Veteran Lawmakers Square off in Senate 2 Republican Primary

By Beacon Staff

The Senate District 2 Republican primary features two veteran lawmakers trying to make the switch from the House to the Senate, with a third candidate trying to break into the state Legislature for the first time.

Dee Brown of Coram, who is term-limited in the House after four previous two-year terms, and Bill Beck from outside of Whitefish, who has served three terms as a representative and currently represents House District 6, both say their House experience has prepared them for a four-year Senate term.

Meanwhile, Suzanne Brooks of Whitefish will try to overcome the name recognition of the other two candidates as the June 5 primary nears. Brooks ran for the same seat in 2008 and lost in the primary to Ryan Zinke, who received more than twice as many votes.

Zinke decided to run as Republican gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone’s running mate rather than defend his Senate seat. The winner of the Republican primary will advance to November’s general election to face Dave Fern of Whitefish, who is the only Democrat in the Senate District 2 race.

Brown, 63, said the combination of six decades living in Senate District 2 and her years in the Legislature make her the right person for the job. If elected, she said she would push for expanded natural resource development in order to create jobs and stimulate the economy. She is the owner of Canyon RV Campground & Cabins in Hungry Horse.

“I feel that it’s crucial to send a seasoned veteran who knows the area and has a history here and who can get the job done efficiently and faster,” Brown said.

Beck, 73, is also touting his legislative experience, particularly on the House appropriations committee. During the last session, he was the committee’s vice chairman. As senator, he said he would work to improve the business climate for small businesses and promote natural resource development.

Beck, who is retired, moved to the valley over 20 years ago after serving various jobs in Washington D.C., including treasurer of the District of Columbia and director of public safety for the D.C. area.

“I think I can make a difference in the Senate,” Beck said.

Brooks, 73, said her top priority is banning abortion in Montana, either outright or with exceptions if they are necessary to get a bill passed. She says the state has an “imbalanced population” with large numbers of older people and not enough babies being born. A retired teacher, Brooks believes legislation to ban abortions is “passable – I think the time is ripe for this.”

“We need to try to save our unborn posterity,” she said. “We need to worry about that now so in the future we have people to be the workers.”

Senate District 2 candidates were asked the following three questions:

1. What can the Legislature do to encourage economic recovery and job growth?
2. Besides the economy, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the Legislature?
3. Given that the Legislature appears to be starting with a surplus, what would be your budgetary approach heading into the session?


Name: Bill Beck
Age: 73
Occupation: Retired, currently serving in House District 6
Years in the valley: 20

1. Be more supportive of small businesses by reducing the red tape required, cut down on the redundancy of filing the same information year after year, provide health care incentives, eliminate the business equipment tax, provide energy cost savings and expansion tax breaks. After all, if we are to have job growth and economic recovery we must provide our employers with the tools. Development of our natural resources and tracking the Keystone XL pipeline through Montana will, without question, provide jobs and help stabilize our economy.

2. There are several issues that the Legislature must face. (1) As of July 1, 2011 the Teachers Retirement System has a $1.8 billion unfunded liability. Statutory rates already fund two-thirds of that liability, leaving a shortfall of about $633 million. The Legislature must come up with some changes now to avert the need for more drastic measures later. (2) Dealing with Obamacare and the impact it could have on the citizens and businesses in the state of Montana. (3) We must continue to focus on curbing state spending to reduce state income and property taxes. This move should also benefit small business taxes.

3. I believe that if we have a sizable surplus we should approach it very cautiously. There will be legislators ready to fund various projects but I feel that we should treat this revenue enhancement as a “rainy day fund” – at least at the beginning of the session until we have firmly established our priorities. I also feel that if we were to reduce the “rainy day fund” it should be in the form of tax rebates to the taxpayers. After all, their taxes created the surplus and this move would help to stimulate the economy.

Name: Dee Brown
Age: 63
Occupation: Campground owner
Years in the valley: 61

1. We must be sure to stay out of the way and make it easier for private enterprise to develop our natural resources. We were never the bottom of the barrel when we were actually utilizing our forests, mining the treasures of Montana and encouraging families to stay here while offering good-paying jobs. Montana must follow our neighbors’ leads and start using our coal, gas and oil to bring jobs here. We should also spend more time courting our northern neighbors. Canadians are a great source of increasing trade for all sectors of the Montana economy.

2. There will be many eyes on the ‘surplus’ since there’s always someone who wants to spend money. I think we need to bank some but remember that overtaxing caused the full coffers. Lowering tax rates could encourage entrepreneurs to bring their businesses here to employ more of us, along with eliminating the business equipment tax.

3. Let’s never forget that this money was paid by hardworking Montanans. Giving back a portion and keeping some for a rainy day would be an approach I will support. There will be many bills in the hopper next session attempting to spend it on some well-deserved program. This will get us in the same boat as the federal government where programs continue long past their usefulness. We cannot afford this willy-nilly approach to spending people’s money. Let ‘we, the people of Montana’ decide where to spend their money, not the government.

Name: Suzanne Brooks
Age: 73
Occupation: Retired teacher, author
Years in the valley: 17
(No photo provided)

1. I would suggest offering to businesses a reduction or elimination of the 2 percent business equipment tax for those businesses that would hire new employees. The number of new jobs that a business would need to hire would depend upon its size. There could be three categories of businesses: for example, small, medium and large. If a small business hired one new employee, the tax could be reduced by 1 percent, and if it hired two new employees, the tax could be eliminated. For a mid-sized business, if it hired three new employees, the tax could be reduced by 1 percent, and if it hired four new employees, the tax could be eliminated. For a large business, if it hired seven new employees, the tax could be reduced, and if it hired eight new employees, the tax could be eliminated. This plan could be for three years. The state would not lose money because it would be getting more income tax from the newly hired employees. It is possible that, in reality, the above figures might need to be adjusted.

2. By next November, I cannot predict what the most pressing issue might be. For me it would be the issue I have campaigned on, which is to get a law passed restricting abortion in the state of Montana. I might add, that if there were more babies being born, in five to six years there would be a need for more jobs in the schools and the schools would get more revenue from education funding.

3. My first approach would be to make sure it is in the highest interest-bearing account available. Then I would work to maintain that surplus, which Montana is indeed fortunate to have.

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