The three contestants in Montana’s special Congressional election squared off on Saturday in their only televised debate before the May 25th election.
Republican Greg Gianforte, Democrat Rob Quist, and Libertarian Mark Wicks debated in Great Falls.
Gianforte and Quist didn’t waste much time before getting into a common theme of the campaign – their respective personal wealth – and who best represents the average person.
Quist: “We don’t have representation for every-day Montanans that work. I really feel like there are enough millionaires in Congress. Do we really need to send one more? There are over 300 millionaires in Congress. We need someone who can represent the people of Montana.”
Quist is a singer-songwriter, who co-founded the Mission Mountain Wood Band.
Gianforte is a multimillionaire high-tech entrepreneur, who co-founded and sold a successful software company in Bozeman.
He says the skills he learned as the CEO of an international firm will help him negotiate the big issues in Congress – like tax reform.
Gianforte: “This pejorative of a millionaire? Again, I’ve been clear: I’m in favor of prosperity. I’m an electrical engineer. Honestly, I think we have too many lawyers in Washington. Maybe we need some more engineers. They’re trained to solve problems and we can actually do math, which is a desperately needed skill back there.”
But the wild card in the race – and the debate – is the Libertarian, rancher Mark Wicks of Inverness, along the Hi-Line.
Wicks told his audience that a vote for him is not a wasted vote.
He called Gianforte a luxury car, that should be parked at the country club – and Quist a half-ton pickup, that doesn’t quite have enough juice.
And what type of vehicle would Wicks be for his constituents?
Wicks: “I’m the work truck. I’m the guy when you’re pulled over on the side of the road, and you’re broke down, you want to see that big pickup pull behind you that has the tow ropes, the chains, the tools – everything to get the job done, and you know you’re going to get home that night. Let’s quick playing this partisan politics and get something done for a change.
Wicks said he’ll always tell voters the truth – even if they don’t like it.
He said he would legalize marijuana – support simplified taxes – and hire staffers to concentrate specifically on Native American issues, Social Security, health care and veterans.
Candidates also sparred over federal funding for Planned Parenthood – with Wicks and Gianforte saying it should be cut off – and Quist saying it should not.
Quist: “We all need to resist the assault on women’s reproductive rights. These are community issues and family issues and human issues. I support access to birth control, I support access to public screening and I will oppose any attempts to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
Gianforte: “I am pro-life and I think life needs to be protected from conception to natural death. And, in this particular case, we cannot reduce funding for medical care for women. But I would say that Planned Parenthood has not been a good steward of taxpayer dollars.”
Gianforte mostly drilled home the point that he’s a supporter of President Donald Trump – while Quist said he’ll be a strong voice for all Montanans, no matter who they are.
And Wicks? He said a vote for him is not wasted – and that he’d be a voice above party politics.
The election is less than four weeks away – and absentee ballots are in the mail Monday.