The Billings Outpost

Democrats aim for House

Story and photos By JIM LARSON - The Billings Outpost

BUTTE – The Butte Burros packed them in last Wednesday.

On their Facebook page, the Club for Democrats said that 90 people attended their February luncheon.

They were there to see the Democrats who are running for Montana’s lone seat in Congress. Each candidate was given a few minutes to address the crowd. The talks were followed by a question and answer session.

In their remarks and their answers, the candidates set about to clearly distinguish themselves from their Republican adversaries. Describing their opponents as a visionless party of inaction that serves only special interests, the candidates affirmed that they believed that government could be a force for good in the lives of their countrymen.

None of the candidates leveled attacks against their fellow Democrats.

Dave Strohmaier

Candidate Dave Strohmaier sits on the Missoula City Council and works as a historian for a private research firm. He argued that Americans were not just taxpayers and voters, but citizens. Pointing to values that he was working to instill in his children, he said that it was time to “recapture in this country a sense of the common good.”

Americans should do together what they can’t do individually, the candidate said. Citizens should be stewards of the land and the public trust, “which Congress seemingly erodes on a daily basis,” he said. That stewardship could be accomplished by rooting out corporate power and money in government, Mr. Strohmaier said.

The candidate asserted that there was a proper role for government in America and that investing in education and infrastructure would create vibrant communities and a good economy.

Jason Ward

Jason Ward decided to run for Congress because was “frustrated with how things have always been.” Irked by partisan paralysis, he argued that in Congress “no one wanted to work together to find solutions.” The farmer from St. Xavier was also concerned that none of the other candidates had a background in agriculture.

On the energy front, Mr. Ward noted that he had worked in the oil fields and he felt that American companies placed an emphasis on environmental safety, especially when compared with foreign energy companies. He felt that cooperation between government and industry was the key to keeping the environment clean and the nation’s energy needs met.

“A lot can be done if everyone tries to work together to find solutions that benefit everyone,” he said.

When asked if he would focus on a particular issue, the candidate replied, “For far too long we’ve relied on issues as a litmus test. We should rely on principles.” A principled approach was the best way to affect the issues, Mr. Ward said.

Ultimately, the candidate felt that responsibility for good government lay with voters. “If voters don’t hold candidates accountable, special interest will through campaign donations.”

Diane Smith

From Whitefish came entrepreneur Diane Smith. She’s a business person, not a politician, she said, and her job creation credentials are hard to assail. She noted that she’s been part of three start-ups: Sprint, Alltel and Avail TVN. She argued that innovation comes from start-ups, and that small and micro-businesses should be seen as “too important to fail.”

Rather than attacking government, she said, “We should be committed to excellence in government.” She warned that “Social Security and Medicare, two of the finest programs in our government, are about to be ‘fixed,’ yet they work phenomenally well.”

Noting that her company had just finished an excellent quarter, she added, “I can go head to head on a debate stage with Republicans.”

Rob Stutz

According to candidate Rob Stutz, “The No. 1 issue for the House race in Montana is how are we going to win?”

Mr. Stutz recapped his stellar legal career, which included serving the state as chief legal counsel for the 2010-2011 Montana Legislature. He had his hands full in that post working with lawmakers who were trying to revive an antiquated method of challenging federal statutes. Republican legislators attempted to pass laws that would nullify federal laws that they felt overreached the federal government’s powers under the constitution.

The nullification doctrine is a discredited interpretation of the constitution associated with the Antebellum South.

“I stayed busy,” Mr. Stutz said. “You can’t nullify federal law. I stood up for our Constitution.”

Franke Wilmer

Professor Franke Wilmer teaches international relations at Montana State University Bozeman. She told the assembled Burros that Montana needs a strong clear and intelligent voice in Congress and she seemed to meet her own criteria.

She argued that America’s economic makeup affects its democracy. “The middle class is the backbone of democracy,” she said. “The American dream is not about the rich getting richer or the poor becoming millionaires. It’s about every one of us having a fair chance and passing that chance on to our children.”

Though she found herself a divorced single mom in her 20s, Ms. Wilmer still managed to put herself through school. Waitressing during those years taught her how to “clean up a mess,” she said. The mess that she her eye on now is the House of Representatives.

Congress, she said, is out of touch with real people and how they live. She outlined how she would do things differently.

She wouldn’t allow tax cuts for corporations that outsourced jobs. “If tax cuts created jobs, we wouldn’t have a job problem,” she said. She added that “Collective bargaining is a constitutionally protected right,” and she noted that she had organized educators at Montana State University.

The professor seemed particularly aggravated that Congress had backed away from its power to declare war. Congress has tried to play the politically safe card by abdicating its power to avoid ever being on the wrong side, she said. She added that she would work for peace and diplomacy.

Kim Gillan

Veteran legislator Kim Gillan noted that she had spent eight sessions in the Montana Legislature, two of them on the tax committee. There, she said, she “stood up for the folks willing to pay the taxes to pay for critical services.”  She said that she had been able to deliver results as a legislator in contentious times.

She said that people now believe that the nation’s problems are just too big to fix, but Ms. Gillan argued that they could be overcome with a continued investment in education, infrastructure and innovation. She said that Montanans should send  “a real ‘get ’er done’ person to Congress.”


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