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May 30--Less taxes, less regulations, more freedom, promoting business, more energy independence, more access and choice, taking control of federal lands and a moratorium on immigration -- those and other ideas were hoisted last week at a forum for Montana's Republican U.S. House candidates last week.
About 350 people packed a meeting room at the Red Lion Inn in Kalispell on May 28 to hear the five candidates talk. Focused on economic issues, the forum was hosted by Americans For Prosperity-Montana.
Four of the five candidates are current or former Montana state senators. All describe themselves as conservatives who are concerned about the direction the U.S. is headed under President Obama and Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C.
Elsie Arntzen, an elementary school teacher with bachelor's degrees in economics and education, is a state senator from Billings.
Arntzen says she's concerned about the erosion of traditional values and wants to take Montana values to Washington, D.C. She ran for the legislature because she was frustrated with bureaucracy and gridlock. She called for more local control over transportation funding.
"The money is there, but it goes to places that have nothing to do with infrastructure," she said.
Many problems in the economy stem from intrusive policies, Arntzen said. She wanted to see corporate taxes changed and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward so trains could be freed up for agricultural products.
While she favored states taking back federal lands and creating healthy forests and other natural resource opportunities, she didn't want to see state government grow to take on those responsibilities.
Arntzen saw no way to fix Obamacare and said she'd like to see it repealed entirely.
"One-sixth of our entire economy is put in peril under one bill," she said.
Healthcare is about choice, she said. There are plenty of good doctors, but defensive medicine in a litigious environment was driving up costs.
As for immigration, Arntzen said the U.S. needs to have a heart but be firm. The path to citizenship needs to be restructured, and immigrants need to have jobs and help build the economy.
Arntzen said she doesn't believe human activity has led to global climate change.
"We've all lived through cold winters and hot summers," she said.
Climate change was an example of the government using "the fear factor" to control the people, by saying they can save everyone, she said. The Bakken oil fields were not only important to Montana but to the U.S.'s main ally -- Canada.
Arntzen said she opposed designating more land as wilderness. She noted that her brother was an avid hunter and was disabled and needed better access.
"How dare they block access to views," she said. "Without access, our traditions will disappear."
Arntzen expressed concern over the idea that 73 government agencies were now authorized to use lethal force.
"Why are we scared of our own government" she asked. "We're turning the guns in on ourselves."
Drew Turiano, a self-employed real estate developer in Helena with a master's from Fordham University, initially ran for governor in 2012 but switched to the secretary of state's race.
The Yellowstone County Republican Party recently stopped Turiano from speaking at their Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner because of his extreme views on immigration, but he turned out to be the liveliest candidate at last week's forum.
Turiano said he wants Obama impeached for the way he handled the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, to give states the right to nullify federal laws, to make abortions illegal and to immediately stop all immigration, which he says threatens the future of the Republican Party.
Immigrants favor Democrats because that's who gives them free education, free housing, free healthcare, he said. He predicted the Republican Party will reach "an extinction level event" in 10 years if immigration isn't stopped.
Turiano also wants the states to take ownership of federal lands.
"Sell it or whatever, do whatever we want with it -- frack it," he said.
The growing federal debt is destroying the U.S., Turiano said, and solving the problem would be difficult. He suggested raising tariffs on imported goods and eliminating corporate taxes to stimulate the economy. Healthcare was also perplexing.
"I don't understand how Obamacare got passed, it's so terrible," Turiano said. "It almost looks like it was done on purpose."
Healthcare is not a right, he said, just like Roe v. Wade did not create a right to abortion or recent court decisions did not create a right to gay marriage.
Turiano said he doesn't believe human activity has caused global climate change.
"But you can't change people's minds, so why bother?" he asked.
Turiano said he was concerned about the large number of government agencies now authorized to use lethal force. He cited the case of the rancher in Nevada who ran into trouble with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees.
"I wish the ATF had gone to Benghazi instead of Nevada," he said.
Corey Stapleton, a financial advisor in Billings with a bachelor's in engineering and 11 years in the nuclear Navy, served in the Montana Senate for two terms. He was the Senate Minority Leader in 2007.
Stapleton said he wants to see the U.S. become both energy and agriculturally independent -- using coal to build Montana rather than selling it abroad. He describes himself as a fiscal hawk, challenging spending requests and finding underperforming government programs.
"You don't have to keep doing the same thing the same way," he said about transportation funding, noting that money is sent from Montana to Washington and then back again, with some lost to bureaucrats.
Stapleton blamed the national debt on Democrats, who consistently tax and spend.
"Nobody would think of mortgaging their children to finance something, but that's what the federal government does," he said.
Stapleton said he'd like to see Obamacare replaced with corporate health plans and changes in the tax code.
