Havre Daily News/Lindsay Brown
State Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, speaks Tuesday during lunch at the North Central Senior Center.
One week before election, Havre senior citizens got to hear from most of the local candidates on their values and goals in next January’s legislative session.
North Central Senior Center Director Evelyn Havskjold invited all of the candidates seeking local offices to come to a spaghetti dinner Tuesday and address issues, particularly over the volatility of funding for senior programs. House District 33 was the only fully represented race, with Republican Kris Hansen and Democrat Brenda Skornogoski seated beside each other. Democratic Senate District 17 candidate Greg Jergeson, Republican Hill County Commissioner candidate Debi Rhines, and Democratic House District 34 candidate Karen Sloan also made it.
Jergeson spoke first, saying he was shocked by some of the information that Havskjold had provided for the candidates, including what he saw as legislators playing political games with funding for programs for seniors.
“(Programs like) Meals on Wheels are not a need that comes and goes, ” Jergeson said. “They will always need that assistance. It should not be used as a political bargaining chip.
“I am running so I can go back and say, ‘this needs to stop, ’ to make sure the seniors who built this state have those programs in place. ”
He also condemned the negative rhetoric that has filled this election, including that which has come from his own party.
“I wish both sides and their allies would knock it off, ” Jergeson said. “There is more important stuff to focus on. ”
Skornogoski spoke next, largely voicing the same concerns over political games played with programs that she, as a 63-year-old, may need soon. She said funding is a concern as the “baby boomer bubble is bursting, ” though new programs to help seniors stay at home would save money over nursing homes.
Hansen said she understood Havskjold’s concerns with having to request funding again each year.
“I will be looking if there is something to be done to stabilize that funding, ” Hansen said.
She also said that “the state has been in a downward economy” which is beginning to turn around, and “we hope to make that grow. ”
She used the almost-North Dakota town of Bainville in Roosevelt County as an example of the kind of growth possible through increasing development of natural resources, which would increase revenue and allow the state to establish a trust fund to guarantee senior services, even after the natural resources pass their boom into the inevitable bust.
Rhines expressed her appreciation for the senior center and its staff, and how much they are able to provide. Though she is concerned with the center’s situation, she said she doesn’t really know what a county commissioner would be able to do and advised people to talk to their legislators.
Sloan wrapped up the afternoon by expressing her excitement over recognizing most of the crowd and, according to the information from Havskjold, being classified as a part of the “young old, ” who are between 65 and 74 years old.
She said she decided to run for office this year after being displeased with the 2011 legislative session, and objected to the attitudes and, possibly outside, perspectives she saw taking over the state.
“I don't know where we got the idea that we’re on the downhill (economically), ” Sloan said. “Montana did not get hit nearly as bad as other areas. ”
Sloan said the economy was used as an excuse to deny programs.
“That's not the spirit that I have, and I think most of you have, ” Sloan said. “We can do anything. ”
She also objected to all of the talk from opponents who make taxes out to be nothing but a drain.
“I don't mind paying my property tax because I want firemen to come. I want police to come. I want running water, ” Sloan said. “I remember when paying taxes was an honor. If we had enough money to pay taxes it meant we were doing pretty well. ”
Sloan finished her speech with a warning about the American Legislative Exchange Council, who she said had been trying to manipulate the Legislature.
“ALEC is a back-east group that wants to run the whole country, ” Sloan said. “Make sure we're the ones running Montana and not those back east. ”