2016 Election: House District 11

Republican Derek Skees faces Democrat Eileen Bech

By Beacon Staff
House District 11 candidates Eileen Bech, left, and Derek Skees. Courtesy Photos

The Questions:

1. Are infrastructure improvements a major concern for Montana and, if so, what would you do to help pass a comprehensive infrastructure package?

2. Montanans rely on extraction-based industries for jobs, even as demand grows for clean and renewable energy in the region. How would you help employees in the coal, oil and natural gas industries maintain their livelihood, or pursue training in other fields in Montana’s changing economic landscape?

3. Given that the Legislative Fiscal Division has projected an ending fund balance that is considerably less than what was anticipated, what would be your budgetary approach heading into the session?

4. Should the state of Montana push to take more control of some federal land management?

5. What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the 2017 Legislature, and how do you propose dealing with it?

Eileen Bech

Residence: Kalispell
Political Party: Democrat
Family: Two grown sons, two grandchildren; husband is deceased
Education: Graduate of Helena Senior High School; Linfield College, McMinnville Oregon: B.A. in English (junior year at Sheffield University, Sheffield, England); Eastern Washington University: M.A. in History with emphasis in Frontier and Native American studies
Occupation: Retired; formerly taught at high school and community college levels and was full-time homemaker
Political Experience: Newcomer
Website: www.eileenbechhd11.com

1. I support our needed infrastructure improvements, but how we fund them and which get priority are the sticking points. Meeting updated water treatment standards for drinking water and wastewater are two urgent needs. This issue is an example of the importance of electing people who can work well with others who hold differing viewpoints.

2. It’s important to help individuals who lose their livelihoods due to changes in the economic base. But when entire towns are affected, as is Colstrip, offering them help within the context of community is vital. It’s imperative to help them, as a unit, define their new economic identity. Residents should not have to face the loss of their long-standing community in order to find work.

The town of Leavenworth, Washington is an example of a community that found a way to reinvent itself when its timber identity was no longer viable. Could we use students and professors of our university community planning departments as a cost-effective way to think outside the box? With professional collaboration for neighbors to help neighbors explore new ways to survive economically, and with financial incentives and support targeted at retraining/re-tooling for new skills and facilities, there is hope for individuals and communities.

3. The state constitution requires a balanced budget, so the issue is: What are our priorities? My priority is making sure we maintain funding for quality public education and training, because we need a skilled and dynamic workforce to attract desirable economic engines, and we need opportunities for workforce retraining to respond to economic shifts in our fast-changing world.

Furthermore, quality education is about more than dollars and cents; it is about quality of life. Montanans were recently named as third in the nation in attending performing arts events and movies. We have a social environment that fosters creativity and innovation, and it can be an opportunity to build on more than our scenic resources. I want to see adequate educational support so that our students — young and old — can work in Montana to train and contribute their talents.

4. Control? No. Collaboration? Yes. Montana cannot afford to take on financial responsibilities that rightly belong to the federal government. We need our federal agencies to establish the priorities and the funding to maintain our public lands. These are lands that belong to all of us, not just Montanans, and just as they belong to all of us, as a nation we must take financial responsibility for properly maintaining them.

5. I think the most pressing issue facing the Legislature is political polarity. We are a fractured, splintering society. We need legislators who are not ideologues bent on imposing their agenda, but persons who can respectfully work with opposing ideas to find middle ground and keep us moving forward. Whether it’s updating infrastructure or coping with energy supply changes, balancing a projected revenue shortfall, or addressing problems of drugs and mental health, we must cooperatively seek solutions. The most pressing need is to work together.

Derek Skees

Residence: Kalispell
Political Party: Republican
Family: Wife: Ronalee Skees; three children and five grandchildren
Occupation: Self-employed construction consultant, Skywest employee, CMI sales consultant.
Education: AA Degree Seminole Community College (Sanford, Florida)
Political Experience: Served as House District 4 representative in 2011, involved with every session since as an advocate
Website: Derekskees.com

1. Yes, they are critical and will need to be funded. The problem arises when we add projects that are not necessary, such as museums and district specific pet projects; we need to keep infrastructure to roads, bridges, water and sewer. We also need a hard look at student growth numbers, realizing that Montana and America are aging, and very soon the number of folks over 65 will exceed those under 15. The old model of brick-and-mortar structures for schools each year will not be as necessary. In fact, our incarceration facilities need some serious attention, as well as new drug treatment programs. We have a lot of need, and limited resources, so this will require honest assessments and tough decisions.

2. These jobs are vital to Montana families and the revenues needed to run this state. I would work to reduce state regulations and red tape, explore ways to stimulate job startups, and encourage our Legislature to join other states in pushing back failed federal policies that are strangling the power industry. We also need to take a hard look at the Renewable Portfolio Standard in Montana, and make sure there is a level playing field for every energy sector, with equal tax rates, regulation and elimination of state subsidies for selected sectors. We desperately need responsible, accountable and profitable resource extraction in Montana.

3. I think we need a session dedicated to reform and repeal of the onerous regulatory environment present in Helena, working hard to develop a culture of “open for business” in Montana that is sorely lacking today. After two cycles of heavy growth in state expenditures, we need to rein in spending, focus on waste and corruption, and find ways to shrink state government’s footprint over the private sector. We should work to set a constitutional limit of state growth to 2 percent of the private sector growth, and increase transparency on what the state spends our money on.

4. Yes, the federal government has demonstrated it can’t manage our forests like they used to, and in fact currently violate our constitutional right to clean air and water every summer with the catastrophic fires we have had. When Montana became a state, we had a contract with the federal government where they would give our lands back to us over time, just like all the states east of the Mississippi, and we need to hold them to that deal. This, of course, doesn’t mean national parks, just national forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land.

5. A lower revenue estimate with a state government used to big growth. We need new tools to deal with this problem, from reduced regulation, to establishing zero-based budget agencies, to a new business-friendly culture in our permitting processes and reduced taxation so the private sector can grow again. We need zero-based budgets for each department, a transparent expenditure process for each, and accountability for waste and corruption when found.

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