The Candidates’ Views: Senate District 2

By Beacon Staff

What’s Important, Anyway?
By Ryan Zinke, Republican
As I read the editorials and ads written by incumbents that take credit for something they did not do, or by their opponents who assail them for something that they did do, I wonder if we have lost sight of what’s really important? What is important to me is that it’s hard for working families to make a living here. It’s not from lack of jobs, but rather from the lack of good paying jobs. The fact of the matter is we live in a state where small business owners are saddled with a tax on equipment, high workers compensation rates and are penalized for investing in capital improvements. Our families struggle to pay basic bills, face high housing costs, and pay one-third of their income on average to health costs. Many of the children of long-time residents have simply left Montana for better opportunities elsewhere. Unless you have a trust fund, working families cannot continue to rely on service-based industries and a dwindling manufacturing base to provide the jobs necessary to live here. Simply put, what is important to the Flathead is to create incentives for small businesses to provide good paying jobs, ensure that we have an educational pipeline that provides the skills necessary to compete in future markets, and have a forward-looking conservation and growth plan that protects our heritage.

Good jobs start with good companies. Good companies are started by creating incentives for investment and having opportunity for growth. We need to stop penalizing small business investment by eliminating the equipment tax and providing tax incentives for companies to pay better wages, offer health benefits, and keep the job growth in Montana. We need to target jobs that pay $25-$45 an hour. That’s right, that’s how much it takes for a family to make a decent living here. To those who say bringing good companies here is a pipedream, Montana Coffee Traders, NEXGEN, and Total Label are examples. These are innovative companies that offer good paying jobs with benefits despite having to pay high taxes on a broken workers compensation program and being penalized for buying new equipment. Ask any of these growing businesses how much more they would give in wages and benefits if they paid less in taxes.

The Montana education system is tough on both young teachers and students alike. While a starting teacher’s salary may be better now than when my grandmother was teaching during the Great Depression, I remember her saying that she had the benefit of being supplied all the firewood she could use. Seriously, we need to put the money in the classroom where it belongs. Education, like buying new equipment for a business, is an investment, not an expense. However, we need to target spending rather than simply throwing more money at the problem. Of the 40 or so straight “A” students from Flathead High School last year, less than a handful decided to stay in Montana. The fact is that our greatest assets are leaving. Given that it’s tough to find a good job here, let’s at least provide an incentive for our graduates to stay and help improve our economy. Providing no-interest loans and debt forgiveness programs for those who stay in Montana is a start. Good jobs and quality education go hand-in-hand – we need both.

Lastly, we need common sense conservation that looks to the future. The reason most of us have chosen to live in the Flathead is our commitment to community and the natural beauty that surrounds us. Teddy Roosevelt had the vision to look out 100 years with our National Park system and public lands, we need to do the same. We need a forward-looking plan that takes into consideration all the aspects of growth such as wildlife corridors, watershed, public access and resource development. A growth plan that changes before the ink dries is really not much of a plan and is a recipe for disaster.

What’s important? That would be up to you to decide in November, but one should be wary of those whose only answer is to launch negative campaign ads. The use of such tactics distract from what is really important: jobs, education, and common sense conservation for the future of our working families.

Montana Will Lead the Way
By Brittany MacLean, Democrat
Even as a young child, growing up in Whitefish, I knew I was living in a special place. Montana is, after all, the last best place. As newcomers or natives, we never doubt this, and we’re thankful each day we’ve chosen it – or it’s chosen us.

What we may sometimes forget is this: last best place actually means last best chance. It is, in many ways, our nation’s last best chance to set things straight. If we in the last best place can’t get it right, who will? In these critical times of change and uncertainty, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to make wise, creative, and forward-thinking decisions. If I am elected to represent our area in the Montana Senate, I will dedicate my work to fulfilling this responsibility.

After leaving the University of Montana for graduate study in policy and management, I thought deeply about the effect our policymakers could have on the future of our state. During the next legislative session, I believe trend-setting policy should be developed in four key areas: the Economy, Energy, Education, and Healthcare. Montana is already leading the way by investing in clean renewable energy technology like wind and solar. Additionally, we can continue to support the production of bio-diesel and ethanol, which will not only create new jobs, but will greatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Similarly, our state has shown a growing commitment to the powerful investment of quality schools and a solid education system. We can continue this commitment with a priority on small class sizes, competitive teacher salaries, and an innovative curriculum.

For instance, an already strong curriculum could be expanded to incorporate more personal stewardship and new ideas like students helping to grow, cultivate, and prepare locally grown food. Many researchers are noting that we may well look back at our times as the “dark ages of food.” We’ve not only lost our connection to the source of foods, but we grow increasingly complacent as students are offered lunch menus with nacho cheese chips as a main course. Montana could be a leader in addressing our growing epidemic of nationwide childhood obesity, and serve as an example of how public schools can not only thrive, but work toward change and sustainability.

Equally important, we must recognize that a successful Montana is a healthy Montana. Healthcare and healthcare coverage must be available, affordable, and focused on prevention. For every dollar we invest in prevention, we save twice as much; not only in direct treatment costs, but in our entire mental and public health systems.

Lastly, I believe Montana will show the nation that quality of life is directly tied to economy. Specifically, when our lands thrive; industry and jobs grow. When we work to keep our children physically, emotionally and intellectually healthy; industry and jobs continue to grow. When we refuse to compromise our core standards of Montana integrity, amazing things happen: local entrepreneurship and small business grows, quality business is attracted, and entire new industries are created.

Too often, political leaders and special interest groups leave us with false choices – for example, that if we end up compromising our clean water, it was worth it to attract new jobs. This represents the very thinking that will not lead to a successful last chance. As the last best place, Montana will insist upon balance and it will insist upon practical solutions. And, most importantly, it will ask that we carry on a strong tradition of pioneering policy that will enable all Montanans to look forward to a prosperous future.