Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Eastern district congressional candidates debate in Havre

Half of the Republican candidates for Montana’s eastern congressional district met during a debate in Havre Tuesday night.

Seven candidates had originally registered for the debate but three withdrew the day of, according to debate moderator Mike Dennison.

Denny Rehberg declined to participate, and Troy Downing, Elsie Arntzen, and Stacy Zinn all withdrew in the last 24 hours. 

State Senator Ken Bogner, former State Senator Ric Holden, former State Representative Joel Krautter, and pharmacist Kyle Austin were all in attendance.

There are eight candidates running for the seat held by Congressman Matt Rosendale, who earlier this year announced then dropped bids for both the Senate and House.

Montana Farmers Union sponsored the debate and the majority of questions posed to candidates centered around agriculture and issues facing rural communities.

Absent from the debate was campaign messaging regarding former President Donald Trump.

All four candidates pitched themselves as men from rural Montana with backgrounds in farming and ranching that would better represent the regions’ interests.

Candidate Kyle Austin, is a pharmacist who grew up farming west of Havre. He called the candidates that did not show up transplants and said he would better represent the Eastern District in Congress.

"We need to have a bigger voice in Congress because the previous transplants, like I said, have failed us. If you elect another transplant, you're going to be in failure again," Austin said. 

Austin also mentioned several times his concerns over Canada potentially shutting down fertilizing production, and said he’d like to build out infrastructure for Montana to have its own fertilizer plant.

Ric Holden, a former State Senator who ranches in Glendive, said he’d advocate for farmers and ranchers in D.C.

Holden said he would better represent the state in ongoing negotiations over the federal Farm Bill which has been delayed in Congress in recent years.

"Truthfully, I can't tell you if we want that farm bill for Montana because we don't have a representative there. So I'll make that my top priority as a committee assignment is to get on the Agriculture Committee," Holden said.

Lawyer and former State Rep. Joel Krautter said he would prioritize building infrastructure in rural communities including irrigation, clean drinking water, and broadband.

"We have to have broadband in rural Montana. Rural Montana deserves to have connectivity and be able to access markets just like people anywhere can," Krautter said.

State Sen. Ken Bogner pitched himself as an experienced lawmaker with a military background that gives him expertise in foreign policy. He called the country’s southern border the biggest issue right now.

"We have thousands of people coming across each day. We don't know who they are, they're not vetted, and they're bringing drugs all the way up here to Montana. So we have to secure the border," Bogner said.

Bogner said in Congress he would fill in gaps in the border wall and reform legal immigration.

When asked about a federal abortion ban, candidates agreed it was the responsibility of states to develop policy. Similarly Holden, Austin and Bogner agreed on not sending financial aid to Ukraine, though they did all support sending arms or supplies of some sort to aid in the war effort.

While they agreed on most issues, one question that showed the greatest difference among the candidates was regarding climate change. Holden said he did not believe in the concept.

"The water is at the same level. It's not changing. You can spend millions of dollars and millions of dollars. And what on this climate change thing? And it is not going to change for us," Holden said.

Bogner said he doesn’t believe climate change to be a man made issue and expressed support for fossil fuel development.

"We need to stop subsidizing green energy and let the free market decide when we're ready to move forward with technologies that will help with energy," Bogner said.

There is broadscientific consensus that the Earth is warming due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

Austin and Krautter were in agreement about the existence of climate change and the need to address it.

Austin said the realities of climate change are already affecting ag producers.

"We're looking at cover crops and CRP programs to just protect the land that we have and to keep producing food for the tables," Austin said.

While Krautter said he only supports incentivizing voluntary actions.

"I do think that climate change is happening. But I don't believe in any kind of heavy handed, actions by Congress,"Krautter said. 

All four men criticized candidates who did not show up to the debate and said their attendance showed their commitment to the race.

Ballots for the primary race will be mailed to absentee voters starting May 10, and primary election day is June 4.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information