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The SB 38 forum, sponsored by The Boulder Monitor, was available online via Zoom, as well as broadcast on Jefferson County and Elkhorn Mountain radio and Whitehall TV. From top left, clockwise: The Boulder Monitor Publisher and moderator Keith Hammonds, Republican candidate Jim Buterbaugh, Republican candidate Jane Hamman and Democratic incumbent Edith “Edie” McClafferty.  (John Blodget/Boulder Monitor)

Jefferson County residents had an opportunity to listen to the views of three candidates running for the Senate District 38 seat in the Montana Legislature during an April 29 forum, sponsored by The Boulder Monitor. 

Jane Hamman of Clancy and Jim Buterbaugh of Whitehall, are competing in the June 2 primary for the Republican nomination, and both are hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Edith “Edie” McClafferty. McClafferty, of Butte, is seeking a second term in the Senate, and is the only Democratic candidate for the June primary. The primary winners will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Senate District 38 covers Jefferson County and a portion of Butte-Silver Bow. 

The forum was mediated by The Boulder Monitor Publisher, Keith Hammonds, and the order of response was rotated among the candidates. Each candidate was given five minutes for a personal statement, followed by questions from Hammonds with three minute responses. Responses to audience questions were one minute. The forum concluded with 1.5 minute closing statements. 

 

Personal statements

 

Hamman — Hamman credits her many years of working in the Montana state capital as her reason for running, as well as one of her top qualifications for the Senate seat. Hamman said she derived satisfaction from assisting with legislation under five different governors and legislatures, and being able to contribute to wise decision-making. 

She has lived in this area for 38 years and loves its heritage of hard work, natural beauty and natural resources. She supports jobs, agriculture, mining, natural resources, timber, innovative entrepreneurs and welcomes retiring military veterans. She is a strong supporter of K12 education, libraries, the Second Amendment, public lands, parks and public access sites. 

Hamman believes it’s possible to use technology to streamline government procedures and remove unnecessary barriers and regulations. 

“My mantra is expanding freedom, knowledge and justice,” Hamman said, adding that she tries to do one thing a day to fulfill those goals. 

 

Buterbaugh — Buterbaugh has lived in Whitehall for 30 years, is married to a retired schoolteacher, and the couple has three children and three grandchildren. 

He is a conservative Republican who believes in the Constitution and the laws of the United States. 

“I love the America I grew up in, I love the America I raised my kids in. I want that same America to be around for my grandkids to enjoy.”

Buterbaugh is concerned that special interests and factions are in control and that they don’t share the same belief in American freedoms. “I see money hungry self-interested mobsters,” he said of many politicians he observes. Buterbaugh said he doesn’t want power — he wants law enforcement, freedom, the right to say no at the store and a government that runs on a budget. Buterbaugh wants people to be  responsible for their own lives, reasonable taxes and officials who honor their oath. 

“I am not a politician,” he said. 

 

McClafferty — McClafferty is proud of the work lawmakers were able to do in the past legislative session, but is running for a second term because she believes there is much more to do. The legislature was able to preserve health insurance through Medicaid, and the current program must be protected, she said.

“We must all stand together to make sure the needs of our elderly, our veterans, our families and every citizen of Montana are met. We need to make sure they have access to health care and mental health care,” said McClafferty.

McClafferty said she currently sits on the MUS (Montana University System)  2-year Commission and it’s working to develop a workforce training program. As a public school teacher, McClafferty values that system and believes that giving public money to private schools will have a negative impact on public schools. She helped pass a major infrastructure bill that brought improvements to Jefferson County, such as repairs to the Hot Springs Road Bridge. She supports the right to hunt, fish and camp on Montana’s public lands, and will work to reduce greenhouse emissions and transition to renewable energy sources. She supports veterans, women’s rights and will fight for equal pay for equal work and the right to choose.

“No matter who you are, where you live and who you choose to love, the choice is yours,” she said. 

 

Questions from the mediator

 

The population and wealth are drifting out of Montana’s rural communities and increasingly into a few urban centers —  like Bozeman, Missoula and Helena. In some ways, Jefferson County is a microcosm of that trend.  The populations of Boulder and Whitehall are in long-term decline, while the wealthier areas of Montana City and Clancy have grown. How can the future vitality of rural and urban communities both be served?

 

Buterbaugh — The decline is due to economics and where the jobs are, said Buterbaugh. Whitehall lost jobs at the mine, and the Cardwell School lost enrollment, said Buterbaugh. That can’t be stopped unless industry comes back to small towns, such as when logging shuts down, it hurts, he said. 

