Semi-Live Blog of the Helena Democratic Senate Debate

I’ll turn this into something a little more shaped later in the evening, but I’ll post some thoughts about the debate as it progresses tonight.
Probably appropriate that the candidates are arrayed from left to right as Richards, Tester, Morrison.

Mike Dennison, asking John Morrison: Why Don’t Your campaign signs say you are a democrat?

Morrison says he is proud to be a Democrat, despite not having the notation on his sign. Followed by a vague set of references to bipartisanship. Too much partisanship, says Morrison.

Jackie Yamanaka, asking Tester: Is your campaign stuck in the mud? (Not off to a great start here…how about some questions on some of the issues in the race, not campaign strategy. Morrison and Richards give their web sitesl followed by Tester. Tough journalism here.

Charles Johnson, asking Richards: You’ve got a lot of high cost items. How can we pay?

Richards gives a a good, detailed, idealistic response about renewables and less military spending. I think it’s a great response, which means it is way too liberal for this race. 🙂 Morrison follows with a scripted response about health insurance for small business and kids. Tester’s response isn’t much better, a resume listing experience.

Dennison for Tester: When are the candidates going to differentiate themselves? [Why not ask him to differentiate?] Tester speaks to his experiences in the Senate, his life experience. Tester takes a veiled shot at Morrison on ethics issues, saying that onlyhe (Tester) can go ‘belly to belly’ with Burns on ethics. Morrison goes back to electability and money.

Yamanaka asking Richards: What can be done for housing for people living on the reservation?

Richards critiques the $176 billion stolen from Indian tribes by federal government. Would advocate a higher amount in settlment. Morrison wants a settlement to reduce cost to both parties, must compensate ‘first Montanans’

Johnson for Morrison: Conrad Burns has brought back $2 billion. Why throw him out?

Morrison critiques Abramoff connection, we need someone to stand up for Montanans…again followed by the insurance talk. Burns doesn’t deserve credit; ND gets more appropriations per capita than Montana. Montana last in Homeland Security. Tester says Burns has ‘taken Montana’ to a new low.’ Richards will turn Malmstrom to windmills.

Dennison for Richards : How can you convince the voters you have a legitimate chance of winning? (Again, a campaign, rather than issues question!!)

Morrison alludes to his money advantage again. 4,000 Montanans supporting the campaign. Richards and Tester talk about importance of grassroots. Richards says he is getting attention outside of Helena. 🙂

Yamanka to Morrison: GOP is attacking on Iraq/national security

Morrison wants to ‘take care’ of young men and women, equip, training, need a strategy: no bases, competitive bidding on contracts, Iraqi oil company like Alaska dividend. Tester wants civilian leaders to get the troops out, no long term commitment for sake of our nation. Richards critiques Fox News mentality of GOP, pull troops out now.

Johnson for Tester: Where do you stand on abortion?

Tester: clearcut, pro-choice. Richards agrees. Morrison ‘also pro-choice, but respects people on both sides of the issue.’ Tester references contraceptive equity work.

Candidates Now Ask Each Other Questions

Richards Asks Morrison: If you are from Nebraska, how are you a lifelong Montanan?

We’ve been in the Rocky Mountain West for a long time. I’ve grown up in Montana.

Morrison asks Richards: Seniors who make tough choices food/medicine. Long, long, long speech that is not a question. Long, long, long, long speech followed by was Medicare reform a mistake?

Richards says it was written by insurance, not a good idea. Need single payer system.

Tester, asking Morrison: Would you have voted for CAFTA?

No. Free trade needs to be fair trade.

Dennison for Morrison: Why should we patch up a health care system that is more expensive than anywhere else?

Morrison avoids the question of why we should do it, but suggests some reform proposals to increase medicaid/CHIP/ etc. Then control costs, with better technology, health maintenance. Tester says health care is number one, if single payer is cost-effective and allows choice, he could support it. Richards addresses the question and says $190 billion could be saved with single payer system.

Yamanka for Tester: surface owner rights over mineral extraction?

Tester says that balance is needed, surface owners are being run over now. Richards stakes out liberal environmental stance, to protect groundwater. Morrison avoids the question altogether, by listing what he has done on the Land Board.

Johnson for Richards: Record or near-record highs for energy prices. What immediate action and longer term steps?

Richards wants excessive profits tax now, followed by renewables. Says $38 billion for 10 years to end oil dependence. Morrison attacks royalty giveaways and a more diverse energy platform. Tester wants the same kind of breaks for renewables that we give oil; vegetable oils, ethanol, renewables. Richards wants to convert the breaks from oil to renewable.

Ron Mercer, asking all, what program would you fix and why are you running?

Morrison’s number 1 reason is the flawed process of Congress, lobbyists writing bills. Repeats his ‘auction’ line, but no specifics about what he wants to do. Tester references his grand daughter, first moment of real, genuine passion in the debate. If Tester talked like this all the time, he would be much better off. No specific proposal. Richards is running because he ‘wants peace. We shouldn’t be fighting wars over oil.’

Dennison for All: Do you support extension of Bush income tax breaks? Estate taxes?

Tester says his tax cuts would go for middle class. He would not extend the inheritance, because it benefits 15 Montanans. Strong criticism of fighting a war with tax cuts. Richards would not support the tax cuts, wants peace savings. Morrison thinks tax cuts were slanted to the wealthy, should be focused on the middle class. $650 billion in cuts for the wealthiest while we are cutting vital programs like student loans, etc.

Yamanaka asking All: Any decision/vote you regret?

Richards says no, evoking for the first time, a George Bush comparison. Morrison goes back to the auditor’s office resume, finally saying he has no regrets. Tester acknowledges mistakes, but can’t recall something specific. Goes back to last legislative session’s success.

Johnson to Morrison: Tacke case/affair. Can you go head to head with Burns on ethics?

Morrison says that the Tacke case was handled in an exemplary manner, implies that the auditor’s office got jail time for Tacke. Careful to suggest that the actions were taken by the auditor’s office, avoids the ‘we’ in the rest of the debate. Tester references the Independent article, and says it doesn’t smell quite right. Says that the November election will be decided on complaints of ethics between Burns-Morrison. Morrison claims Missoula Indepedent was factually inaccurate, but does not explain what fact is inaccurate.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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