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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Democrats, Libertarians Rally In Kalispell

Libertarian candidate for U.S. House Mark Wicks (L) was in Kalispell last weekend inviting his supporters to show off their "ugly trucks."
NIcky Ouellet
Libertarian candidate for U.S. House Mark Wicks (L) was in Kalispell last weekend inviting his supporters to show off their "ugly trucks."

Democratic U.S. House candidate Rob Quist rallied supporters in Kalispell this weekend with the help of Senator Jon Tester. Libertarian candidate Mark Wickswas in Kalispell too, inviting his backers to show off their ugly trucks. Nicky Ouellet reports.

Nicky Ouellet: It was a big political weekend in the Flathead Valley with two of the three candidates vying for Montana's lone U.S. House seat hitting the area to rally voters. Libertarian candidate Mark Wicks made his first campaign trip to Whitefish.

On Saturday Wicks set up shop in a parking lot to shake hands and chat party ideology and cars with a dozen voters at an ugly truck competition. A playful reference to his campaign slogan to quote bring the work truck.

On Friday I caught up with him at a libertarian discussion night at Casey's bar.

Mark Wicks: So I like to say I'm the power pill of Montana politics. I'm the guy that if you send out there I've got more juice than the other two to get more voice for Montana. There's 435 representatives, and Montana only has one, and I can stand out where the other two just blend into the crowd and disappear.

NO: What what's it like running as a Libertarian in this special election, what's your experience been?

MW: Well people don't know I'm out there, and I think that's really sad because the people I've talked to are really happy to see a third party candidate that has common sense, that is honest. I'm pretty blunt spoken in my answers, and they like that. As a libertarian, being the only one in Washington, I bring a lot of clout from Montana into Washington because when they start asking for opinions on the six o'clock news they've got the Democrat opinion the Republican opinion and the libertarian opinion. Well guess what, the libertarian opinion is the Montana opinion. And so it brings a lot of power.

NO: What are the ideas that you see yourself bringing in to the special election?

MW: Well. As a Libertarian, I believe in liberty and freedom. I believe in less regulation and less government. Most people can get behind that.

NO: What issues do you see yourself as championing if you are elected and go to Washington?

MW: Oh, fiscal responsibility. As a farmer, we learn we have to stay within our budgets and we have to be very fiscally conservative just to get by.

NO: What other issues are really important to you?

MW: I would like to phase out the Department of Education and just block grant the monies to the states; get rid of that whole level bureaucracy and we'll have 50 experiments in education going on in the country. Each state would be able to do what works best for them.

NO: What about the health care bill that the House speaker supported?

MW: Well, I've I've never been in favor of government-run health care. I'm a repeal guy. I've never seen the government do any program that didn't get out of control, and I can't imagine how this one's going to be any different. To me, if they're serious about health care, you've got to get the cost down.

NO: How do you do that?

MW: Well part of it is just start with getting the liability costs down, get the insurance down. Another thing is to get the cost of the pharmaceuticals under control. So I advocate passing a law that the pharmaceutical companies can't sell drugs outside the U.S. for cheaper than what they're selling them inside for. You know, as far as health care, hospitals should have to list what they have, what they're going to charge you. It shouldn't be a dart board that you throw it at the dart board and see what the price is going to be.

NO: If you are not able to secure that seat, who would you want to see one Montanans sends to Washington?

MW: Oh. You know, that is a very hard question. And I'll just I'll just be honest like I always am. I feel like that if Mr. Gianforte gets in there we're not ever going to be able get him out unless he decides to leave himself. He has the money and the connections to be there forever. And Mr. Quist, honestly I think he's a one term guy. That if he's elected he can easily be defeated in the next election. That's just my feeling on it. I don't think I can get more honest than that.

NO: Even though the discussion night was not an official campaign stop, many of the 30 or so people there paid a visit to Wicks table for some one on one time with the candidate.

NO: Angie Killian is from Big Fork.

Angie Killian: And I'd really like to see a lot more attention paid to Mark Wicks because I feel the Libertarian position is far more, much more in common with general Montanans than either the religious Republican or the socialist Democrat.

NO: Killian says building the economy and lowering debt are her pet issues.

AK: We can't offer free education. We can offer free food and free housing and free medical care to the whole world. It just is impossible. We have to push a lot more personal responsibility.

NO: She says people are disappointed with the other guys in the race and Wicks supports a mix of Montana values that transcend party platforms.

AK: He thinks people should be able to do what they want to do as long as it's not hurting somebody else. And that is where I am and have been for most of my life.

NO: While Wicks' ugly truck campaign stops drew a dozen people, more than a hundred people spilled out of the room at the museum at Central School in Kalispell on Saturday to see Democratic candidate Rob Quist and Senator John Tester.

U.S. House candidate Rob Quist meets with supporters in Kalispell.
Credit Nicky Ouellet
U.S. House candidate Rob Quist meets with supporters in Kalispell.

Quist hit on the issues that have become the hallmark of this campaign: Public Lands, public education, and his opposition to the health care bill recently passed by the house.

"The wrong people were at the table making the decisions," Quist told the crowd. "Were there any women represented in [inaudible]? Were there any people that was representing the veterans in this country? Anyone representing the seniors? And anyone representing Indian country? So once again it was the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies making all the health care decisions ...

NO: Quist also dedicated a fair amount of time to bashing Republican candidate Greg Gianforte.

"To me, he has a credibility issue. He's telling the people of Montana one thing, and he's telling the donors another thing," Quist said.

NO: People at Quist's event were vocal and responded to the barbs Quist threw. But at least one person in the room was tired of that type of negative rhetoric.

Stephanie Baca: I would like to see something pro and positive rather than 'I'm against this, against that, against this.'

NO: Retired Kalispell schoolteacher Stephanie Baca says her values align pretty well with Quist's. But before this rally she said she didn't feel like she knew him as a candidate.

SB: I wish I had heard more, but I know what his opponent is championing, and I can vote against that.

NO: Have you considered voting third party in this election?

SB: I did. And I listened to him, and when he started saying he frequented all the gun shows, that kinda lost me, to be honest.

NO: Baca adds she herself is a gun owner and supports the Second Amendment.

Sen. Jon Tester joined Rob Quist at Friday's campaign rally.
Credit Nicky Ouellet
Sen. Jon Tester joined Rob Quist at Friday's campaign rally.

Quist was briefly joined on stage by Senator Jon Tester. Tester is the latest in a string of big names from Washington to visit the state. Vice president Mike Pence, Donald Trump Jr. and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke all joined Greg Gianforte on the campaign trail in eastern Montana Friday. Tester emphasize the symbolic importance of the special election for Montana's House seat which hasn't been held by a Democrat in two decades.

"You want to talk about a shot fired across the bow. We elect Rob Quist to Congress and it will reverberate around this country, I'm telling you," Tester said.

NO: Montana's special election is May 25. Voters can request absentee ballots now.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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