HD-6: Democrat supports Medicaid renewal, education funding

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Mary Custer

Age: 50

Party: Democrat

Family: I am a fourth-generation Montanan and the oldest of four children. I have been married for seven years to my husband, Bradley Custer, an attorney for the Office of the Attorney General for the state of Montana. Our daughter, an RN, and her spouse, a third-grade teacher, are expecting their first child by the end of September. We are so excited to be grandparents and are looking forward to all the joys of having a grandchild in our lives.

Education: Graduated from Helena High School in 1986 and from Montana State University in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts in graphic design.

Occupation: Legal assistant

Background: This is my first time running for political office. My experience in government includes working at the Flathead County Clerk of Court office as deputy clerk for 6 1/2 years where I was in the courtroom clerking for District Court judges. During that time, I became familiar with the criminal justice system and aware of the importance of chemical dependency programs for rehabilitation, the need for mental health services and for alternative solutions other than sending people to our already overcrowded jails and prison. I have worked in law offices as a legal assistant for the last seven years. I have helped with youth activities through my church and have volunteered on several political campaigns.

Q. A slate of budget cuts were made in 2017 to address a $227 million shortfall caused by less than anticipated revenue and an expensive fire season. What should the priorities be in the state budget in the next legislative session?

A. The majority in the Montana Legislature did not manage our budget in a fiscally responsible way, which led to these cuts. I will work to change that. Our state needs to live within its means and balance our budget each year, without exception. We can accomplish that goal while ensuring that vital rural health-care services are available to Flathead residents who need them. We shouldn’t be forced to balance the budget on the backs of Montana families.

Q. Do you support a sales tax or other tax increases as a way to shore up the budget and increase revenue?

A. I support common-sense solutions that will balance our budget, including protecting working families from tax increases while asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share. We have to find revenue sources that will fund critical programs that keep Montanans healthy and safe. We have a potentially large source of untapped revenue in the Montana tourism industry and we need to find creative ways to utilize that resource without negatively impacting Montana’s working families. The legislative majority wants to replace our income tax with a statewide sales tax. I vehemently disagree with this approach.

Q. Montana’s Medicaid expansion program is set to expire in 2019. Should the state renew this program?

A. Yes, the state should renew Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion has allowed thousands of Montanans to get vital and life-saving health care that they would not have been able to otherwise receive. It has created thousands of jobs for Montanans across our state. When people have access to preventative care, they are far less likely to have emergency health events and that saves all Montanans money in the long run. I support I-185, which would fund Medicaid Expansion.

Q. Which other issues would you like to see addressed by the Legislature?

A. I would like to ensure that public education is sufficiently funded so that voters don’t have to face mill levies and potential property tax increases on a regular basis. Our schools must have the funding that they need to provide quality education so that children in the Flathead can succeed.

Health care and health insurance are far too expensive for the middle class. For those not covered by their employer, cost is prohibitive and deductibles are too high. For those covered by their employer, out-of-pocket expenses are rising exponentially. We need to have a system where all Montanans have access to quality, affordable health care regardless of ability to pay.

Q. Why are you the right choice to represent your district?

A. I am talking with and listening to the people of House District 6 in the Flathead Valley. I will work hard to find solutions to the everyday challenges that we face. Public education, health care, public lands, climate change, affordable housing and infrastructure are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed in the next legislative session. We need to put partisan politics aside and work together, with our governor, to put forth policies and legislation that work for all Montanans and not just a select few.

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