In the race for House District 10 to represent Bigfork in the state Legislature, incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Noland, who has served for three terms, is squaring off against Democrat Jennifer Allen.
Born and raised in Whitefish, Mark Noland, 61, lives in the greater Bigfork area in the Swan Valley with his wife of 40 years. Still active in the workforce, he’s owned Flathead Janitorial and Rug Service for the past 35 years.
Prior to the Legislature, Noland served as chairman of the Lake County Republican Central Committee and has served on several other committees.
As a legislator, Noland supported the aquatic invasive species bill, which helps prevent invasive species from entering Montana’s waters.
Noland views jobs as the top issue facing Montana right now amid the pandemic.
“We need to open our economy back up,” Noland said. “The government has squelched all that … We’ve seen way too many businesses go under because they could not survive the COVID-19 issue.”
“I do think the governor overreached his bounds in his mandate that we have to wear masks and that we have to close businesses,” he added.
Noland also believes additional unemployment benefits have discouraged people from working.
“When they make as much money on unemployment, why would they work? We have a shortage in Montana and people don’t work and they’re not going to work because the government says, ‘I can stay home,’” Noland said.
Noland believes the fossil fuel industry should fund public schools instead of raising property taxes. Regulations and lawsuits are holding back timber, oil and coal industries, Noland said.
Combining government agencies and reducing department sizes can help with budget cuts, too, Noland said.
“I think these agencies just haven’t been led well,” Noland said.
After growing up in a Quaker family in Philadelphia, Jennifer Allen moved to Montana with her husband after graduating with a degree in psychology and worked in the mental health field. She then pursued her career out of state and moved to the Flathead Valley more than a decade ago. She has been in Bigfork ever since.
Drawing from her career in health care, Allen highlights the pandemic as the Montana’s most important issue, which she says has exposed holes in the health care and support systems.
“We have insufficient family leave, insufficient unemployment and all of that is wrecking our economy,” Allen said.
Allen says until the pandemic is over, it will be difficult for Montanans to access high-paying jobs.
In addition to the pandemic, Allen says climate change is a crisis impacting the environment and economy. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels would help Montana’s farmers since climate change impacts weather, fire patterns, weeds and insects, she said. Wildfire smoke also impacts the summer tourism season, Allen said.
To address the state budget, Allen, who calls for “progressive change” in the valley, suggests “modernizing the tax system” and adjusting tax brackets to make them “fair and equitable.” She’s also against cutting human services and against a sales tax.
While Allen realizes budget cuts are necessary, she’s unwilling to cut anything related to health care.
“That’s idiotic in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “I don’t believe we should cut government jobs or things of that nature. I don’t think we can cut support for agriculture in a pandemic. Cutting services is always bad and it always impacts somebody.
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