Running Against Bennett, Incumbent Fern Seeking a Fourth Term In House District 5

Rep. Dave Fern has won the Whitefish district by 56%, 69% and 60% of the vote going back to 2016

By Mike Kordenbrock
The state capitol building in Helena. Beacon file photo

In Whitefish’s House District 5, Republican challenger Lyn Bennett is hoping to unseat Democrat incumbent Rep. Dave Fern, who is seeking his fourth term in office.

Fern is the owner and operator of Whitefish Chimney Solutions, a chimney maintenance and supply business. Bennett is the current president of the Glacier Country Pachyderm Club and a board member for Flathead County Republican Women.

In making the case for himself, Fern cited his institutional knowledge and willingness to work across the aisle, and said that he hoped voters would see the value in his experience.

In the last legislative session Fern served on the House Local Government Committee, was the minority vice chair of the House Taxation Committee, and also served on the House Transportation Committee. In total, three bills that Fern sponsored were passed. Two of those bills were for authorizing studies. The third, HB 629, established job creation income tax credits. In discussing his legislative priorities, Fern pointed to his committee work as a kind of guiding framework.

Fern pointed to the lack of market rate workforce housing, childcare expansion and transportation improvements as priority issues in his district. On housing, Fern said that implementing recommendations from the governor’s task force on housing will be a priority in the Legislature.

“It comes from different perspectives of regulatory reforms, zoning reforms and looking at monetary assistance to lower the cost of homebuilding and multifamily buildings. So, I think that’s really important.”

Bennett was not available for an interview before publication of this story. During a Kalispell Chamber of Commerce candidate forum last month, she described the housing crisis as a supply and demand issue and said that price caps and subsidies won’t address the supply side of the issue, but that improved affordability could be achieved through fast-tracking the permit process, lowering impact fees, allowing accessory dwelling units and relaxing “some of the excessive local zoning and regulations.” She added that “more apartments built in the vicinity of large employees could alleviate some of the shortage.”

Bennett went on to outline a pathway to improve home affordability by ending “spending driven inflation, unleashing clean and responsible American oil and gas production, promoting responsible timber harvesting, and respecting our local busines leaders to make decisions with fewer restrictions.”

On the state budget surplus, Fern said he he’s open to returning the money to taxpayers but wants to explore other possible uses, including paying off some of the state’s debt, allocating money towards a housing fund that could lower the cost of building affordable housing between 50% and 125% of average wages, allocating money for capital improvements, and seeing if some of the surplus could be used to help with what he described as an emerging issue within the state pension systems where the value has been negatively affected by stock market. On property taxes, he said he expects the Legislature to look at lowering the rate, but added that he would like to see programs expanded to give property tax assistances to more middle class people. 

Bennett wants to return the budget surplus to taxpayers as a way to help people dealing with bills that have grown due to inflation, and said she wants to see a freeze on property taxes. Additionally, Bennett said she wanted to look at taxing wind and solar energy to lower taxes.

Fern characterized his stance on abortion as close to the status quo that’s been established through the state supreme court’s interpretation of the Montana Constitution, which currently protects abortion rights. He said he considers himself a pro-choice candidate, meaning he supports women having the right to have an abortion.

At the chamber forum Bennett and other candidates were asked if they supported the state Constitution as it stands, with the person who asked the question referencing the Constitution’s protections for privacy. The state Constitution and its privacy provision have previously been interpreted by the Montana Supreme Court as protecting the right to abortion.

Bennett said she would stand by the state Constitution, saying that she thinks privacy is important. “The Supreme Court interprets how these things are applied. I think HIPAA laws are important, medical freedom and privacy are important, including for vaccine passports and a variety of medical … and not just medical privacy.” Bennett’s campaign website does not mention a position on abortion.

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