“You almost have to battle to get that back or become a suburb,” said Buterbaugh.

 

McClafferty — McClafferty acknowledged that there is a divide between the rural and urban areas of Montana and thinks one problem is a teacher shortage. She said school trustees have to be creative to fill positions when someone retires or moves. 

McClafferty said that during the last legislative session, lawmakers renewed a loan assistance program to recruit teachers for rural areas and that program could continue to address that problem. 

Another rural concern is recruiting and retaining health care professionals, and one solution is to expand telehealth medicine. Access to high speed internet is another problem in rural areas, which became very apparent during the current COVID-19 crisis, said McClafferty. 

 

Hamman — Hamman points to limited broadband as a major factor contributing to the rural-urban divide. Only 55 percent of people in rural areas have access to (internet) speeds of what 94 percent in urban areas have, said Hamman. 

Another trend is for jobs to leave rural areas and never return, such as a shrinking construction industry, the demise of family farms and the lack of a timber industry. With few rural residents being farmers and ranchers, the state could instead review its rules and regulations to make it easier for business start-ups, she said. 

Other actions could include maintaining good roads and access, the use of historic preservation grants and festivals, encouraging teachers to work in rural areas and expanding internet learning and telemedicine, said Hamman. Hamman said most new jobs will be in the urban areas, but everyone can celebrate the shared Montana values, sports teams and recreational opportunities. 

 

It’s been close to two months now since the pandemic began to touch Montana, and Montana has been fortunate. We have experienced a very low infection rate compared to the rest of the nation. But it has been traumatic two months for many, schools have closed, businesses have shut down, thousands have lost work and we are all going a little crazy from staying in place. So two questions. On a personal level, how has this experience changed you, and second, as the state begins to loosen restrictions on activity, what’s the best long term course to ensure public safety and economic vitality for all?

 

McClafferty — McClafferty said the pandemic has made her appreciate the simple things, such as sending daily messages to her children, which gives them a chance to connect and grow closer. 

As a teacher, McClafferty said she never thought she would be teaching her students remotely, nor would she be participating in a political forum over an online platform like Zoom. She has enjoyed the one-on-one phone calls with students. When the state begins to reopen for business and tourism returns, individuals must move slowly and cautiously, she said, adding that the protocols of social distancing, hand washing and masks must be maintained. 

“We all need to do our part to stay safe and healthy. To keep our friends, our neighbors and our family safe and healthy,” said McClafferty.

 

Hamman — The biggest change for Hamman has been the technology part. She gave an example of how her group of friends, who used to meet in person during the week, now get together on weekly conference calls. 

As the area comes out of the COVID-19 crisis, it must realize that it’s at an important crossroads in Montana — Interstates 15 and 90, she said. Hamman said that many won’t be flying in this year, but driving in from metro areas to enjoy the scenery. She encourages local officials to send messages to Washington, D.C., to let them know that there are plenty of Montanans who need jobs and Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks do not need to hire international workers this year. 

Hamman thinks that extra support is needed for hospitals and clinics, and areas, personnel and supplies are needed to address hotspots so ongoing operations do not need to be disrupted. If a new case or hot spot emerges, Hamman hopes there isn’t a rush to re-close and scare people again. 

 

Buterbaugh — During the school shutdown, Buterbaugh has watched how teachers have come into the Cardwell School, which he maintains, to put together classwork and host Zoom meetings with their students. He has been amazed at how quickly everyone has adjusted to this new routine. 

He has also watched doctors and nurses put their lives on the line to help others. The only way it has affected him is being unable to see his grandchildren and church services being delivered online. 

Buterbaugh believes that, with regards to reopening, the experts are working on this. He noted that the death rate for COVID-19 is higher than the flu and everyone needs to continue social distancing and go along with what the medical professionals tell everyone to do. 

 

Audience questions

 

People are leaving because there are no jobs here. Mining has been stopped, timber has been shut down, the large taxpaying entities have been forced out. How can we entice them to come back? 

 

Buterbaugh — The conservationists are coming in here and shutting everything down, he said. That results in “big hot fires” because no one is taking care of the dead trees and underbrush, and that’s because it’s all tied up in lawsuits, said Buterbaugh. The state needs to figure out a way to take control of its natural resources so jobs can return, he said. 

 

Hamman — It’s out-of-state money that brings in the lawsuits, where so many things could be productive with proper stewardship in the state, said Hamman. Montana needs to get with the U.S. Congress to make changes, as well as look at procedures and regulations at the state level. There are numerous areas that can be streamlined, and technology can be used to bring back producers. 

