Political party: Republican
Family: Wife Renae of 15 years, daughter Elizabeth Mae, 12, and old son Isaac Wade, 8
Education: BA in Hospitality and Business Administration from the University of Nevada, Flathead Valley Community College General Studies, Flathead High School
Occupation: Owner of Vista Linda Restaurant and Catering
Background: Served four terms in Montana House of Representatives, elected in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012; elected Montana’s 52nd Speaker of the House for the 63rd Montana Legislature. Served on House Judiciary and Education. Committees served on: Taxation for 3 terms (Chairman in 2011), Judiciary (2013), Education (all four terms), Local Government (2007), Rules (2007, 2013); Montana State Senate, serving first term, elected 2014. Served on Senate Finance and Claims, Taxation, Education, Rules and Energy. Chairman of Senate Taxation in 2017 Session; elected Senate Majority Whip in 2017 by Republican Caucus.
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: First and foremost, it is important to note that a large portion of these cuts were put forward by the governor and his agencies. We accepted these cuts based on the fact that his office and agencies that work with these services each and everyday knew best where cuts could be made with the least amount of impact. I believe the priorities for the state budget in the next legislative session should be focused on reforms and efficiencies in regards to how we deliver services to the citizens in Montana and how do we get more of the money out into the communities that provide these services instead of the top down approach where everything is set up in Helena.
Q: Do you support a sales tax or other tax increases as a way to shore up the budget and increase revenue?
A: I do not believe that tax increases are the answer until we start to discuss reforms to our current systems and programs. Just like in business or our daily lives, we must live within our means and analyze how we budget. If this is not done with government and the only answer is tax increases, there will never be enough money collected from the hardworking taxpayers of Montana because no effort to be more efficient has been made.
Q: Montana’s Medicaid expansion program is set to expire in 2019. Should the state renew this program?
A: When this program was passed in 2015, there were a lot of assumptions put forward by the budget office that have not came true. First, there is nearly 30 percent more enrolled members than projected as well as costs are nearly three times the projected costs. Very few of the enrolled members have went through the work force training portion of the legislation and the state has been very slow to collect the small premium that enrollees were expected to pay to have some “skin in the game.” Passage of this bill was also supposed to lower insurance costs for all as the state provided coverage for the uninsured, and I think everyone with a policy currently knows that has not happened. Currently, there is no work requirements for able-bodied enrollees or asset testing to try to get these services to the citizens that truly need this coverage. If there are no reforms to this measure and it is allowed to continue as it is currently, it will continue to put a larger strain on the state budget pulling away from funding for senior and disability services, K-12 and higher education funding, infrastructure funding and corrections or many will look for tax increases.
Q: Which other issues would you like to see addressed by the Legislature?
A: Every session is different in many ways and there is always a whole host of new issues to discuss. I continue to strive to make government more accountable to the citizens of Montana and try and find ways to make government more accessible and efficient to work with. My goals each session is to carry legislation that continues to protect the rights of our citizens and expand business opportunities for current businesses as well as opening the doors to new innovative businesses to move to Montana. Our tax structure both in income tax and property tax are very difficult to work through, and I will continue to invest time in trying to simplify these and lower them. We will need to continue to work on protecting our waters from invasive species but must look to additional funding sources so that it does not continue to just fall on the fishing license fees.
Q: Why are you the right choice to represent your district?
A: Growing up in and now operating the family business in the Flathead for the past 37 years has helped me to gain a deep understanding of the issues facing Kalispell, the Flathead Valley and Montana. Having the opportunity to serve in leadership as well as well as carrying a large number of pieces of legislation that have passed has shown a proven track record of how to help create solutions in Helena. My experience in both the House and Senate allow me the opportunity to start on Day One moving forward with solutions. I am committed to standing for the principles put forward in my campaign such as individual rights, lower taxes and creating a better business climate for the state of Montana.