Judge, senate candidates talk justice, rehabilitation and taxes at Absarokee forum

By: 
Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, October 11, 2018

22nd Judicial District Judge candidate Matt Wald

22nd Judicial District Judge candidate Matt Wald

Montana Senate 29 candidate Betsy Scanlin

Montana Senate 29 incumbent David Howard

Jail overcrowding, Initiative 185 and the balance between services and costs were among topics addressed by four political candidates at a forum in Absarokee Monday night.

The 22nd Judicial District Judge slot and the Montana Senate District 29 seat are up for grabs in the Nov. 6 general election.

Vying for the judge seat are Matt Wald, an attorney who lives in Big Horn County, and Ray Kuntz, a Red Lodge attorney. The 22nd Judicial District was created in 1999 and covers Stillwater, Big Horn and Carbon counties. The bench opening is the result of the upcoming retirement of Judge Blair Jones. This is a non-partisan race.

In the Montana Senate District 29 race, Democrat Betsy Scanlin seeks to unseat the incumbent Republican David Howard. SD 29 covers Stillwater, Carbon and Sweet Grass counties and includes approximately 20,000 people, according to Montana.gov. The following is a summary of some of the questions asked and answered at the forum:

JUDICIAL RACE

QUESTION 1: WHY DO YOU WANT THE JOB?

Wald said it took him a year to decide if he wanted to run for what he characterized as the important and “daunting” job of administering justice. As a rancher and practicing attorney for the last 25 years, Wald said he felt the need to try and help more people.

Kuntz said he has been inspired to seek the role based on the diligence and impartiality displayed by Judge Jones. And those things “make a difference” in the lives of those who pass through the court system, said Kuntz.

QUESTION 2: HOW WOULD OVERCROWDING AT THE JAILS IMPACT SENTENCING?

Kuntz said he would balance rehabilitation with community safety.

Wald acknowledged that reality is an issue, but said when dealing with a dangerous person or someone who needed punished, it would be an easier choice for him.

“It shouldn’t have a single bit to do with how I sentence,” said Wald.

QUESTION 3: HOW WOULD YOU BALANCE THE NEED BETWEEN TREATMENT AND PUNISHMENT?

Wald and Kuntz had virtually the same response to this question, with that being the goal of the criminal justice system is to get offenders back to working and being contributing members of society. Treatment is often a key part of that. However, both candidates said there are some crimes in which the punishment element must take the higher priority.

QUESTION 4: WHAT NEEDS CHANGED IN THE SYSTEM?

Again, Kuntz and Wald were in agreement that more options are needed for those suffering from mental health issues.

SENATE DISTRICT 29

QUESTION 1: WHAT IMPACT WOULD INITIATIVE 185 HAVE ON YOUR CONSTITUENTS?

Scanlin said this initiative raises the taxes on cigarettes and vaping and she believes it will financially help people, particularly the elderly and children living in rural areas.

Howard said this initiative creates money for Medicaid expansion, which will fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers every single year. He noted it would be a Medicaid expansion geared toward working adults who have no real reason or need for it.

Howard said the state is already in debt and passage of this initiative will only make it worse.

“This is going to tax us unbelievably,” said Howard.

QUESTION 2: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE CONFLICT OF SERVICES AND COSTS?

Howard said every time a tax is approved, it is a deduction from someone’s paycheck. Because of that, the question must always be will the new tax be beneficial and can people afford it.

Scanlin never directly answered this question, and instead referred to prior statements made in the evening by Howard regarding Medicaid and Obamacare.

QUESTION 3: DO YOU SUPPORT THE PROPOSED PAY RAISE FOR STATE LEGISLATORS?

Scanlin said she would like to look at the pay, as it is below most other states and feels it does limit the candidate pool. Basic living expenses are about all that are covered by the salary of a state legislator, she said.

Howard thinks the wage is fine.

QUESTION 4: IS THERE A MORE EQUITABLE TAX SYSTEM THAN THE ONE CURRENTLY IN PLACE?

Howard and Scanlin agreed that changes need to be made in this area.

QUESTION 5: WHAT CAN THE LEGISLATURE DO ABOUT THE CURRENT OPI-OiD CRISIS?

Scanlin said methamphetamine is the bigger problem currently, and not so much opioid.

Howard said opioids are a huge problem, primarily through prescription drug use and abuse. He spoke of voluntary programs pharmacies began six years ago to try and stop “pharmacy shopping.” Howard also said doctors have over-prescribed opioids and some pharmacists have not been responsible.

CLOSING STATEMENTS

KUNTZ took the opportunity to “set the record straight” about a question that surfaced recently at a Carbon County forum. An audience member had asked Kuntz about his contributions to Democratic causes. Kuntz has made no contributions to Democratic causes and after conducting some research, discovered there was another Ray Kuntz in Montana who had.

WALD said he wants to continue to use the values he learned growing up on a ranch to take on the hard job of being a judge. “It’s not about the power. It’s about doing the right thing,” said Wald. “I think I can do it.”

HOWARD urged people to check his voting record to find out if he represents them and said he is a staunch Second Amendment supporter. He also said Montana doesn’t “have a resource problem, we have a spending problem in this state.”

SCANLIN highlighted her priorities of schools and social services and mentioned the deep cuts made this year to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services and schools. She said she is the daughter of a minister and school teacher.

Category: