Foes Challenge Schweitzer in Third Debate

By Beacon Staff

BUTTE – Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Republican opponent Roy Brown used a third debate Monday night to polish familiar campaign messages.

Schweitzer said things in Montana have improved during his first term, pointing to increases in energy production, an economy he says is doing better than other parts of the country, and improved spending in key areas like education.

Schweitzer remained thin on detailed promises for a second term, saying his administration would “continue” to invest in the same priorities established during the first four years.

Brown accused the governor of exaggerating his accomplishments, saying people he meets are worried about the economy. The Republican said he wants to dig more coal and drill for more oil to spur the economy.

“All we have now is a bunch of sound bites,” Brown said.

Monday night’s Butte debate charted little new ground in the ongoing contest between Schweitzer and Brown.

Both tout energy development, but Brown says he will do more. Both tout tax cuts, but Brown says his would be bigger. Both tout education funding but say they would find money from different sources.

Libertarian Party candidate Stan Jones added a little color by interrupting verbal sparring between Brown and Schweitzer. He said voters should pick him because little separates the Republican and the Democrat.

“Which one is the Republican and which one is the Democrat?” he said during one exchange.

Schweitzer and Brown disagreed sharply over whether the governor’s tuition freeze really helped college students.

Brown said fees went up so much that they more than made up for the tuition freeze.

Schweitzer rejected the notion, saying average tuition hikes had been about $500 a year — while there was none this year. He said fees only went up $28.

And Brown rejected Schweitzer’s claim of more than $300 million in tax cuts. He said people are paying the same income, gas and property taxes they always have.

“None of those taxes went down, your taxes stayed about the same,” Brown said.