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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Rosendale, Breckenridge Attack Tester In Final Montana Senate Debate

Libertarian Rick Breckenridge, left, got 2.9% of the vote in Montana's 2018 US Senate race against Republican Matt Rosendale, center, and Democrat Jon Tester
MTN News
L to R, Libertarian Rick Breckenridge, Republican Matt Rosendale and Democrat Jon Tester

Democratic Senator Jon Tester defended his record against attacks from Republican Matt Rosendale and Libertarian Rick Breckenridge in the final debate in Montana’s US Senate race Saturday night.

Click here to watch the entire debate. 

Tester emphasized his deep roots and public service in Montana.

"I served on soil conservation, the school board, the state legislature," Tester said, "and one thing Montana has that I don’t think any other state has, and that’s an open government. And I’ve been proud to take that back, and the first bill I dropped in in the US Senate was a bill to make the federal government as open as Montana’s government."

Rosendale spent less time in this debate portraying himself as a reliable supporter of President Trump than he did in the previous one, but emphasized his ultra-conservative policy positions, including opposing abortions, and said if given the chance he would eliminate the US Departments of Energy and Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Energy should be controlled by the companies that are out there producing the energy," Rosendale said. "The only place that we should have energy involved in government is the Department of Defense to make sure that we have a secure nation. The EPA do not need to be coming and bothering the states and creating additional paperwork and process. And education definitely needs to be controlled at the local level."

Libertarian candidate Breckenridge, who did not participate in the previous debate, said he, too, would eliminate the EPA and Department of Energy, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services.

Rosendale said he agreed with statements Breckenridge made more than once. Both said Tester has been in Washington too long, and attacked him on the Second Amendment and Supreme Court nominations.

The only time Breckenridge criticized Rosendale was on immigration policy, when he also criticized Tester.

"Both of these guys beat each other up over a policy that none of us really have a grasp on," Breckenridge said. "What we need to do is sit down and have a discussion that is going to be mutually beneficial for all of us. Because this type of accelerant, once again is only flaming the fans (sic) and putting us against them, and we’re going to see more incivility, we’re going to see more violence on this issue when it’s totally un-ncecessary."

MTN News and Yellowstone Public Radio sponsored the debate. Held in a TV studio with no audience, it lasted just under an hour, and the candidates faced 16 questions from three journalists. Topics ranged from international trade to the number of women the candidates have hired to the Endangered Species Act. Rosendale and Breckenridge said the Endangered Species Act goes too far, harming private property rights and industry. Tester said the law can be used to both preserve endangered wildlife and protect property and businesses.

Yellowstone Public Radio’s Jackie Yamanaka asked Rosendale, who is Montana’s insurance commissioner, this question:

"You support short term insurance plans that aren’t required to cover pre-existing conditions. So if they’re so great, will you pledge today that you will buy one to cover your family?"

"Jackie, that’s a good question, and I think it goes directly to the heart of all the insurance questions that we’ve had here over the last eight years, since the passage of Obamacare," Rosendale said. 

Rosendale talked about how he’s worked to give Montanans more health coverage options, including short term plans, but never directly answered Yamanaka’s question. Tester attacked Rosendale for bringing back insurance policies that skirt the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that people cannot be denied coverage if they have pre-existing conditions.

"My folks had one of those such plans when I got these fingers cut off in a meat grinder, and they didn’t cover anything," Tester said. "And I remember my father going, ‘we bought this insurance to have it when we needed it, and when we needed it, it wasn’t there.’ If you buy junk insurance, what the commissioner is promoting, you’ll have nothing when you get sick. Because it doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, it doesn’t prevent for lifetime caps. If you’ve got asthma, high blood pressure, whatever it might be, they won’t cover it. But they’re cheap."

Absentee ballots were mailed out last week, in-person voting happens Tuesday November 6th. 

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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