The race for House District 12 representing Polson in the state Legislature showcases two newcomers who hope to replace Rep. Greg Hertz, a Republican whose term limit is up in the House, and who has no Democratic challenger in his bid for Senate District 6.
Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Gerry Browning, 69, moved to Polson with her husband in 1988 where she worked in health care as a nurse until she switched careers in 1994 to become a small business owner.
Browning, a Democrat, operated Terrace Flowers and Gifts on Main Street in Polson for 20 years until purchasing a bar, which she remodeled and renamed Vine and Tap and sold in 2018.
While Browning, who is now retired, has no political experience, she ran for the Polson School Board and was involved in the public school system while her children were students. With a background in nursing, Browning says health care should be at the forefront of issues as the pandemic rages onward.
“I believe one of the most urgent issues is health care,” Browning said. “I think that everybody wants affordable, accessible health care and we need to continue toward that goal.”
One priority for Browning is continuing Medicaid expansion. Environmental issues and their effect on water and Montana’s economy also rank at the top of her list of concerns.
Browning would like to see a lower reliance on fossil fuels while working to create clean energy with wind and water.
“I was in Pittsburgh when the steel mill closed,” she said. “I know what happens when generations can’t work anymore and I get what the coal miners are saying … But I also know that it’s going to happen and we need to work with the people in these industries to retrain them and to help them get a different job so they have economic survival. It’s a balancing act.”
While the fossil fuel industry helps fund the public education system, Browning believes the state should look at other funding methods. She also supports funding preschool.
Since the pandemic has upended businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, Browning believes “getting a handle on this coronavirus” is the best way to address the economic downturn while providing high-paying jobs.
In an effort to balance the state budget, Browning believes the state government should look into its departments to see where it could save money.
“All these little things add up,” she said. “Go to each department and cut some costs.”
Browning said budget cuts would be a challenge, but she’s open-minded and willing to work with others to see where cuts are necessary. While Browning does not support a sales tax, she believes raising automatic fees, like car registration, could bring in more revenue.
Born and raised in Polson, Linda Reksten, 69, spent 34 years in public education before retiring three years ago. After starting her career as a teacher, she moved up to serve as a school superintendent in Butte for three years and Polson for four years.
“That’s political experience all by itself,” Reksten said. “Constantly dealing with parents, students and issues. I think that is a very adequate preparation for the Legislature.”
Reksten believes relieving property taxes and growing wages while creating funding for town and school infrastructure are Polson’s most dire issues.
“I’m proposing a renewable energy trust to create a pot of money for schools to access so not every bond is falling on the shoulders of taxpayers,” Reksten said.
Reksten also proposes that schools have more flexibility with funding while establishing a capital improvement fund so they can have a savings account for large infrastructure purchases.
To address Montana jobs, Reksten suggests that CARES Act money should be allocated for struggling businesses, especially restaurants and employees. She also would like to see more opportunities in certification programs, including trades like electricians and plumbers.
To balance the state budget, Reksten would like to look at unfunded positions in each department that typically would be funded to make a more “streamlined” government.
Typically, if we are short a position, we keep that funding in that account for the possible replacement of that position,” she said. “Instead of holding open those positions, we could streamline some of those departments so they don’t have those positions funded. That would be an easy way to not create painful reductions.”
Reksten would also consider cutting the 3% bed tax instituted on the hospitality industry.
“I’m not willing to raise taxes because already we have people in dire straights, losing jobs and going to unemployment,” Redksten said.
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