Russell Fagg, one of the many Republicans vying to unseat Sen. Jon Tester this November, sat down with the Daily Inter Lake’s editorial board Wednesday.
The Billings attorney and former judge argued that he could represent Montana better than the state’s senior senator.
“I think Jon Tester has lost touch,” Fagg said, citing his votes on matters ranging from a recent spending bill to the Iran nuclear deal, “and I think I’m the guy that can get the job done.”
During his two decades on the bench, Fagg said that “I’ve handled about 25,000 cases. I really feel like that really puts me in a unique position to understand the problems that Montanans face...I’ve seen the best of humanity and the worst of humanity.”
After this experience, he continued, “I know one thing: economic prosperity and good jobs helps everybody, and that’s kind of my bottom line.”
Dwelling at length on the economy during his half-hour interview, Fagg voiced particular concern about the $20 trillion U.S. national debt, and described saddling future generations with these obligations as “unconscionable.”
“While I’m very concerned about the national debt, I think if we can move from 2.5 percent growth to 3 percent growth, that will fuel the American dream.”
Asked what specific policies he would pursue to spur growth and create jobs, Fagg replied, “I believe in limited government … I’m not a Libertarian, but I believe less government is going to allow people to be entrepreneurs, run their businesses, employ people, and that’s going to spur the economy.”
While this stance echoes other Republican candidates across the state and country, Fagg made clear that “I will absolutely be able to work with Democrats … ‘Compromise’ is not a dirty word.”
If elected, he said, he could reach across the aisle on “anything to do with growing the economy and finding that balance between growing the economy, protecting the environment, [and] promoting education.”
With lawmakers agonizing over the status of the “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, Fagg said that even this heated debate could end in compromise.
“That middle ground would be: we need to vet them through a merit-based system, and if they have a job, if they’re paying taxes, if they don’t have a criminal record, if they’ve assimilated into our culture peacefully, then by all means let’s give them a path to citizenship.”
“On the other hand, if they have a criminal history, if they don’t have a job, we don’t want ‘em, and send ‘em home,” he continued. “To me, that’s a middle ground that Republicans and Democrats can come together on.” While not directed at the “Dreamers,” the Trump administration’s proposal for a “merit-based” immigration system is fiercely opposed by Democrats.
To make headway on these issues, Fagg will first have to overcome Montana’s other Republican senate candidates: Troy Downing, Matt Rosendale, Al Olszewski, Ronald Murray and William Dean.
Of these candidates, “I think I represent Montanans the best,” Fagg said, reiterating his fourth-generation credentials and time in the court and the Legislature. He also mentioned his growing list of endorsements, including from three former Montana governors.
But with nine months until the election, questions are hovering over Fagg’s candidacy. The American Democracy Legal Fund (ADLF) has filed two complaints – one, with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that he extensively campaigned prior to officially filing in violation of campaign finance law, and another, with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, claiming that he failed to adequately disclose his financial information on candidacy forms.
“Before I ran, I read the FEC filing guidelines very carefully,” Fagg argued. “There was no basis in truth in that” first complaint. “I am 100 percent convinced it will be dismissed.”
He said he had not been served with the second complaint, but surmised that it was “more mud-slinging.”
Towardsthe end of his discussion, Fagg returned to the principles beneath his platform. “I consider myself to be center-right...I’m fiscally conservative, but I believe in education, [and] in job growth and protecting the environment.”
“I think that fits with most Montanans.”
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 758-4407.