This week we are airing conversations with some of the candidates running for Montana governor as the June 2 primary approaches.
Republican Dr. Al Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon from the Flathead Valley has served three terms in the state legislature. YPR News' Jess Sheldal spoke with Olszewski February 22— before the coronavirus pandemic hit Montana — about health care, the Second Amendment and his campaign.
Jess Sheldal: You're born and bred Montanan and current state senator. Can you tell us a bit more about your background?
Al Olszewski: Right. Well, I'm a boy born and raised in Great Falls, Montana. And I got into this game of running for and being a state senator because my patients were telling me that affordable health care was no longer affordable and someone should take care of it, someone should stand up. I agreed with them, but when I looked around nobody was standing up trying to do something. So I jumped in and got skin in the game.
SHELDAHL: In the primary race, you said you're the most qualified to take on the high cost of health care. Do you have specific plans if elected?
OSLZEWSKI: I do. I mean, number one is I sponsored Senate Bill 71 in the 2019 Legislature, this was to lower costs of pharmaceuticals. And one of the ways was to go after an unregulated portion of the medical business, and that's the pharmacy benefit managers.
And our bill was considered model legislation and we passed it through the House and Senate. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed it for whatever reason. And unfortunately, Maine is the first state to pass our bill. They plagiarized the whole thing and and they're lowering the cost of their medications.
SHELDAHL: Medicaid expansion. You voted against the program twice when it started in 2015. And again, when work requirements were added in 2019, what guided your vote?
OSLZEWSKI: Health care will not become affordable for those of us that actually pay out of our own pocket until the government actually pays the full cost of what that health care is to the people that they promise it to. Medicaid is a social contract that we created, saying that we're going to help our most vulnerable. Right now, one out of four Montanans are on Medicaid.
SHELDAHL: There are refugee resettlement efforts in Montana, how would you deal with refugee resettlement and immigration in the state?
OSLZEWSKI: The good news in Montana is if they're small numbers. But the weaknesses in our system is that they come here and then we don't know what happens to them. We don't know if they stay in Montana. We don't know if they have a job or if they're on full services that we pay for as taxpayers. Quite honestly, I have no trouble putting a pause on the system. And then saying, OK, how successful has our system been in assimilating refugees in your state?
SHELDAHL: You voted to support legislation on concealed weapons and co-sponsored legislation to allow firearms on college campuses. There will also be a ballot initiative in December to limit local government authority to regulate firearms. Are there potential future limitations on the Second Amendment that you would fight as governor?
OSLZEWSKI: So I fight on. I fight against all limitations on the Second Amendment. And I do believe that an armed society is a polite society. As your next governor, I want to make sure we continue to have that kind of environment and that kind of community.
SHELDAHL: If elected, you'd be the first Republican governor in Montana since Judy Martz, who left office after the 2004 election. Why do you think you're best suited to lead your party's attempts to regain the office?
OSLZEWSKI: Of the three candidates, I'm the only limited-government Republican. Our congressman, if you look at his voting record or go to the American Conservative Union, I mean, it's not my words, it's theirs. And they're the oldest conservative organization. They say that, 'gosh darn it Olszewski,' you're 88 percent conservative because you're a limited government Republican. The other congressman, he's got a 63 percent, he's good on Second Amendment religious liberties, on school choice. He's, you know, he's good on pro-life. But when it comes to big government programs and big government spending, the American Conservative Union says that Congressman Gianforte sucks.
I have a political bureaucrat that I'm running for. He's our attorney general. He doesn't have a voting record. But again, we just need to look at what he's done and where his agency has grown, it's more expensive. And you know what? I have no trouble with that. If he was effective at fighting this meth epidemic and if he was able to fight this missing and murdered women. This should have been kept under control. But it hasn't. He's failed.
But I am, like I said, limited government. And I also have skin in the game as a legislator. The fact is, is I've been studying this for six years and I'm ready to go day one.