Eastern district candidates face off in debate in Great Falls
Congressional candidates for Montana’s Eastern District take the stage in Montana News Network’s debate in Great Falls on Oct. 1, 2022.
Independent congressional candidate Gary Buchanan told Incumbent Rep. Matt Rosendale that his position on firearms taxing cost him an endorsement from the Montana Sportsman Alliance.
“Even the NRA, Matt, is against you on this,” said Buchanan.
But Republican Rosendale said firearms were the “only right that we have that gets taxed.”
Democrat Penny Ronning took a shot at the favorite too, saying Rosendale supported Second Amendment rights, but backed the end of federal protection for abortion care.
The exchange came Saturday during Montana Television Network’s debate in Great Falls. Incumbent Rosendale, former Billings City Councilwoman Ronning and investment advisory firm founder Buchanan shared the stage, and the congressional candidates in Montana’s Eastern District discussed a wide-array of issues including abortion, student loan forgiveness and election integrity.
Libertarian candidate Sam Rankin did not qualify for the debate.
Rosendale is the projected favorite in the largely conservative second district, after sweeping in the primaries and out-fundraising his competitors by a mile.
Rosendale split from Ronning and Buchanan on abortion, saying he was glad to see the issue was returned to states to determine in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs vs. Jackson decision in June.
When asked if a woman should be able to decide whether to risk her life for pregnancy, Rosendale responded that would be something between a woman and her doctor, but said that there were two lives at stake.
“And I think we need to do the best that we can to preserve both of those lives,” he said.
Rosendale also endorsed the work of crisis pregnancy centers, which exist in most cases to dissuade women from choosing to have an abortion.
Both Ronning and Buchanan said this was an issue that government should stay out of, with Buchanan criticizing Sen. Lindsay Graham’s bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks. Buchanan said he would vote to codify Roe vs. Wade, if elected.
Ronning said that abortion is healthcare and that men have never been legally responsible for pregnancies.
“There’s just no equality there,” she said. “It’s time that we start talking about reproductive equality in a serious nature, in a serious conversation.”
Candidates were asked about the loss of faith surrounding election processes, after debunked conspiracies around the 2020 election spread nationwide and in Montana.
Buchanan said that it was a “false issue” and that President Joe Biden and Republicans in Montana won fair and square.
“I’ve never seen such winners whine about winning so much,” he said.
Rosendale said it was “critically important” to maintain control of elections at the state level and cited the recent voting laws, which included ending Election Day voter registration, the use of college-issued identification cards to vote and a ban on paid ballot collectors that he said “assure election integrity right here in Montana.”
On Friday a district court judge ruled these laws unconstitutional.
Ronning said there needs to be a reconsideration of the “Fairness Doctrine,” which required broadcasters to present balanced coverage of controversial topics, saying that news has “become more about punditry than delivering the news.”
“The real news is that there was no election fraud, that our election workers are our neighbors. Those are the folks that we live with in our own community, and it’s time we start trusting our community again,” Ronning said.
President Joe Biden announced that up to $20,000 in student loans, per qualifying applicant, would be forgiven, in response to the rising cost of education.
Buchanan said he felt the economy was over-stimulated and pointed to his time as Chairman of Montana’s Banking Board in the 1980s.
“We restructured loans, we worked with interest rates to save banks, because it was a very serious point in our economy, and I think that that kind of thing is what you do with student loans,” he said. “I do not believe that a couple earning $250,000 should be granted forgiveness.”
“To save banks?” Ronning said in response to Buchanan. “How about we save people?”
Ronning said the government should work to allow people to develop equity to get out from under the debt “because they went and got an education.”
She talked about how tuition at her alma mater, Montana State University, changed rapidly from when she went for her undergraduate degree to her graduate degree.
Rosendale said that loan forgiveness was a “slap in the face” to anyone who paid off their loans.
Other issues discussed included Rosendale’s support of the Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now Act, or RETURN Act, which would remove the federal excise tax from firearms and ammunition, but also would gut more than $1 billion in annual funding for conservation programs and received strong opposition from outdoors groups in the state.
Candidates discussed Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, where Ronning spoke of her experience co-founding the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force and cited online safety for children as a needed priority.
The next debate for the eastern district is scheduled for Oct. 5 and Election Day is Nov. 8.
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