Two of the three Republican primary candidates for governor met in Helena Tuesday night for a debate focused on jobs and the economy.
U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, who is also running for governor, says he couldn’t make the debate because he was with family.
Fox and Olszewski spoke of growing up and going to school in Montana, their support of the state’s natural resource and agriculture industries and the importance of rural development. They also voiced support for President Donald Trump’s trade policies.
But Olszewski and Fox gave different answers responding to a question about Montana’s looming labor shortage as more workers in the state reach retirement age.
Olszewski said senior citizens should be part of the solution.
"We are not going to tax social security pensions. I want 100,000 seniors back in the workforce working with us and making Montana successful."
Olszewski also wants more people with disabilities in the workforce.
"We need to work on appropriate training, we need to have assistance,and accommodations. And we can take Montanans with disabilities, bring them into the workforce."
Olszewski says the state should also increase work requirements for people on government assistance programs like Medicaid.
Fox turned to education and training.
"Solving our workforce problems must necessarily include giving our schools, community colleges, universities and trade schools the resources and the directions to focus their efforts collaboratively and comprehensively for all of Montana."
Fox also pointed broadly to his experience as the state’s two-term Attorney General.
"Solving our workforce shortages begins with electing a transformational governor who has demonstrated the ability to bring people together, to identify the problems and to identify solutions."
The candidates offered slightly differing pictures of the role of state government. Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon from Kalispell and an U.S. Air Force veteran, said Montana’s success can’t be regulated and praised lawmakers work cutting the state budget in 2017 during a government revenue shortfall.
"The governor promotes our state, is the best pitchman, the best salesman or woman, and I’m telling you I’m the best candidate that can do that," Olszewski said.
Fox also said he favors government with less regulation but mentioned the importance of government support for rural health care providers and public education.
"I’m a product of the Montana public schools, first grade through three college degrees, and I’m proud of it. Our education policy must reflect the fact that public education is a cornerstone of our state and nation’s future success."
The candidates were friendly toward each other during the forum. The most striking political attacks of the evening came from Fox directed at U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, who wasn’t there.
In his opening statement, Fox pointed out that Gianforte held a fundraiser in Helena Sunday with Donald Trump Jr., which supporters could pay up to $1,000 to attend.
The president’s son has endorsed Gianforte and says Gianforte is “someone that knows business.”
Gianforte’s campaign manager Jake Eaton said Gianforte had a long-standing family commitment and criticized Fox for pushing ahead with Tuesday night’s debate without Gianforte. Eaton also said Gianforte looks forward to participating in a debate in January.
Four Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination for the governor's seat in 2020. Current Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is terming-out of office and can’t seek reelection.