Bullock and other democratic candidates visit Hill County
Last updated 9/21/2020 at 11:55am
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who is running against incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., for his seat in the U.S. Senate, visited Hill County Friday afternoon, meeting with local businessman and owner of Bergren Transmission and Auto Care Steve Neiffer to tour the business and meet with workers there to discuss their concerns, before heading to Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation for a rally with fellow Democratic candidates.
Neiffer told Bullock that Bergrens has more or less recovered from the financial damage inflicted from the pandemic shutdown and business is back to the level it was last year.
"That surprises the heck out of me," he said.
He said Old Station Brewing Co., which he also owns, continues to see significantly reduced business.
Bullock said he was glad things were getting back to normal at one of Neiffer's businesses at least and hopes that things pick up for them.
Nieffer did express concerns about the way the pandemic was handled in the state in its early stages, especially with how businesses were chosen to be considered essential or non-essential.
He said he thinks that a lot of business owners were personally hurt by the idea that they were non-essential.
"I think it hurt a lot of their pride a little bit, to be honest," he said.
Neiffer and other employees who met with Bullock also said they think Hill County's enforcement of the shutdown was inconsistent and that they should have had more guidance from the state.
Bullock said he wanted to give counties as much control as he could because he thought they had a better idea of what their specific areas required.
Neiffer also said he thinks both sides of the political spectrum have politicized COVID-19.
Bullock and Neiffer agreed that policy regarding the pandemic should be guided by science, not politics.
"This virus doesn't care about Democrats and Republicans," Bullock said.
Bullock talked about the regular calls with state governors and Vice President Mike Pence and that people on those calls have criticized Coronavirus Taskforce and said everyone at the federal level talks about wearing masks being the best solution, despite federal officials having contributed to the politicization of masks and the virus.
He also said while the response to the pandemic could never have been one-size-fits all, the country needed federal strategy and more guidance which they did not get.
He said he's gotten political push back from both sides of the isle during the pandemic that he's never seen in his career.
"I made is seven and a half years without protesters outside my house," he said laughing. " ... Now my kids are like, 'Who's out there today dad?'"
One issue Neiffer told Bullock he, like many other business, especially in agriculture, are having problems getting their equipment fixed because so many vehicle manufacturers deliberately design their products to be impossible to repair at shops and using these designs to funnel business towards their own repair outfits.
Bullock agreed that this was a serious issue and one that he would work with Sen. Jon Tester D-Mont. to solve if he were elected to the senate.
Bullock later said, while at Old Station Brewery, the issue of right to repair is very important not just for people like Neiffer but for consumers as well.
"You buy a Ford truck you ought to be able to get that fixed at Bergren, because they have the skills and the capability, and then Bergren turns around and says, 'At the end of the day I have incredibly skilled people, but the big companies won't give us the information and the technology to actually repair their cars,'" he said.
Bullock later went to Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation along with fellow democratic candidates to hold a socially distanced rally in which attendees stayed in their cars and honked to show support and agreement with the candidates when they spoke.
The Democrats included Bullock's chief legal counsel, Raph Graybill, who spoke in Havre after talking to representatives of small hospitals in the region and then joined them at Rocky Boy.
See more in Tuesday's edition of the Havre Daily News.
Bullock touted the fact that the flags of Montana's tribal nations are flying at the state capital, "because the capital belongs to you as much as anyone else," he said.
He said every time he comes to Rocky Boy he's received significant support and he counts members of Rocky Boy's government not just as respected colleagues but as friends and wants to continue trying to visit their government as of then as they visit his.
"Whenever I come to Rocky Boy I have always received more than I have given," he said.
He said Indian country continues to face economic challenges but there is tremendous potential for cultural cooperation, and he aims to hold continue to get Native American voices in state government.
"It has changed the tone in Helena, and now we need to change the tone in Washington, D.C.," he said.
Shane Morigeau, running for Montana State Auditor against Republican Troy Downing, also made an appearance and also touted the increased representation of Native Americans in state government.
Morigeau, who grew up on the Flathead Reservation and said he was the first Native American elected to the state legislature in a non-reservation community, said during his time in the legislature he saw insurance companies put their own interests ahead of people's well being when the opposed his bill to increase the statute of limitations on child sexual assault.
"That was an eye-opening experience," he said, adding that as state auditor he would be able to fight back against those kinds of companies to protect Montanans.
The rally also included Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy D-Mont., a self-described Pro-Life Democrat who's represented the area since 2002 and said he's willing and able to work across the isle to get things done.
"I'm effective, I know a lot of candidates say they work across party lines," he said. "I do it."
Melissa Romano, who's running for Montana superintendent of public instruction against incumbent Republican Elsie Arntzen, who Romano said has a history of attempting to undermine public education.
Romano said she's a product of the public school system and is an award-winning school teacher with a proven track record and the support of former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, whom she praised for many of the programs she instituted.
Romano said she would support programs like Graduation Matters, and Indian Education For All.
Secretary of state candidate Bryce Bennet, who faces Republican Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen in the November election, said he has a consistent history of fighting for voting rights for Native American communities and will continue that fight if elected and said the stakes are higher than ever.
"There are far too many politicians out there that think our elections should be a game of subtraction," he said, "People who will do absolutely anything to silence your voice on election day."
Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who is running to replace Bullock as governor, used his time to speak about his opponent, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte R-Mont. who he said is trying to buy the election without campaigning properly in places like Rocky Boy.
While all candidates talked about the importance of keeping public land public, Cooney criticized his opponent in particular for suing Montanans to block access to the East Gallatin River by which he lives, for writing a bill that would remove protections from hundreds of thousands of acres of public land, and picking a running mate who led the charge to gut Montana's stream access law.
"You cannot call yourself a champion of public lands and have a record like that," he said.
Kathleen Williams, who is running for Gianforte's seat and faces Repubiclican State Auditor Matt Rosendale in the election, said too many people in that seat have been benchwarmers and she wants to change that by addressing the three biggest concerns she hears from constituents, economic opportunity, health care and the preservation of public lands.
She said as someone with 37 years of experience in natural resources, particularly water, said has a documented history of being able to work with people of varying interests, political stripes and backgrounds to get results.
She said many of the issues she hopes to address are especially important in Indian country including education funding, equal access to the justice system, and the safety of indigenous people, particularly women and girls.