Richland County Republicans Host Candidates Forum
May 13, 2020 | View PDF
The Richland County Republican Central Committee (RCRCC) gathered for a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, May 7. The event was originally supposed to be scheduled as a debate between HD35 candidate Brandon Ler and HD35 incumbent, Joel Krautter, but when the committee learned that Krautter declined to attend the event they opened it to other area candidates including, Jerry Schillinger, Rhonda Knudsen, Austin Knudsen, Steve Hinebauch, Alan Doane, Bob Phalen, and Loren Young. Richland County Commissioner, Duane Mitchell, moderated the forum.
Thirty questions were chosen to ask the candidates by RCRCC chairwoman Tanya Rost and asked by Mitchell, and the event lasted two hours, with three minutes per answer allotted to the candidates.
Mitchell posed a question to Austin Knudsen about his race for Attorney General, “Many conservatives are not happy about the performance of Tim Fox as Attorney General. If elected, what will you do differently?”
Knudsen (a candidate for Attorney General, Culbertson) answered, “Unfortunately, Tim Fox has been a disappointment.” He continued, “The first thing he started doing is increase his budget every session... They’ve added over 20 million dollars to the Department of Justice Budget in the 7 1/2 he’s been there. I don’t think conservatives do that.”
Knudsen went on to laud both Matt Rosendale in the auditor’s office and Corey Stapleton in the Secretary of State’s office and said they provided good models for fiscal conservatism. He also spoke extensively about the problem of methamphetamine and his experience as a prosecutor to keep drug-related crimes in check.
Mitchell asked the candidates, “When you are elected, are there any bills or issues you would like to immediately begin working on?”
Ler (HD35, candidate, Savage) answered, “One of the biggest issues around here is property tax. That needs to be addressed. Also, trying to get rid of the regulations that are hampering us in small business, and trying to get worker’s comp rates down. It’s hard to hire with those rates so high. In my business, fencing, about $.10 on the dollar goes to worker’s comp. That hampers business.”
Schillinger (HD37, candidate, Circle) added, “One of my biggest disappointments was the passage of Medicaid Expansion last time, especially as we rejected it so soundly out here in Eastern Montana. And I was very disappointed to see my representative, my opponent, supported it.”
Schillinger, whose grandson sat on his lap stoically for the entire forum, said, “If I was elected, one thing that’s going to be pretty obvious is that revenue is going to be pretty sketchy, but I’m excited to go serve because we’ll have a conservative governor and do some really good things to reduce the expense of government.”
Mitchell asked the three current legislators about the Solutions Caucus, with whom Rep. Krautter coalesces in Helena. Mitchell posed the question, “In the legislature, conservatives are often dwarfed by Democrat cross-over voters in the Republican Party called the Solutions Caucus. What do voters need to know about this caucus and what they’re about?”
Rhonda Knudsen (incumbent and candidate for HD34, Culbertson) answered, “The thing about the Solutions Caucus that sticks in my mind is that they call themselves pragmatists...In my opinion a pragmatist is just someone without principles.” She added, “They refer to us as extremists. That’s because we do have principles and stand by our principles.”
Referring to the Solutions Caucus and adding to Knudsen’s comments, Doane (incumbent in HD36, Glendive) said, “The extremists are the splinter group that goes off from the Republican Party.”
Towards the end of the evening, Mitchell asked three of the current legislators, Doane, Hinebauch, and Rhonda Knudsen, “All of you to one extent or another have served with Representative Krautter but yet support Brandon Ler [for HD35]. Why is that and what words do you have for Brandon should he win the election so he can become a good legislator?”
Hinebauch (incumbent senator in SD18, Glendive) answered matter-of-factly, “Yes, I’ve served with Representative Krautter and have always been cordial with Joel and listened to his concerns. But the reason I’m supporting Brandon is because Joel is a liberal.”
Rhonda Knudsen said, “The reason I’m supporting Brandon is I know he has conservative principles. And I know he’s running because he knows Eastern Montana needs a conservative representative.”
Doane chimed in, “We have three people representing basically the same group of people but we have one who is so adversely different from the other two it just doesn’t work. In Eastern Montana we have to stick together to out-vote Missoula and if we don’t stick together it’s not going to happen.”
Mitchell asked the candidates about the phenomenon of left-leaning politicians running in the Republican Party instead of the Democratic Party in Eastern Montana and the House candidates had something to say about it.
Schillinger said, “We have a RINO in there right now serving House District 37...I am a conservative. I believe in those values. I wouldn’t be going to Helena to serve if I didn’t believe in these values. As Rhonda said, we’re referred to as extremists. But when I was growing up we just called them conservative values.”
Ler said, “I was born right the first time. I didn’t need an awakening-experience [to become a conservative]. I was born-and-raised conservative. I’m conservative to the core. I make no qualms about it...With [Krautter] voting with the Democrats 200 times or above, I’d just say, ‘If a man doesn’t stand for something, he’ll fall for anything.’ You need to know which side a man is going to be on.”
Mitchell took the opportunity to ask Austin Knudsen about his role as Attorney General to support gun rights should Trump not be re-elected.
Knudsen answered, “I am very fiercely Second Amendment. When Missoula stepped in to try to pass an illegal and unconstitutional local gun ordinance, I as the Speaker of the House am the one that drug Attorney General Tim Fox into that fight, kicking and screaming I might add...I would be very diligent and very aggressive to defend Montanan’s right to defend themselves and bear arms.”
This forum had 1100 views and can be seen from the Richland County Republican Central Committee’s Facebook page.
Rep. Joel Krautter made the following statement: “I have let the central comittee know I look forward to hearing from constituents at the Sidney Chamber and Farm Bureau candidate forum on May 14.”