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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

2022 candidate interview: Al Olszewski for U.S. House District 01

Albert Olszewski at the Republican Senate primary debate in Helena, MT, April 26, 2018.
Albert Olszewski at the Republican Senate primary debate in Helena, MT, April 26, 2018.

This week we're hearing from primary candidates running for Montana's 1st Congressional District that represents western Montana. Last week, we heard from the Democratic candidates, and this week we'll hear from Republican candidates. Today, we'll learn about Al Olszewski. Olszewski is a former state senator and an orthopedic surgeon from the Flathead Valley. In the Republican primary, he faces four opponents. Olszewski sat down with MTPR's Shaylee Ragar.

Shaylee Ragar Al, thanks so much for being here today.

Al Olszewski It's a pleasure.

Shaylee Ragar The first question I want to ask you is, what's your elevator pitch for Montanans who maybe don't know you?

Al Olszewski Well, you know, I'm going to interpret it as, "what's my 'why'"? So my why is, is that, you know, right at this point, I refuse to let the Biden administration and the Democratic Congress tell me how to live my life, tell me how to run my business. Tell me exactly how I should educate my kids and dictate whether or not I go to church on Sunday. Americans have been fighting for our freedoms every generation. And- but we're the first generation that we actually have to fight our own federal government. The federal government has forgotten they work for us, we the people. We do not work for them.

Shaylee Ragar I want to talk about why you're the most qualified candidate in your primary race. What sets you apart?

Al Olszewski Well, look, it's a time for choosing. And out of the five candidates, there's only two candidates that actually have legislative experience and an extensive voting record. And quite honestly, to summarize it, between myself and Ryan Zinke, is that I'm a Montana state legislator that is a D.C. outsider, but with legislative experience. And coming into this next congressional session, people do not have an opportunity to learn on the job. In fact, Congress has not been in regular order. So we have to look to the state legislators, our legislatures, to find places for us to experience what it's like to actually be in committee, to hold hearings that actually have supporters and people who oppose that legislation and actually be on the floor and to make good floor votes and most importantly, come up with a budget. You know, we do that here in Montana every session and we pass a balanced budget. It's time for Washington to do the same. And I believe I'm the one most likely to do that.

Shaylee Ragar I understand that you've been a supporter of President Donald Trump, former President Trump. He gave an endorsement to Ryan Zinke. What do you think voters should take away from that?

Al Olszewski Look, I respect President Trump. He can endorse whoever he wants to. You know, and if he wants to endorse a former cabinet member who had to, you know, resign in disgrace because of what he was doing as the Secretary of Interior, you know, President Trump can do that.

Shaylee Ragar One of the added benefits that I hear a lot about of an additional congressional seat is more power for Montana's delegation to work together as a whole. So I'm curious if you think you can find common ground with Montana's other delegates, Republicans or Democrats?

Al Olszewski The answer is yes. I can find common ground and improve on that here at the state Legislature. You know, I could, as being one of the most conservative legislators on the Republican side, I could work with the most liberal Democrats on common ground, especially when it came to issues of child protective services, you know, helping single moms in crisis, working on making sure that our balanced budget addresses issues of people in crisis.

Shaylee Ragar You have said that you would double down support for Rep. Matt Rosendale if he wins reelection in the eastern district. What does that what does that mean? What does that look like to you?

Al Olszewski You know, Matt Rosendale has accurately voted and reflected the majority conservative interest of all of Montana. And western Montana is no exception. We see that both districts are predominantly a Republican district at this time. And again, we're cut from the same cloth of trying to be a limited government, pro-U.S. Constitution member of Congress.

Shaylee Ragar I do want to dig into this a little bit more because Rep. Rosendale was in the minority of Congressional Republicans when he voted against awarding a congressional medal to U.S. Capitol Police, who responded to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and also in the minority when he voted against a resolution in support of Ukraine in this war with Russia. Would you have voted the same way? What do you think of those votes?

Al Olszewski I would like to be able to read the resolutions or the votes, what, on Ukraine? Yes, at this point I think that we should support Ukraine with defensive military aid and humanitarian aid. No, I don't think that we should go to war on behalf of Ukraine. We should not put boots on the ground. So I would want to read that resolution. Number two, talking about giving Congressional Medals of Honor to the Capitol Police. First, I'm from the military. You know, if you're given the highest Medal of Honor for courage or valor, that needs to be for a specific instance. Show us what that instance is. But just to give a blanket medal to the entire Capitol Police for doing their job or not doing the best job? I don't think that that's the case.

Shaylee Ragar I do want to ask if you are in support of the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack.

Al Olszewski It is an illegitimate investigation. Nancy Pelosi did not appoint all of the Republican lawmakers that were appointed by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. By doing so, she actually failed her own House rules, and therefore it's an illegitimate committee. Yes, we do need to look into this issue. But the way it's being done by Pelosi, it's been weaponized.

