In just over two months, Montana voters will select challengers for U.S. Democratic Senator Jon Tester and Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte. Between now and the June 5 primary, Montana Public Radio is talking with voters about political issues important to them.
Dozens of employers and hundreds of students and prospective employees attended the 29th Annual Big Sky Career Fair held recently at the University of Montana. MTPR's Edward O'Brien spoke with some of them.
Joy Brickzin and Kim Swanby represent a Billings company that provides software for the health care industry. I asked Brickzin if she’s interested in Montana’s primary.
"Yeah, I am. I’m paying attention," said Brickzin.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Brickzin is excited by about this election cycle.
"Because the ads are very annoying," said Brickzin. "It’s a hard season. There’s a lot of money that they’re spending on advertising, when they should be spending that money doing legitimate things, I don’t know. Nobody seems to care the most about what people stand for and what they want to do. They really care about how to make them look bad."
Kim Swanby agrees and urges candidates to spend more time discussing important issues such as healthcare and education.
"I have children, so their education is most important to me right now," said Swanby. "I also take care of my grandparents. I care about their wellbeing and retirement. Overall, healthcare is my main focus right now,” she says.
Swanby and Brickzen agree that the health care industry places a lot on emphasis on treatment of chronic illness, but not nearly enough on prevention of those same illnesses. Kim Swanby says she does her best to study the records of incumbents before casting her vote. Joy Brickzin does the same, but adds that voters now have to cut through a lot of fake news to get an accurate picture of candidates and their positions.
"I think our local media here does a great job talking about what really actually impacts us day to day," said Brickzin. "If I watch 'Good Morning America' I don’t think they do a very good job at all. I think they report based on emotion and what elicits an emotional response from their viewers. Any kind of national news I get online from sources that I like. I turn to Drudge, I turn to Breitbart news. Those are really the main sources that I get to," Brickzin says.
Across the hall, Tyler Langlois was talking with UM students about a career with a national cable TV provider. Langlois dreads the upcoming elections.
“I’m kind of sick of it all by now, to be honest," said Langlois. "I feel like it just doesn’t matter a lot of the times. I just feel like there are gray areas that I would vote for and I don’t feel like anyone actually represents me and what I want. Candidates do whatever the Democrats tell them to do or the Republicans tell them to do.”
In other words, the 26-year-old Langlois says the party system is outdated and too confining. He wants more flexibility; meaning just because he may agree with one party’s position on a big issue like abortion, he may disagree with most of the other planks in that same party’s platform.
“I feel like nowadays it would be easier to get in touch with what we want and we could all vote on it instantaneously with our iPhones, but we don’t,” said Langlois.
27-year-old Lauren Nichols is standing a few feet away. She’s excited about the upcoming elections and how they could potentially affect two issues in particular; immigration and tax reform.
"I believe the immigration rule that we’ve implemented, I think it's unfair, I think it's unjust and I think it needs to be reviewed," said Nichols. "This is a country that should be open to all people. And I really don’t agree that the tax bill was for the people. I believe the tax bill was for the top one percent. I believe that that needs to be reviewed and rescinded,” she says.
Nichols is also frustrated by Republican Senator Steve Daines’ and Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte’s refusal to hold live, in-person town hall meetings.
“It’s very irritating. I think that our representatives should be there listening, regardless if the public opinion is not aligned with theirs," said Nichols. "It’s quite infuriating that they refuse and/or walk out of these meetings,” Nichols says.
On my way out of the job fair I meet 25-year-old Hugh Kingery and PJ Willett, who’s 23. They’re friends who say they’re never really talked a lot about politics. It turns out both men believe that America under the Trump Administration is becoming more isolationist.
"An example would be, of course, the movement of the Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem," said Kingery. "It’s not something that makes sense at an international level if you’re looking at any country other than U.S. - Israeli relationships. So, I would like to see a little bit more dialogue happening about how the actions we take are going to influence the rest of the international community,” Kingery says.
PJ Willett nods his head in agreement. He also expresses frustration with the media and its obsession with the 24-hour news cycle.
“Now we’re talking about gun control," said PJ. "Now we’re talking about the border wall. Now we're talking about this. And so it’s two weeks at a time we’re talking about one thing and there’s no resolution. We just start talking about another thing,” Willett says.
By and large, Willett and Kingery agreed on almost every issue we discussed.
Montana’s primary is June 5.