Democrat Rodrik Brosten is running against two-term Republican incumbent Scott Reichner this fall for Montana’s House District 9 seat.
It’s Brosten’s first run for office. And the semi-retired mechanical engineer and machinist is facing a tough race against Reichner in the heavily Republican district centered around Bigfork.
“When I go knocking on doors, I expect the person I’m going to be talking to to be a Republican,” said Brosten, who is 64 and was born and raised in the Swan Valley.
Brosten is facing Reichner, who was awarded a “most valuable policy maker award” by the Montana Chamber of Commerce last session for his legislation reforming the workers’ compensation program.
“Having been born and raised here, I know a lot of people and I think that might help,” Brosten said of his challenge. “I like to think I’m kind of a problem solver. I can fix stuff.”
Brosten said he’s running chiefly to represent the House district’s working people and to benefit them as opposed to large corporations. His two main issues are supporting public education and getting a state-owned bank off the ground.
Montana’s $457 million budget surplus could provide seed money to get a bank off the ground.
“I’m a big supporter of a state-owned bank,” Brosten said. “North Dakota has a state-owned bank and has had it since around 1920.”
Such a bank could lend to small and local businesses and entrepreneurs to help get the economy going again, make money for the state as loans get paid back and keep “money here in Montana rather than sending it to Wall Street,” Brosten said.
Brosten said he supports term-limited Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s proposal to fix Montana’s pension system and erase several billion dollars of unfunded obligations.
“That’s probably more of the line I would go. Make everybody contribute to solve the problem,” Brosten said.
Brosten said he hates to see taxes increase but would have to see any plan to lower taxes. Energy revenues could be brought to bear on that, Brosten said, adding that he would support property tax relief for workers and homeowners before businesses.
“I don’t think lowering taxes on businesses is particularly going to help them create more jobs. The whole problem with our economy is a demand problem, and what we have to do is get money to people who will spend money, so they can start driving the economy,” he said.
Brosten wants to see Montana get what it can out of the recently upheld Affordable Care Act and proceed with an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.
He said he opposes right-to-work legislation and charter schools, which would only “make Montana a more depressed place.”
And as far as public education goes, he thinks his job would be to go to Helena to “try to protect what we have.”
REICHNER, who heads the House Education Committee, said there has been some “fear-mongering” about charter schools and what Republicans want to do.
“I’ve got seven kids in public schools this year,” the 45-year-old father of 10 said.
“We have the best schools in the country, some of the best teachers in the country, and I will fight to make sure they are properly funded and get the tools they need to do a good job.”
Some tribes with failing schools are interested in charter schools, Reichner said.
“When you have schools that are failing, and I mean failing, parents want options, and you can’t blame them,” Reichner said. “So I support charter schools for failing school districts and I think there are some options out there for tribal members.”
Reichner is serving as finance adviser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill and state campaign chairman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
He said he supports Hill’s idea to use Montana’s surplus to provide tax relief for “property owners who have been asking for relief for 20 years.” He also supports using the surplus to shore up Montana’s pension system so “state employees receive the pension they’ve earned.”
“I don’t want to shortchange our state employees and teachers,” Reichner said. “Right now there’s a $2 billion to $3 billion unfunded liability and that’s something we can work on right now with this budget surplus.”
Reichner also supports Hill’s vision of priority-based budgeting.
“Maybe we’re doing similar things in each department that can be centralized,” Reichner said. “Maybe we’re overlapping and spending money in several programs that we should just spend in one department. That’s the type of vision Rick has and I’m excited to start implementing these types of budget reforms.”
Things are “still evolving” in regard to the Affordable Care Act and whether Montana will expand its Medicaid program, Reichner said. Expanding the program to absorb 60,000 more people will require reform “to make sure state government can manage it.”
For the last year, Reichner has been studying Medicaid reform, a task handed to him by House leadership.
“I reached out to every hospital in the state larger than Havre and have spoken with administrators about Medicaid reform, how to make the system more efficient and where the holes, leaks and problems are,” he said. “Because of my credibility on the workers’ comp reform, they were eager to meet and talk about where we can make the system more efficient to provide better service and reduce waste and fraud and abuse.”
After two terms, Reichner said he’s humbled and honored to represent the people of Bigfork and hopes he can continue to earn their support.
“It’s just a humbling experience to be elected to public service like that as a citizen legislator. I don’t take it for granted. It’s hard work, it’s expensive because they pay you very little, and it’s a sacrifice to be away from your family. But my wife and I do this because we think we can contribute to society, and we want our children to know by example what’s expected of them.”
Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.