 

McClafferty — Economic development does not happen overnight, and master plans and regulations must work together to entice business to come, she said. The area needs high speed internet, as that benefits schools and businesses. 

“As the old saying goes, if you build it, they will come,” she said.

 

Do you favor Montana adopting a resolution in favor of a convention of states to enforce federal House and Senate term limits?

 

McClafferty — No. 

 

Buterbaugh — Buterbaugh doesn’t believe in a convention of states because that opens up the Constitution to change. While he once would have supported a lack of term limits for the right person, that has changed. “What I have seen in the last 10 years — give me term limits,” he said.

 

Hamman — Creating term limits is not an easy task and Hamman noted that McClafferty has served in both the Montana House and Senate, and can be termed out of both.  (McClafferty termed out of the House after serving for eight years; Senators are limited to two terms of four years each)  Hamman said she supports moving forward with the issue, but can’t say how she would vote until she saw the content of the actual bill. 

 

Montana has a unique and diverse population with eight Native american tribal nations making up just under 7 percent of the population. What strengths do you bring to the table to strengthen state and tribal relations?

 

Hamman — Hamman said that as part of her job in the governor’s office, she worked to establish tribal relations and cultural events, as well as cleaning roadways and bringing in an ombudsman. She supports continuing those efforts at the state level. She has supported resolutions recognizing November as a Native American Heritage Month, along with related festivals.

 

Buterbaugh — Buterbaugh doesn’t have much to say about the native tribes because he said he hasn’t dealt with them. He acknowledged the tribes have a problem with missing and murdered indigenous women and that needs to be addressed. “I’m kinda ignorant on this one. I do learn fast,” he said. 

 

McCafferty — McCafferty said she has a good rapport with the Native American caucus and has supported legislation, such as that for missing women and the preservation of native languages. She will continue to work with them to keep the relationship strong. 

 

Do you support or oppose public funding for private schools?

 

Buterbaugh — Freedom of education is important, and if parents want to send their children to private schools, he supports a tax credit for that. 

 

McClafferty — McClafferty opposes taking money from the public schools for private schools because it would hurt the public schools. 

 

Hamman — Hamman opposes taking public funding for private schools, but does believe there are ways to create additional opportunities for those challenged by the traditional public school format. In urban areas, charter schools could be created with grants and public funding and not hurt the public schools, she said. Hamman also supports a tax break for those sending their children to private or religious schools. 

 

In Jefferson County and throughout Montana, emergency medical services personnel are increasingly important health care providers. Do you believe EMS is an essential service? If yes, what specific actions would you, as state senator, take to ensure sure that EMS is an essential service? If you do not believe that, why not, and what other state actions would you take to avoid relying on a declining system of volunteerism for the next 30 or more years. 

 

McClafferty — Volunteers are vital to communities and it’s important to support them, but there needs to be a way to pay them, said McClafferty. It may not be feasible to pay volunteers on the scale of ambulance drivers, but perhaps there could be a program set up to give them some sort of wage, said McClafferty.

 

Hamman — Hamman recognizes that volunteers are important, but their numbers are also declining. Hamman said that while living in upstate New York, the community raised thousands of dollars through pancake dinners held in the spring and fall. 

 

Buterbaugh — Buterbaugh said Whitehall is fortunate to have the best EMS service around and that the service is essential. There is no way an area should be without that service and there is always a way to find where those individuals can get a refund for their time, he said. 

 

Closing statements

 

Hamman — Hamman believes her years of nonpartisan work in the Montana capital qualifies her for the Senate seat, and she would be honored to serve on the Senate Finance and Claims Committee. She is pro-Declaration of Independence and pro-U.S. Constitution with its Bill of Rights and believes the Republican Party best represents these foundational principles. 

“Senate District 38 deserves a senator who will welcome input and defend traditional American values and represent them with common sense and dignity,” said Hamman.

 

McClafferty — “I would like the opportunity to be your senator in the next session. I have a great working relationship with legislators from both sides of the aisle, from both Houses. I do believe that is a benefit for everybody when we’re all working hard to benefit our state. I will continue to support education, continue to support our heritage of public land access, I will continue to work hard for you.” 

 

Butterbaugh  “I am very constitutionally-minded, I can work with other people, can work across the aisle, as long as they stay within the Constitution and the laws of the United States. When they start stepping outside the law, I cannot work with them. Our laws are laws, that’s the way it is. I hope to get in. I have a great passion for this country, I love this country. It drives me nuts what I see going on.” 

 

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