"Healthcare is a privilege we give to our citizens, but Obamacare is an unqualified disaster," he said. "Everyone needs to pay something and have some skin in the game."
Immigration issues could be addressed by enforcing the laws already on the books, Stapleton said. As for the claim that immigrants would vote for Democrats, not Republicans, Stapleton said he wasn't running to protect the Republican Party but as an American.
"We're a nation of immigrants -- we need to remain a beacon to the world," he said. "Conservative ideology will live long after we are dead."
Stapleton was skeptical of claims that human activity is causing global climate change.
"A point one degree change in 10 years -- I don't believe it," he said, suggesting that obstructionists just wanted to stop people from using oil.
He also opposed designating additional lands as wilderness.
"I would support more logging, especially here in Northwest Montana," he said. "You can't make a living off scenery."
Matt Rosendale, a real estate developer from Maryland who worked for his family's newspaper while growing up, is a state senator from Glendive. His vision of government begins with the Founding Fathers, he said -- that the people should be able to restrain government, not vice versa.
A lot of transportation funding is being misused, with money going to roads and trails that go nowhere, he said, adding that he wouldn't support any kind of tax increase to support transportation projects. Instead, Montana should take ownership of federal lands and put the natural resources to work to raise money for infrastructure projects.
The solution to the national debt, he said, is reduced government spending and less regulation to free up business. But fixing the debt would be slow.
"We'll likely only be able to take nibbles out of the debt for the next few years," Rosendale said, noting that dealing with entitlement spending is especially difficult. He suggested deferring Social Security eligibility for a few more years because people are living longer and then take additional steps to rein in entitlement spending.
Rosendale said Obamacare has less to do with addressing healthcare costs and more to do with the government exerting more control over individuals. But recent scandals at the Veterans Administration and poor treatment of Indians by the Bureau of Indian Affairs proves that government bureaucracy is not the answer -- healthcare costs must be addressed in the free market.
Healthcare is not a right, he said.
"It should be an individual choice whether a person should get health insurance," he said.
Immigration issues in Washington, D.C., Rosendale said, are determined by politicians needing votes and by other politicians wanting free labor.
"We don't know the size of the problem because of the porous borders," he said, suggesting the U.S. look to Israel to see how they seal their borders.
Rosendale said he didn't believe human activity has caused global climate change. The oil and coal in Montana came from tropical plants and animals, he noted. Climate change is another example of the government trying to control the people, he said.
Rosendale also opposed designating additional wilderness land, especially after the federal government has denied access to people for hunting and firewood gathering.
Ryan Zinke, an energy consultant with a bachelor's in geology, an MBA in finance and a master's in global leadership, retired after 23 years as a Navy SEAL and then served one term as a state senator from Whitefish.
Calling himself an optimist, Zinke said he believes the U.S. has a special role in the world. He believes government has overreached and needs to be rolled back, and that the key to rebuilding the economy is energy independence.
Zinke called transportation funding "a shell game" that's resulted in a huge financial backlog. As for the national debt, the only way out is to grow the economy, he said.
Abandoning Obamacare entirely would be like abandoning a ship with no place to go except the sea, Zinke said. He said he'd like to see Montana join nearby states to form a regional healthcare pool as a way to address healthcare costs.
"Obamacare is not about health -- it's about billing," he said.
Healthcare is not a right, Zinke said, "but it's a responsibility for a great nation." Somebody somewhere ends up paying the bills, he noted.
"Healthcare should not be free, but people should be free to choose their doctors," he said.
Zinke called for shutting down the southern U.S. border and limiting immigration to people with work visas or special skills needed in the U.S. economy.
"And you need to speak English," he said. "But you shouldn't have to be able to read Shakespeare," he added.
Speaking as a trained geologist, Zinke confessed he didn't absolutely know for sure if human activity was causing global climate change. But he noted that a recent volcanic eruption in the Philippines put out as much carbon dioxide as humans have in 200 years.
"What I do know is that you shouldn't weaken American power and the economy on a maybe," he said.
Zinke did not favor the creation of a new national monument in Montana, which he called a "land grab" that would take land out of production. He said he suspects Obama has land near the Charlie Russell National Wildlife Refuge in his sights.
Zinke was also opposed to increasing wilderness. Federal lands in Montana need to be managed better. He called rules requiring trail workers in the Bob Marshall Wilderness to use hand-powered bucksaws "crazy," and he noted that as he got older, he wanted to be able to drive in the wilderness.
"We need more commonsense about this," he said.
Zinke noted that he is pro-life and has voted that way 100 percent of the time. He said he voted once against a bill supported by the National Rifle Association, but it had to do with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department's authority to regulate hunting.
"I don't work for the NRA," he said. "I'll do what's right for Montana."
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