Shaylee Ragar So if there was maybe a committee of equal numbers, Democrats and Republicans, or just a different setup, you'd be supportive?

Al Olszewski You know what, again, yes. What we need to do is to follow House rule on creating these committees. And Speaker Pelosi refused to seat those appointed by the minority leader. And again, by doing so, she failed House rules, and therefore, it's an illegitimate committee.

Shaylee Ragar I want to talk about claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. You've talked about this before. We have seen those claims refuted in courts and by some election experts. Montana's own Republican Secretary of State at the time acknowledged that President Joe Biden won. Do you worry that continuing to call into question the 2020 election erodes trust in the voting process or dissuades voters from participating?

Al Olszewski I don't think it dissuades trust. But what it is, is a call to action to ensure that we have a fair and transparent election and that everybody can trust in it. Look, no, there was no court that said that there was no fraud. What's happened is, is every court that it was tried to be brought in front of them, they refused it. That doesn't mean that they found nothing there. They just refused to hear it. There was fraud. What they've said was, is it was not enough fraud to make a difference. I say that in the battleground states such as Arizona, where it was 11,000-vote difference, or in Georgia, where it was a 20,000-vote difference, it is an issue that we need to look at. It needs to be put in front of a court, the Supreme Court. And we should listen to all the evidence and figure out if it has merit or not. And until it does that, then there will always be this perception by at least 75 million people who voted for President Trump. The only way we're going to know is to get it in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, put out all the evidence and have them make a decision. They had to make a decision back in 2000 between Gore and Bush. They should do it again at this time for the good of our constitutional republic.

Shaylee Ragar The margin between Gore and Bush was quite a bit smaller, though, wasn't it, than this last election?

Al Olszewski Are you, once again, what we have are battleground states that made a difference: Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania. We do need an answer. And the answer should come from the U.S. Supreme Court after looking at the evidence, not refusing the case.

Shaylee Ragar I want to talk about a current statewide issue, because you are the treasurer of a group that is proposing a constitutional initiative, CI-121, to cap property taxes. A bipartisan committee that's focused on state revenue did vote unanimously to oppose that proposal, given the predicted impacts to state and local government. Talk to me about your support for this proposal and if that opposition gives you any pause.

Al Olszewski Opposition does not cause me any pause. What we're having is a dialogue. And the number one- I guess let me step back. I am the treasurer for Constitutional Initiative 121. This initiative was born out of the fact that I was fighting for property tax reform as the governor's candidate in the Republican Party in 2020. Why? Because I was running into people all over the state who are saying, 'Look, I'm a first time homeowner. I'm trying to buy a house; I can't. Look, I'm on a fixed income and I'm tired of renting my property from the government. Property taxes are exploding and I can't afford it on a fixed income.' Now, fast forward, a group of people put that together as initiative because in the last Legislature, when Republicans brought up property tax reform, it got demolished. Killed. And why? No, look, everybody agrees that property tax has gotta to be fixed. It's a broken system here, and this is the time for us to fundamentally fix the property tax system.

Shaylee Ragar So, I listened to that Revenue Committee hearing and something that I did hear from from lawmakers who have some concerns is that this proposal is based on the California model, right, of capping property taxes. But California has a sales tax that they can backfill revenue with, and we don't have that backfill. And so I guess I wonder what you would say to maybe county governments or local cities who are concerned about what this loss of revenue would do to their local bank accounts.

Al Olszewski Once again, it's not a loss of revenue. It is a decrease in future- how the future revenues go forward. That's really important because we're being told it's cutting all of their revenue. It's not. It's limiting the increases that are placed upon the backs of the people. We don't want to tie the hands of the legislators as they come up with a 21st century solution.

Shaylee Ragar I think inflation is probably really top of mind for Montanans right now. How do you think Congress should address this issue?

Al Olszewski Well, there's two ways. Number one is, is they got to quit spending trillions of dollars. That's number one. And number two: One of the most common denominators today that's causing us to see the rise of everything in price is our energy. This gamble by Joe Biden for a- to destroy fossil fuels which is the backbone of not only America's economy, but the world economy — they're going to have to back off. If we don't have inexpensive energy, then we can't have inexpensive goods and services. This, everything is multiplied on fossil fuels. Food, you know, not only to run the tractors, but our fertilizers are created from petrochemicals that are fossil fuels. We need to back off. We need to call a pause on this attack on fossil fuels. And we need to drive the price of fuels down. You do that by increasing the supply. And that's just like Sarah Palin said. It's drill, baby, drill.

Shaylee Ragar I'm glad you brought up energy, because you've made your thoughts clear on this. I do think that science is unwavering and clear that fossil fuels contribute to climate change and that climate change is an issue that our world is going to face. Should Congress address this issue, and if so, how?

