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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

House Candidates Zinke & Lewis Battle Over Public Lands

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Jeremy Bradford (CC-BY-NC-2)
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Both the Democratic and Republican U-S House candidates agree access to public lands in Montana is a critical part of the state’s culture and heritage.

But that’s about all they agree on when it comes to this issue.

As Yellowstone Jackie Yamanaka reports, Democrat John Lewis is aggressively going after Zinke on the issue of public lands. So Zinke held a press conference in Billings today to reiterate his position.

Standing amid a show room of all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles at Reiter’s Marina in Billings, Zinke laid out his position on public land access and called for improved management of federal lands.

"When I was growing up in MT the forests were managed well," Zinke said. "What’s happened since I’ve grown up? We’ve become polarized, and public land is for multiple use, and we should return to the charter of multiple use. Looking at impact and realizing our land is precious and we need to preserve our legacy for generations."

The Republican also wants his opponent’s campaign to be truthful.

"I think toward the end there’s the tendency to deceive and lie about different positions," Zinke said.

Specifically, on his record on public lands.

"I’m not the guy that wants to sell land," Zinke said, "I’m the guy that wants to manage it better, which we need to."

When asked if he thinks opponent John Lewis's ad accusing him of favoring selling public lands is hurting his campaign, Zinke said no. But he says its time for the truth.

"I want to make sure voters understand the position and there’s a contrast between the candidates and that’s fine," Zinke said, "but lets focus on the issues and the contrasts truthfully rather than making things up. And if you say a lie a hundred times it doesn’t make it truthful.

In response, Lewis says he stands by his ad.

"As a candidate for lieutenant governor, he signed a pledge calling for the transfer of public lands to state control and its in his party’s platform," Lewis says of Zinke. "It’s out there and its real and there are forces that want to see this happen."

Lewis thinks this issue is hurting Zinke, because of the comments he’s hearing from Montanans as he campaigns across the state. He points to an encounter he had last week in Ravalli County.

"We stopped at a local restaurant there and this guy came up to me," Lewis said, "a fishing guide – and he said, 'are you John Lewis?' He said, 'I really like what you’re saying about public lands. We need to keep those public and we need to fight for better access.'"

Voters are having their say now on this and other issues. Even though the November general election is some three weeks away, Montana voters have been mailing in their absentee ballots since last week.

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