The Roundup -

Senate Candidates Argue Differences At Forum


Republican candidate Bret Smelser said he predicted the race for Senate District18 was going to get uglier. If the forum sponsored by the Girard Hall Homemakers Thursday night was any indication, the former Sidney mayor was correct.

From the start, discussion was aggressive. Cody Drew, campaign manager for Casey Brock, read a letter from the candidate. Brock couldn’t attend the forum because he needed to be at a Board of Medical Examiners’ meeting.

From Brock’s letter, Drew read in regards to candidate Steve Hinebauch, “My question to Steve is how can he be the best candidate to protect my constitutional freedoms when his campaign manager, Betsy Hedrick, just recently voted against the good people of Glendive and their freedom of speech by failing to do away with a city ordinance than the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in other states is unconstitutional?”

During his introduction statement, Hinebauch said, “the elephant in the room” was fliers sent out against conservative Republican candidates by a more moderate part of the Republican Party. He listed some of the contributors to the more moderate group and those included Smelser’s treasurer, Tami Christensen. Later in the meeting, Christensen explained its not “dark money” because she’s not hiding anything. She is not ashamed to support Montanans for Responsible Leadership because she wants legislators to listen to their citizens instead of just their party.

Smelser described himself as a fiscal conservative. “I can tell you I’m for less taxes, less government. That’s easy.” Smelser said what’s tougher is working to get an infrastructure bill or impact bill when the streams of revenue are decreasing.

When candidates were asked why taxes are higher for oil companies drilling in Montana, Smelser said higher workers compensation and corporate taxes are hurting Montana’s business economy.

Hinebauch added the permit process is also longer in Montana. “To a liberal, there’s never a bad tax.”

Later in the forum when candidates discussed the state’s upcoming financial challenges, Hinebauch said Republicans working with Democrats in the 1990s resulted in more taxes for property owners. “That’s because we had liberal politicians getting that done.”

He said, while mentioning former President Ronald Reagan, that the debt isn’t because of too few taxes but because of too much spending.

“We need to work together with a coalition of conservative Republicans,” Hinebauch said.

Smelser said if a group of hard-right conservatives are leading the way, “we’re not going to get anything done” as far as receiving more funding for cities and towns.

Regarding the defeat of House Bill 416, which included infrastructure funding, both Hinebauch and Smelser said they would have voted against the final bill.

“That last bill was junk,” Smelser said. But the candidate said a compromise was possible with a bill in 2011 if Republican leaders talked with Gov. Bullock.

If that occurred, Smelser said the “little old lady on the corner” would be paying lower taxes in eastern Montana today.

“You (Hinebauch) can paint me however you want, but it’s going to take cooperation from both sides of the aisle,” Smelser said.

Regarding the drugs and suicide problems in Montana, Hinebach said strong families are needed. “We have killed the family in our country.”

Smelser, who described himself as a faith-based conservative, noted the problems are concerns and money is needed to be found in the current funding to address the issues.


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