the U.S. Navy and his son serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"Public service is a family tradition, so whether in uniform or a suit I will serve and continue to serve our state and nation for the rest of my life in whatever capacity that is." he said. 

He is the only military veteran elected in a statewide office in Montana, he said, adding that there needs to be more people who understand national defense,  security and international affairs - the veterans' issues, more veterans in office not fewer.

"We're in an all-time low in America for having military veterans in Congress, and so I think not only in my background in finance and years in the state Senate on agriculture and energy, but I understand budget and I understand the way the world works and we're seeing the importance of that with international trade and the hotspots around the world, so I think far-and-away, of the candidates running for Congress this year, I'm the most-qualified, most-experienced, and it doesn't hurt that I grew here and have five generations, with my children, who call Montana home," Stapleton said.

He said he thinks the federal government has handled some things well and some things could be better as far as the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that goes for the entire world as this isn't just a United States problem.

It might likely be a problem for 18 to 24 months, he said.

"I think what we can do better is to continue to rely on the medical community, people who have scientific experience and understanding how to sort of respond as a team and not individually," Stapleton said. "I think we need to try to depoliticize, if I were to criticize any aspect of how the international community or the national community has responded negatively is that to politicize it makes it more difficult to lean on the scientific side."

That being said, he said, some things have been done well and it's unfortunate, but it reminds people that "to be human is to be fragile" and 330 million Americans depend on the federal government to get this right.

John Evankovich

The COVID-19 relief has significantly driven up the federal deficit and debt, and he said, he would address it long-term.

"I think the bigger issue would be a big concern if we would have been financially disciplined all along for the last 20 years, which we have not been, so we find ourselves, what, $23 trillion in debt, that's a problem," Stapleton said. "If we were $5 trillion in debt and we had to spend this kind of money it really wouldn't be that big of a deal, so systematically we need to address our deficit spending systematically, we need to address the two-party system that continues to spend money that we don't have, print money that we don't have and pretend that it's OK to fund program in government and growth that isn't supported by the underlying private sector."


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