Written by Culbertson Searchlight
Incumbent state representative Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, was the only candidate of six running in three legislative races within the coverage areas of The Herald-News and The Searchlight who responded to a questionnaire that was sent to all local candidates.
Knudsen seeking reelection in House District 34.
Democrat Gene Hartsock of Glasgow is opposing Knudsen. He was contacted by telephone, said he does not use email and provided a home mailing address. Hartsock was sent the questionnaire by U.S. Mail but failed to respond.
In House District 37, incumbent Lee Randall, R-Broadus, is opposed by Democrat Dixie Rieger of Miles City. The district includes parts areas of McCone County that are near Wolf Point.
Randall provides neither a telephone number, nor email address on the list of candidates on the Secretary of State’s website. Attempts to obtain contact information was unsuccessful.
Rieger was sent a questionnaire and a reminder the following week but did not respond.
In Senate District 19, which includes McCone County, Democrat Bill McChesney and Republican Frederick Davis Moore are seeking election. Both are from Miles City. Neither responded to the questionnaire or a reminder sent the following week.
Incumbent state representative Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point, is unopposed and was not sent a questionnaire.
The following are Knudsen’s responses:
Why did you declare yourself a candidate?
I am running for re-election because my experience in the Montana Legislature puts me in a position to more effectively represent the citizens of northeast Montana. I initially ran for the Montana Legislature in 2010 because I was unhappy with our area’s representation in Helena.
What do you hope to accomplish during the next term?
For the upcoming legislative session, there are several key pieces of legislation I want to see passed. First and foremost, a northeastern Montana Bakken oilfield infrastructure funding bill needs to be implemented. Last session, I co-sponsored House Bill 218, which would have sent $15 million dollars a year in direct state funding to our oil-impacted counties and towns. That bill passed with enormous bipartisan support, only to be vetoed by our governor. This bill will be run again in 2015. It needs to be for more money, and it needs to signed by the governor.
Another priority is tax relief. Montana is currently sitting on a $350 million budget surplus. This means the state Department of Revenue took in $350 million more than is needed to fund our state government and its programs. These are tax dollars that are paid by Montanans through their income, property, and business taxes. If the state takes in more taxes than it needs, we should return that money to Montanans by lowering taxes for all Montanans.
Finally, I will continue to advocate for school choice in Montana. Montana is one of only eight states in the U.S. that still does provide any alternative education options for parents and children. Our public schools in Montana wonderfully serve the needs of most Montana families. However, I believe parents should have alternative choices for those students who aren’t thriving in our public schools. We have choice in all other facets of our life: our food, our clothing, our automobiles, etc. Why is it Montanans are being deprived choice in our childrens’ educations? These are a few of my priorities for the upcoming 2015 legislative session.
What do you see as being the major issues facing the state?
Funding our state employee retirement and our teacher retirement systems is still a major issue in Montana. Last session, the Legislature threw more money at these systems, and played with the numbers in an effort to make these systems amortize. However, these are still $3-4 billion [with a ‘B’] liabilities to the state, which guarantee a benefit [even though the cost of that benefit has skyrocketed] as opposed to simply guaranteeing a dollar amount the state will contribute toward these pensions. While we continue to kick the can down the road, these pension problems will become a major funding issue for our state.
Another issue that will continue to be discussed in the upcoming session is Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare]. Under the Affordable Care Act, states were required by the federal government to expand the qualifications and thereby the number of people who are eligible to receive state medical assistance under Medicaid. The United States Supreme Court later ruled that the federal government could not require state legislatures to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, so this expansion became optional in the individual states. Last legislative session, the state Legislature chose not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The reason for this is that Medicaid expansion will cost an incredible amount of money. The federal government has promised to pay for this expansion for the first two years, but after that the state will be responsible for paying for more and more of this new Medicaid population. What happens if the federal government breaks its promise and drops this entire bill on Montana immediately? Even if it doesn’t, eventually Montana will have to pay for this entire bill. How? This will be a huge new entitlement that Montana taxpayers will have to foot the bill for. I do not support Medicaid expansion in Montana, and I will continue to fight against Obamacare in Montana.
What areas do you feel are the most in need of improvement? How would you address those areas?
Obviously, our area is in dire need of infrastructure help due to strains put on us by the Bakken oil boom. Outdated and maxed-out sewer systems, municipal water systems stretched to the breaking point, and streets and county roads beaten to ruts and potholes from increased truck traffic; these are all issues that could be addressed by allowing more of the tax dollars created from oil development to stay in the impacted areas.
What areas do you feel have the most and least needs for spending?
As stated above, natural resource development impact has created legitimate need for spending. The state is creating these impacts through our state policy of developing our natural resources; therefore the state is responsible for maintaining the problems that come from this development. I’ve already discussed the sewer, water and road problems, but what about crime from the Bakken? Many of the hardened criminals arrested in our area end up released back on to our streets because the State Crime Lab is understaffed and underfunded and cannot get test results back to our area prosecutors fast enough for trial. This is not our prosecutors’ fault; the Montana Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, and if drug test results aren’t completed in time for trial, the arrested individual must be released. This is one area that needs additional spending to keep our communities safe.
On the other hand, I believe the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs to decrease its spending. This is an agency that, since I have been serving in the Legislature, has increased its budget every year, and continues to purchase private land at inflated prices. Recently, FWP has asked the Legislature to increase the costs of your hunting licenses, because FWP is claiming a budget shortfall. However, that didn’t stop the FWP from purchasing more than 200 new rifles for each of its game wardens, at a cost of nearly $2,000 per rifle. This is an agency that needs its budget reduced.
What is your position on same sex marriage?
I believe that marriage is a Christian institution that is between a man and woman.
What is your position on the Keystone Pipeline?
I support the Keystone XL Pipeline. It will create a huge property tax base for the Montana counties it will pass through. Additionally, the onramp in Baker will allow us to market our local Bakken oil at a higher premium because we can get it in the pipeline, thus reducing transportation costs.