Incumbent Republican Verdell Jackson faces off against Democrat Edd Blackler in the race for Senate District 5, the 550-square-mile district that runs along the east shore of Flathead Lake and encompasses Bigfork, Somers and Swan Lake.
Jackson, a lawmaker with eight years of experience as a state representative and four as a senator, intends to pursue legislation to keep energy costs low and continue to expand the state’s invasive species programs.
As the challenger, Blackler wants to provide the residents in this historically Republican stronghold with new representation, a position he believes he would be more effective in than the incumbent.
Energy prices top Jackson’s list of concerns he would like to address if sent back to Helena. He said he is dedicated to keeping power cooperatives, such as Flathead Electric Cooperative, away from Public Service Commission control and to allow the state to responsibly develop coal and oil resources.
Struggling families should not have to choose between mortgage payments and having electricity, he said.
“Everybody has to use it, so if the price goes up, what are they going to cut back on?” Jackson said.
The incumbent senator would also like to increase the state’s efforts at protecting natural waterways from invasive species such as the zebra mussel. Jackson sponsored the legislation responsible for the current efforts, but he believes more should be done.
“A lot of my work has been to protect the quality and use of water,” Jackson said.
The property reappraisal system also needs another look. It should be brought back to 2003 levels, he said.
Jackson believes eliminating the business equipment tax would provide an economic boost for the state without having to raise residents’ taxes, and would bring large-industry jobs to Montana.
As a farmer, rancher and former teacher, Jackson said he treasures the Flathead’s agricultural heritage and hopes to help foster an economic atmosphere that can support more families.
“What we’re losing is the young families with kids,” Jackson said.
Blackler comes to the election as a former teacher, real estate broker, Flathead County detention officer and current school bus driver.
While he has tried multiple times to run for a legislative seat, Blackler has yet to win an election. This year, his main focus will be on the state’s budget, which he said is headed toward a deficit. Lawmakers will have to create a spending plan that addresses the required needs of government service while looking for cost-savings in state departments.
“There are places in all of those areas where we can economize,” Blackler said.
This might mean consolidating jobs and looking for cheaper rent for government offices, he said.
Property reappraisal will also be on his list of priorities, Blackler said.
“It is unconscionable for people to be charged taxes based on a market value that’s out of date,” he said, adding that circuit breakers accounting for income, age and other special situations could be put in place to ensure no one is taxed off their property.
Blackler also said he is interested in pursuing legislation to add a new definition for a village to state law, which would fall between full-county control and an independent city and could be useful for Bigfork.
The medical marijuana law will also need to be tightened for more oversight, Blackler said.
Overall, the Democrat said he hopes lawmakers can work together to address statewide economic distress.
“It’s important that we actually see a means of working together as legislators,” Blackler said. “I would hope that in the eyes of the electorate that they would have a better opportunity to view the Legislature as an entity that’s going to work to solve problems.”
The general election is on Nov. 2. Absentee ballots are available until noon on Nov. 1.
BEACON ELECTION 2010 CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE: Senate District 5
1. What is the top issue facing your district and how do you plan on addressing it in 2011?
2. How should the Legislature change the property reappraisal process, if at all?
3. How should the Medical Marijuana Act be addressed in the 2011 session, specifically?
NAME: Edd Blackler
OCCUPATION: Retired Vocal music teacher, Realtor, Detention Officer (currently a school bus driver)
YEARS IN THE VALLEY: first came in 1966 to be part of the Bigfork Summer Playhouse company.
1. Voters in District Five are facing the same challenges that all Montanans face. Many have lost employment, and all are concerned about their economic stability.
I plan to work diligently with fellow legislators to fashion a state budget that fulfills the requirements set forth in the State Constitution to provide for safety, health, and the opportunity for the pursuit of happiness. I will be especially focused on protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the atmosphere in which we live, and the nature of the resources that surround us.
2. Property assessment for tax purposes needs to reflect the current fair market value.
3. If marijuana is to be used for medical purposes it needs to be prescribed by medical doctors and dispensed through normal medical channels. The production of marijuana needs to be carefully monitored and under controlled conditions.
NAME: Verdell Jackson
POLITICAL PARTY: Republican
RESIDENCY: Kalispell, 19 years
1. Good paying jobs. Montana now has a tourism economy with average wages that are among the lowest in the nation (48th). Prudent expansion of the harvest of natural resources, especially energy resources can provide low cost energy, good paying jobs, eliminate the need for the business equipment tax and mitigate the tax burden on property owners. Legislation to reduce unnecessary regulations and litigation is needed to improve the financial opportunities of families in Montana.
2. The Montana State Constitution needs to be amended to allow more flexibility for the legislature to craft a property tax system that is predictable and fair. Being forced to use market value to comply with the Constitution has resulted in people being taxed out of their houses. The market fluctuates dramatically. The present appraisal was done on a bubble of speculation and the bottom has now dropped out of the market. Some people can not pay their taxes and they can not sell their houses unless they drop it far below the appraised value.
3. Repeal it and start over. The initiative did not accomplish its stated purpose.
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