Al Olszewski That's a false premise. No, it's not scientifically concluded that there is human-induced climate change. I'm a biologist. I'm a scientist. All it takes is- it's a hypothesis. And it takes only one fact to prove or disprove any hypothesis. It's a consensus, is what you're hearing from some of them, or even half of the climate scientists, that this is an issue. Look, I'm- I believe we should be conservationist. We should leave the world better than we found it. But carbon dioxide — I'm a biologist — Carbon dioxide has never been, it never is, and it never will be a toxic gas that destroys our world. The climate does change. But there is no scientific proof that says that it's because of us that the world is changing in its climate. It changes all the time.

Shaylee Ragar I mean, I've been reading and I've seen lots of scientific evidence that the climate is changing and industrialization has contributed. But I want to give you the opportunity to talk about your source.

Al Olszewski Well, mathematical models is not evidence. It's what, we call that a WAG. It's a wild-ass-guess. You put in a mathematical model, you make assumptions, and then you put in data. If we look at the core ice data of Antarctica and we can go back thousands and thousands of years, and we know that the, looking at oxygen in ice models, that the core or the temperature of our climate changes plus-or-minus three degrees Celsius and has stayed in that narrow band.

Shaylee Ragar Can you point me, though, to your sources? Like where do you go to for this evidence?

Al Olszewski The same as you. I go onto the Internet and I pull up — I will look at the International Climate, UN International Panel on Climate Change. They have, every one of their math [indistinguishable] and they don't show any evidence. They show mathematical models. And every mathematical model has been wrong. Our CO2 is actually higher than what their mathematical models have said.

Shaylee Ragar But who has proven that wrong?

Al Olszewski Their own mathematical models have been proven wrong based on the temperatures that have come down from the deep ocean that they get from the Argus system. And you can look up on Internet, you can pull up the Argus deep temperature, the temperatures. These are robots around the world that go down thousands of feet and they come up and they take temperatures every week and then they send the data onto the Internet. Look at the data.

Shaylee Ragar I want to bring it back to Montana specifically, because we're entering year two of a really severe drought. I have heard from scientists in the state that say we are likely to see more severe weather like this going into the future. Should Congress be offering more aid for those types of weather events? Should Congress be looking to try to prevent this type of situation? What does that look like?

Al Olszewski Again, I think that what the federal government has is they have an insurance program that they need to assess risk of what's going on with food supply. Again, food supply, there's a free market component to it, but it's actually a national security issue. And so where does the federal government fit into this part? Education, you know, looking forward, telling farmers what they most likely are going to predict for the next season and let the farmers and ranchers decide what they're going to put into the ground, whether it's pulse crops, whether it's soybeans, whether it's, you know, canola, whether they're going to plant wheat or oats or barley. It's not the federal government's job to make people successful.

Shaylee Ragar I want to get back to something we already touched on, and that's Ukraine. President Joe Biden has said no troops will enter Ukraine. Sen. Steve Daines recently visited Ukraine and he says that the U.S. needs to deliver lethal weapons faster to Ukraine. He's been critical of Biden's response. Where do you fall on that spectrum? To what extent do you think the U.S. should be supporting the country?

Al Olszewski Look, I think that the way that we can support Ukraine, number one, is defensive military aid. Number two is helping with humanitarian aid. And we can consider taking on refugees. Our challenge, though, is in order to be able to provide that — we're already in crisis mode because of what's happening on the southern border — so what we need to remember is we need to solidify our country first before we start rushing off to the aid of other countries. And then finally, I get it. I mean, Ukraine is being attacked by Russia. Well, what about Africa? What about the genocide and the atrocities of Rwanda? What about what's going on in Nigeria right now? Let's at least be consistent in what we provide to other people of need as well.

Shaylee Ragar What do you think the most pressing issue facing Congress is right now?

Al Olszewski The most pressing issue is that they are not in regular order, and they have not passed a budget in decades. When that happens, the power of each individual representative and senator is centered to the leadership. And we've watched that. I mean, Nancy Pelosi has basically, in her role as speaker, has run the House as a dictatorship.

Shaylee Ragar So what would your strategy be to address that?

Al Olszewski My strategy to address that is to join the House Freedom Caucus, which is the second largest caucus in the Republican Party, that's fighting for a limited government, trying to drive the Congress back into regular order and fighting for the U.S. Constitution, and be a part of that movement to do so.

Shaylee Ragar If elected, what do you hope to tell voters about your record in Congress a year from swearing in? What do you hope your major accomplishments will be?

Al Olszewski My hope and prayer is to be able to say that we were able to bring Congress back into regular order. We have passed a budget for all the agencies that is appropriate and not just thrown at the last second and put together. And I would like to be able to say we have solved inflation and we are now back to gas at $1.90 a gallon.

Shaylee Ragar Thanks so much for taking the time today, Al.

Al Olszewski Well, I appreciate this opportunity and let's do it again.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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