A retired neurosurgeon running for the Legislature for the first time takes on the incumbent Republican seeking a second term in the race for House District 5. This district stretches from West Valley to North Evergreen, and has remained solidly Republican in recent elections. Keith Regier, a retired schoolteacher who now owns and runs a sod business, defeated his Democratic opponent in 2008, winning 4,039 to 1,543.
This year, Regier is being challenged by Jim Mahnke, a retired neurosurgeon who worked during the 1980s and 1990s at what was then Kalispell Regional Hospital. Mahnke describes himself as “a fiscally responsible, balance-the-budget, reduce-the-national-debt, Blue Dog Democrat.”
“I’m the best Democrat you’ll ever find who didn’t vote for Lyndon Johnson,” he said, adding that he wrote in Adlai Stevenson.
Mahnke spent his career as a neurosurgeon and teaching surgery in California, Virginia and Colorado before settling in Kalispell in 1989. Due to his background, Mahnke hopes to work on health care issues in the Legislature. He is particularly concerned with the state’s medical marijuana regulation, which he believes is in need of an overhaul, and which, “suggests a number of public servants were asleep at the switch.”
“Montana needs better long-term planning,” Mahnke said. “If we’d had such a function somewhere in Helena, this comic opera of medical marijuana mismanagement would not have occurred.”
Mahnke also suggests Montana should consider creating its own public bank to help lending, argues that the term, “clean coal” is an “oxymoron” and believes the state and federal government could ease some if its fiscal problems by cutting back on subsidies for agriculture and corporations.
“The term ‘entitlement,’ has gotten a very bad meaning as it is applied to old people, sick people,” Mahnke said. “If America finds itself in financial distress, and an awful lot of people are hurting, we might look at putting the squeeze on entitlements for corporate welfare, entitlements for the rich.”
Mahnke’s opponent, Regier, served on the agriculture and judiciary committees, as well as the federal relations, energy and telecommunications committee.
“We need to get people working again; to me the number one issues are jobs and the economy,” Regier said. “We need to make Montana more business-friendly.”
Regier supports eliminating the business equipment tax and reforming Montana’s worker compensation rates. State agencies should be regularly audited, he said, and agency budgets should not be increased based on previous budgets. One spending cut Regier proposed was doing away with “low priority” state grant or economic development programs.
Regier also intends to work on changing the reappraisal system that passed in 2009.
“Property tax is on a lot of people’s minds in Montana,” Regier said. “Some people had their taxes go up several hundred percent.”
Regier voted for the 2009 reappraisal bill, but said, “information that the Department of Revenue gave us at the time turned out to not be what we were told.”
He supports a cap on the amount property taxes can increase in a year, and wants to make home sale values available to the Revenue Department, so appraisers can get a better sense of a local real estate market.
As a small business owner, Regier believes the state government needs to adjust to declining revenues the same way his business has.
“We’re down probably 50 percent from what we were two, three years ago,” Regier said. “But we’re staying business, so we’re being positive.”
BEACON ELECTION 2010 CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE: House District 5
1. What’s the top issue facing Montanans in your district and how do you plan to work on it in the session?
2. How should the Legislature change medical marijuana regulation?
3. Do you support some state workers’ unions’ demand for salary increases, and why or why not?
NAME: Keith Regier
OCCUPATION: retired teacher, small business owner
YEARS IN THE VALLEY: 35
1. The top issue in House District 5 is jobs and the economy. Unemployment is high in the Flathead Valley. Montana needs to change some things so businesses will want to locate here. The business equipment tax needs to be eliminated, workman’s comp rates need to be lowered, and the environmental review process for starting a business needs to be streamlined. Increased promotion of the wood products industry is also vital to our area. The Flathead Valley has a quality of life that would attract businesses. I am working on bills that will address these issues.
2. Montana’s medical marijuana law should be resubmitted to the public for a vote.
3. No, not at this time. Unemployment in Montana is over 7 percent and in the Flathead Valley it is around 12 percent. There are also many people in the state who have had reduced work hours or reduced wages due to the recession. The state budget needs to contract just as the economy has. State unions demanding a salary increase is insensitive to the general public and creates public animosity toward government in general.
NAME: Jim Mahnke
OCCUPATION: Retired Neurosurgeon
YEARS IN THE VALLEY: 22
1. For 30 years, wealth inequality has been increasing. The dream of personal freedom and economic progress has been shrinking. The middle class is squeezed. We need an economy that does not outsource jobs and make wealth disappear. Remember 1997’s deregulation: Montana Power Co. went belly up. Goldman Sachs made $20 million. Montanans got high electricity rates. We need government that promotes a healthy economy, efficiency, trust and fairness. We need annual sessions of the Legislature and a public bank.
2. Medical marijuana should be regulated like other drugs with risks of toxicity and addiction. The machinery for prescribing, dispensing, monitoring, and correcting abuse of potent drugs is already in place. Real doctors in their offices or clinics should decide treatment plans for patients with chronic pain. We need ethical physicians practicing sound medicine, not caravans of fakers perverting alternative medicine.
3. State workers should not receive salary increases while unemployment is so high. Many people are out of jobs, families are losing their homes, school districts are trimming their staffs and economic insecurity is almost everywhere. In the interests of justice and equity, we should tax Wall Street financial transactions, decrease corporate welfare, break up the financial giants that are too big to fail, and not allow obscene CEO bonuses.
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