GREAT FALLS — Republican Ryan Zinke and Democrat John Lewis sparred Tuesday over the nation’s health-care overhaul in the final debate before voters decide who will become Montana’s lone U.S. House representative in the Nov. 4 election.
They were joined by Libertarian Mike Fellows, who advocated for cutting government.
All three candidates met in Great Falls in their third debate in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, who is leaving the seat to run for U.S. Senate.
Zinke, who supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, attempted to place the blame for the health law squarely on Lewis’ shoulders. Zinke said Lewis must have at least helped draft it as a longtime aide to former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, the bill’s sponsor.
“Even though you say you didn’t write it, you must have helped,” Zinke said to Lewis.
Lewis repeatedly denied writing any part of the law, calling the idea ridiculous.
“My role living in Montana as the state director for Sen. Baucus was to listen to Montanans,” he said.
It was the fifth meeting between Lewis and Zinke, and the candidates worked to differentiate themselves on issues they’d debated previously.
Here’s how each candidate addressed the debate’s other major themes:
ZINKE MILITARY RECORDS
The Montana Democratic Party has called for Zinke to release all of his military records, specifically one 1999 report they say contains information about how he left Navy SEAL Team Six. Zinke said he’s released all the records he has and that there’s nothing in his record that does not distinguish his military service. Lewis said he believes in transparency but that Zinke’s decision to release his records is up to him. Fellows said Zinke crossed a line in using his military uniform for political purposes.
Zinke said the nation can’t cut or tax its way out of the deficit and said growing the economy is the solution. Lewis said spending needs to be cut, starting with ending the U.S.’s role policing the world and financing wars. Fellows said reducing programs such as education is the way to tackle the deficit.
Fellows said he thinks abortion is wrong and that government should get out of it. Zinke said he’s proudly anti-abortion and that he believes in education and prevention. Lewis said those decisions are between a woman, her doctor, her family and her faith.
Zinke said he doesn’t want to sell public lands, wants to make sure public lands are well-managed and wants local government to have more of a say in their management. Lewis called the idea of transferring the control of federal lands to the state a real threat because it’s in the state’s Republican Party platform. Fellows said public lands need to be multiple use and locally managed.
Lewis said he wants to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that lifted many restrictions on corporate spending in political elections. Zinke said he didn’t want to change the constitution and wanted to uphold it as written. Fellows said he doesn’t support an amendment to reverse the decision.
NATIONAL SECURITY AND THE ISLAMIC STATE
Lewis said Congress should debate the idea of going back into Iraq and determine a clear mission and objective beforehand. Zinke said although he wouldn’t want to put boots on the ground he said it has to be done, along with closing the southern U.S. border and becoming energy independent. Fellows said he doesn’t think putting boots on the ground is worth the cost.