In a civil debate before well more than 100 people in the Havre High School auditorium Thursday, the two candidates in the race to fill the seat in Senate District 17 showed sharp differences — except in one area.
Both Democrat Greg Jergeson and Republican Don Richman said one of their goals is to bring civility, compromise and consensus to the next Legislature.
Jergeson, a 22-year veteran of the state Senate and eight-year public service commissioner, said after he termed out of the PSC he did not intend to again run for public office. But after people saw what he called extreme and excessive partisanship in the 2011 Legislature, people up and down the Hi-Line asked him to run again and show “the less-than-experienced group that was there how to do the job better. How the Legislature could be more responsible, more productive, without resorting the raw party politics that marked the last legislative session. ”
Jergeson said his experience in public office would help him to make the state lawmaking body more productive.
“I served many years in the Montana Senate, ” he said. “It is an institution that I revere, and it’s one that ought to serve the people of well, it’s the people’s body. ”
Richman, who owns and operates Richman Insurance in Harlem, said he thinks he has something to offer the state.
“I felt that enough partisan politics had went on, enough of the negative attack ads, enough of those kind of things, ” he said. “I stand for what I stand for. You know who I am, what I am. I am pro-business, I am pro-life, I am pro-Montana, I am pro-family, I am pro-my-grandkids. ”
He said he looks at the partisan politics coming from Washington that he said overstep constitutional bounds and he wants it to stop.
Jergeson said his top priorities in the next Legislature is headlined by balancing the budget.
“And it should be for every legislator, ” he said, adding that he has had experience in the past legislatures of doing precisely that.
He said he is in favor of developing jobs and opportunities for Montana’s youth.
“Actually, there are many programs currently in existence that are designed to help develop businesses in the state, and the question is how do we make those programs work better. We don’t need new programs or initiatives. ”
He said he also is a “stalwart advocate” of Montana’s public education, both k-12 and higher education.
“I think that … public education is fundamental for us to develop a growing economy in the state of Montana and provide opportunities for our young people. ”
Richman also said a balanced budget is one of his top priorities and his 30 years of experience operating his business will help him with that.
“I’ve had to sign both sides of the check, ” Richman said. “So I, too, know how to balance a budget, because I have had to live within my means. ”
Richman said Montana needs to use its natural resources, adding he thinks that the state has been wasting those resources.
“We’ve been known for years and years and years as the Treasure State, and we need to take advantage of those treasures, ” he said.
He said his third point also is education, and he thinks the natural resources could fund education in the state.
When asked about senior citizens, Richman said the state needs to care for the people who built the state and nation. He said Medicare and Social Security need to be fixed but not thrown away.
“I do not stand for Obamacare in any way shape or form, ” he said. “We need to fix the problems we have with our own system”
Jergeson said the problem with that is that Medicare and Social Security are federal programs.
“The question that we probably should be answering is what programs at the state level for senior citizens do we think need to be funded by the state of Montana and supported by the state of Montana (for senior citizens). ”
He said the 2011 Legislature was going to cut programs like Meals on Wheels and the area councils on aging, and the governor had to force funding back in the programs.
“That really shouldn’t go on, ” he said, “but that Legislature made those one-time appropriations so the next Legislature has to go through that fight all over again. But those seniors still need their meals, seniors still need the assistance from their area council on aging, and they should not be put on a one-time-only fight-it-out-every-session basis. ”
Richman said he would not try to cut programs like Meals on Wheals, but the state still needs a balanced budget.
“The size of government needs to shrink and the entitlement programs need to be dealt with, ” he said.