In his one term, Sen. Bruce Tutvedt of Kalispell has risen through the Legislature’s ranks to become Senate Tax Committee chairman and Senate President Pro Tempore, making him one of the chamber’s highest-ranking leaders.
Now he faces a reelection primary challenge against Rollan Roberts II of Whitefish, a political newcomer who is making his presence known through volunteers equipped with signs and an enthusiasm that matches their candidate’s.
The winner of the June 5 Republican primary advances to face Democrat Shannon Hanson in November’s general election.
Roberts may be unknown to many, as he has only lived in the valley since 2010, but anybody who has driven through Kalispell on U.S. Highway 93 recently has likely seen his supporters at the busiest intersections waving signs adorned with his name.
“I feel that I have the most excited supporters in the valley,” Roberts said in an interview last week. “And the reason for that is because I think they understand we now have an opportunity to put government back in the hands of ‘we the people.’”
Roberts, 33, says he wants to give “freedom-loving” voters a “conservative choice” and is aiming to carve out a position farther to the right than Tutvedt. But Tutvedt, 56, says his legislative record demonstrates that he is a “jobs Republican.” He points to his work on cutting the business equipment tax and reforming workers’ compensation.
A number of the state’s major business groups have given Tutvedt a top rating, including the Montana Chamber of Commerce and Montana Contractors’ Association. The Montana Building Industry Association named Tutvedt legislator of the year.
“They want to go after my record,” Tutvedt said last week. “My number is in the phone book. Go ahead and call me if you want to talk about my record. They’re casting some weird aspersions. I’m proud of my record.”
Among Roberts’ supporters who have been critical of Tutvedt is Chuck Baldwin, a pastor and former Constitution Party presidential candidate who moved from Florida to the Flathead in 2010. In a blog post from early March, Baldwin called Tutvedt a “RINO” – Republican in Name Only – and outlined his support for Roberts.
Saying he has “known Rollan for many years,” Baldwin said Roberts is a “courageous constitutionalist.” Roberts describes Baldwin as a “spiritual counselor” for his family.
“If every reader sends a $20 contribution to Rollan’s election campaign,” Baldwin wrote, “this just might put him over the top. Will you help?”
Tutvedt was born and raised in the Flathead and today runs the family farm in West Valley with his father Harold, where they grow wheat, alfalfa and canola. He graduated from Montana State University in 1978 with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural business. He has been married to his wife Linda for 33 years and has three children.
Before being elected to the Senate in 2008, Tutvedt’s public service experience included a stint as the chairman of the Montana Farm Service Agency, where his committee oversaw 300 federal government employees. He was appointed to the post by former President George W. Bush in 2001.
Tutvedt was also appointed to the Flathead Basin Commission by former Gov. Marc Racicot and the Wolf Advisory Committee by former Gov. Judy Martz.
Roberts was born in West Virginia, where his father was a minister and school administrator and his mother was a teacher. He attended Crown College and Liberty University before receiving a business doctorate degree from California University, which he said is located outside of Los Angeles. He has been married to his wife Ren for 13 years and has two daughters.
Roberts is currently the CEO of 24ravens, which he describes as a biotech company that develops formulas to support the immune system. He said the formulas can be used by people with a range of health conditions, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and HIV.
On his business disclosure statement filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, Roberts also listed himself as the director of Capital Defense International.
According to the company’s website, Capital International Defense is based in Knoxville, Tenn., and “was founded by seasoned and elite members of the United States military.” It provides executive security, firearms training, self defense and “access to the most elite, experienced, and professional Private Special Forces Unit in the World.”
“It is impossible to find a better organization to secure your assets/executives, complete specialized missions, or train your team at Capital Defense rates,” the website says. “We did the impossible – highest service at the lowest rates!”
In an interview, Roberts said he invested in the company when it started up, which is why he’s listed as a “director.” He said he doesn’t play an active role in the company nor does he know much about its current status, though the mailing address that originally appeared on the company’s website is the same Whitefish address listed for his 24ravens business and campaign. The address was recently removed from the site.
“I don’t have any ties to it or in terms of management or running it or really even knowing the status of it,” he said.
Roberts says he wants to use his business experience to help make the state more business friendly and reach out to local companies while in the Legislature. He originally declared for the House District 4 seat but switched to the Senate race. The Senate District 3 Republican primary previously included a third candidate, Jayson Peters, who dropped out.
Roberts believes his message of small government and parental choice in education will resonate with conservative voters. Roberts favors tax credits for private schools, which Tutvedt opposes.
Tutvedt is campaigning on his record and says he looks forward to the opportunity to continue working to improve Montana’s business climate through legislative action if reelected.
“I’m a jobs Republican and I’ve always been a jobs Republican,” Tutvedt said. “And I’ll keep being a champion of business.”
The Senate District 3 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?
SENATE DISTRICT 3 CANDIDATES
Name: Rollan Roberts II
Occupation: Founder and CEO of 24ravens
Years in the valley: 2
1. The Legislature can do three things to stimulate economic recovery and job growth: pass right to work legislation ending forced unionism and allowing competitive bidding on all state contracts, eliminate the business equipment tax, and provide incentives to companies looking to expand or relocate here that are strategic to the best interests of Montana citizens.
2. Education, property rights, property taxes, and local control issues will be in the forefront of the upcoming legislative session. I plan to improve education by increasing parental choice and transparency in our schools so that sex education isn’t being taught to kindergartners. I plan to protect private property rights instead of selling out to big government and corporations. I plan to address skyrocketing property taxes that are causing people to lose their homes. I plan to put the power back in the hands of the people by increasing local control and reducing “one-size-fits-all” state mandates.
3. My budgetary approach to the 2013 session will be the same as it is for businesses and families in the Flathead – we can’t spend what we don’t have. If businesses and families have to cut back when they have less money, so should government. I want to find ways to fund education and state infrastructure through natural resource development to relieve the property tax burden on Montana citizens. Any surpluses we have after meeting the needs of Montanans should go towards weaning ourselves off federal money and back to the citizens of Montana.
Name: Bruce Tutvedt
Years in the valley: 56
1. In the next session the caucus leadership plans to have over 40 jobs bills ready to go on day one – bills to simplify the tax code and lower rates, bills on medical malpractice tort reform, bills to promote natural resource development and make the permitting process quicker and more predictable. As Senate President Pro Tem, jobs and economic growth have been my first priority. In the last session I sponsored the bill to cut the business and equipment tax by 50 percent and was instrumental in getting the bill passed that cut employer workers’ comp rates by 20 percent.
2. The big issue in the 2013 session will be Montana government employee pension reform. Our current state pension system is over $3.5 billion underfunded. If left unchanged it will either bankrupt the state or we will face huge tax increases. This issue will take great leadership and significant structural changes to make the system actuarially sound long term. We must be fair to our hard-working teachers, state and local employees. Right now we have committees studying this issue. All parties must be willing to give so we can find a solution that protects the taxpayer and is fair to our employees.
3. Our budget surplus is something the citizens of Montana and their elected officials should be very proud of. My priorities are property tax relief, pension reform, education reform and adequately funding education. Most of the surplus is onetime money and I will ensure it is treated as such. I will continue to look for ways to reduce government spending and believe that in these very uncertain times Montana needs to carry significant ending-fund balances that will keep Montana in a financially secure position. I will take a very fiscally conservative approach to the surplus and how the ongoing money is appropriated.
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