Congressional candidates for Montana’s Eastern District take the stage in Montana News Network’s debate in Great Falls on Oct. 1, 2022.
Democrat Penny Ronning and Independent Gary Buchanan split hairs over government spending on climate change during a debate in Billings on Wednesday.
Democrat Ronning said that one of the biggest differences between her and Independent Buchanan was their support for Build Back Better, President Joe Biden’s economic and climate package that passed this year as the Inflation Reduction Act.
Buchanan said he first opposed the bill due to the price tag associated with it, which was estimated to be at $2 trillion as Build Back Better, but when passed cost more than $700 billion with nearly $400 billion in net deficit offsets.
“How it ended up with about 85% climate change and 15% realistic health care, I would have supported and voted for that bill, because I think it does make some progress,” Buchanan said.
Ronning said this was the first time she heard Buchanan support the Build Back Better, to which Buchanan clarified that he didn’t support Build Back Better but rather the final outcome.
“Let’s remember that if we want to invest in how we address climate change, we are going to have to spend money. We cannot do that without investing and spending money in renewables,” Ronning said.
Buchanan said he was worried about spending, saying “we cannot spend our way out of this inflationary cycle.”
“We agree on a lot of other issues, but in terms of spending and your recent attacks on business people, we do not agree,” Buchanan said.
He later said that calling him a millionaire was “not the way to go.”
“I think you’ve called me a millionaire six or seven times now. And, you know, I have run a successful business. I’m very proud of it,” Buchanan said.
Ronning said she grew up in a small business family, and her father owned the Happy Diner in Billings, which closed in 2005. She cited her work as a city councilwoman where they were required to pass a balanced budget every year.
“So between the two of us, Gary, I’m actually the only one who’s actually had that experience and actually done that,” she said.
Buchanan and Ronning were the sole congressional candidates for the Eastern District to participate in Wednesday’s debate, with incumbent Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale bowing out due to a scheduling conflict and Libertarian Sam Rankin announcing he would not participate the morning of the event.
In response to a question regarding the projected Republican congressional majority following the midterm elections, Buchanan said he would not caucus with either Republicans or Democrats. Ronning responded that Buchanan should make it clear who he intends to caucus with and that the federal government is set up in a two-party system.
“I do think that a vote for an Independent candidate is a throwaway vote for Montanans,” Ronning said.
In answer to a question on whether Congress should intervene in response to school shootings, both candidates advocated for federal legislation.
“There is no reason why we cannot protect the Second Amendment and the second grader at the same time,” Ronning said.
Buchanan said he met a grandfather who wrote down what his grandchildren were wearing every time he dropped them off at school in case they needed to be identified as victims in a shooting.
He said he would support background checks and red flag laws, but not gun confiscation, saying that would “create a civil war.”
Ronning said she also didn’t believe in gun confiscation, but that government needs to protect citizens.
“We did it with Tylenol, we did it with the way that we have to take off our shoes when we go on an airplane. We can do this America, we have the ability to get around a table and talk to one another,” Ronning said.
Candidates also discussed abortion and election security, largely bringing up points discussed during their last forum on Saturday.
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