A retired teacher and a retired neurosurgeon square off in the race to represent House District 5 north of Kalispell.
Incumbent Republican Keith Regier, who taught at Evergreen Elementary School, has two sessions in the House behind him. He hopes to be re-elected and continue working on the state budget issues that he is passionate about: reducing spending and making government more efficient.
Mahnke ran for the 2011 Legislature and is back for another shot at the seat because he is concerned about the influence of corporations on state business. He especially points to what he sees as a conflict of interest between farmers in Montana and corporate agribusiness elsewhere.
“The influence of big money on little legislatures is one of the greatest dangers to our democratic process,” he said.
He said he believes it is difficult to promote the needs of small business in the state when the needs of big business are often what is served in the political arena. He said he spoke of his concerns to Kalispell Chamber of Commerce president Joe Unterreiner after a recent candidates’ forum.
“I recommended my plan that he disassociate with the national chamber of commerce,” he said. “I told him you should be interested in developing a local economy and helping small businesses. Small businesses generate jobs and giant businesses destroy them.”
Regier said he feels that one priority should be legislation that permanently lowers the state’s income tax rate. He would like to see oil and gas revenue tied into that plan.
The unfunded state pension liability also is a real concern to Regier.
“I would like to use some coal tax money as well as some of the state surplus to pay down that unfunded liability,” he said. “When we have an ending fund balance, we are collecting too much and we need to return a portion of that to the people who pay it.”
Mahnke said the state budget surplus, which is $268 million more than the 2011 Legislature projected, should be put into savings.
“What we know about public budgets is that they are volatile,” he said. “We need to have some reserves.”
Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or by email at email@example.com.