Local candidates sound off at forum

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Paul Fielder, who is running for Sanders County Commissioner, addresses the issues at the candidate forum held last week in Paradise. (Erin Juseaume/ Clark Fork Valley Press)

Sanders County residents had a chance to listen, ask and talk with multiple candidates running for local and state seats last week.

The Sanders County Ledger hosted the forum that saw Carol Brooker, Paul Fielder, Tom Rummel, Darlene Lee, Doug Dryden, Mark French, Deborah “Kim” Christopher, Ashley Morigeau, Diane Magone, Chris Gross, and single unopposed runners Nichol Scribner and Naomi Leisz attend. Denley Loge was unable to attend but sent answers to questions asked via email to which Annie Wooden of the Ledger read to the crowd.

The two-part forum was held Friday night at the Paradise Center in Paradise, and Saturday night at the Rex Theatre in Thompson Falls.

Each candidate in pairings were posed several questions they took turns answering, and in some cases, also took the opportunity to clarify any remarks made by the opposing candidate.

For the commissioner’s race, incumbent Carol Brooker spent most of her short time answering questions to clarify claims made by her opponent, Paul Fielder.

Fielder came prepared for the forum, and though he generally stuck to his campaign, there were a couple of points that he directly made against his opponent Brooker to which gave a healthy look for voters to choose which was the best choice for them at the polls.

Current Sanders County Sheriff Rummel next headed up against retired Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Darlene Lee, who is aiming to be the first female sheriff for the county.

Rummel answered questions quickly and concisely. One of the most significant topics on the night that seemed to flow through other candidacies was that of the local war on drugs.

Rummel explained what has been happening within the department and what he has been able to achieve with his team of deputies, and show cross-departmental work continues to grow with other law enforcement agencies that work within the county.

The runoffs of what drugs and drug addicts can become is that of a ripple effect that does see crime escalate to that of burglary, thefts, mental health issues, domestic violence and so forth. Rummel also pointed out that alcohol, though identified as a legal drug, still falls in the realm that is a continued problem within the county.

Lee seemed to be on the same page with the big issues when answering questions. Though she made a point that she would ensure that a healthy relationship would be made with other agencies, as from her experience, before a medical retirement, she did not feel there was a strong cross-communication within law enforcement in Sanders County.

Another topic on the cards for the running of Sanders County sheriff was that of Lee and Rummel’s opinion of should teachers be allowed to carry guns in schools. Both candidates agreed that it should be allowed on a volunteer basis for teachers to have that option. They would have to be willing to go through intense training to ensure firearms qualifications are continuously up to date aligning — to that similar to a law enforcement officer.

“In an active shooter situation, every second counts,” stated Rummel.

He suggested that courses such as firearms qualifications and proficiency, weapons retention, shoot/no shoot situations and room clearing to mention a few.

Lee agreed with Rummel, though also went on to to say that she would think that armed SROs would be the best first step before teachers volunteering to take on that responsibility.

Funding, insurances and school boards were some of the reasons as to why they do not see that particular change coming into effect any time soon.

Lee suggested that identifying troubled youth and getting them the help they require would be the logical first step, other than that funds would have to be raised to look toward such precautions like metal detectors and for the schools, intros county is also not something that would be feasible at this time.

JUDGE DRYDEN and opponent French, who are both running for Sanders County Justice of the Peace, could easily be seen as one of the most diverse thoughts on what the job entails and what they both aim to achieve should they be elected to the position.

Dryden opened with the first question of “how would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law” by saying, “Fortunately, I have had 14 months to prepare myself for that as being in this position. It is extremely helpful that I spent 28 years as a law enforcement officer. During that time, I was involved in local, state and federal cases working with attorneys that gave me an insight to both sides of the case.”

He went on to say that he took judicial exams to which are requirements to become a judge. He did note that “you” did not have to be an attorney to be a judge in the state of Montana. However, you are required to take mandatory training and exams to uphold the position of judge.

French responded as saying, “Patience, research, and diligence, taking the time to get it right. The justice of the peace is being we the peoples’ judge, providing remedy between the average person and the law.”

He went on to imply that a lawman (law officer) should not act as judge and jury. It is up to the Justice of the Peace who should be involved in determining those who are guilty of a crime once presented in a court of law.

He also pulled from his own experiences and issues with law enforcement officers to which he felt were unjust as a citizen and did not thoroughly comply with the constitution and or the bible to which he believes the country is built on.

“I understand the constitution and Montana code,” he stated,” I understand innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”

THE OTHER big contrast of candidates was that of District Court Judge runners — current judge Christopher and Morigeau.

Christopher spoke of her experience within the position that she holds. She identified that she has successfully already been able to work through difficult cases to ensure the best outcome to be set. She also identified that she uses a multitude of resources that are available, and not just the “standard” to which may be used.

Morigeau, though young and inexperienced as a judge, pulled her answers from her experience as a public defender. She implied that she would also use those colleagues that she would be working with (should she be elected) to ensure that all avenues of information to handle cases that pose unfamiliar areas of the law.

Looking toward the end of terms (should they be served), candidates were asked what one significant change they would aim for completing within an elected term.

Christopher hopes to continue her work helping those abused and heavily neglected children within her district; she went onto say that within her eighteen years she has been actively involved in groups such as CASA to help those in need, through her work as a judge.

Morigeau spoke of her eight years as a working attorney within Lake and Sanders counties has helped her that most cases that come before the courts are that of adults who have chemical dependency and mental health issues. Which is why she feels it is essential to expand on the treatment courts that have been started here, she referenced the work of Judge Manley and implied she hoped that working alongside him (if elected) that she could use his example to make a difference within the district to which she would possibly serve.

STATE HOUSE representatives for Districts 13 and 14 were scarcely represented on the night, though current seat holder for District 14 Denley Loge could not make the meeting, and neither could Bob Brown of District 13; both had prior commitments. Brown did not send any response to questions posed. Loge did send responses that were read aloud in accordance to the forum by Wooden.

Second Amendment repeal was the first question posed, and those that answered for the district they represent agreed that repeal and or changes should not change. Mentions of constitutional rights for protecting yourself, hunting, and other sporting uses are sharp and used correctly as far as Montana is concerned and the Montana way of life, no changes are felt to be required.

Magone went to the extent that she does not feel or foresee a repeal happening due to the process it would take to go through.

Loge responded to the question as, ”Short answer-no. I do not feel we need new gun restrictions; however, I feel any unsafe or irresponsible use of a firearm should have punishments that fit the crime. I feel hunters safety or any kind of gun safety classes should be encouraged and the shooting sports for youth is one of the better programs to help promote gun safety.”

I-185 was another agenda item that was of a hot topic during the forums. Loge responded to the question of, “What would you do to improve the state’s health care system” as, ”We do need to restore some of the needed social programs to the small rural communities. After the special session, there were $32 million available to use toward state programs that the governor chose not to take at the time. This led to closing offices. He has since chosen to use some of those funds and also talked of returning some of those services. We still have a problem of funding services. In hopes of revenues being up, that will help but we all know simply putting money toward a problem does not always solve it. We must still improve efficiency in spending and sometimes that even means putting new management in place. Healthcare for all is an easy promise to make, but the reality is that takes money, money we do not have.“

Loge later continued to say concerning I-185, he feels some concerns and unaddressed problems that the legislature can and need to deal with rather than having to accept the initiative as written primarily by the lobby groups.

Gross said, concerning I-185, “Personally, the biggest thing I think to improve our health would be to get some way where we could get to negotiate drugs prices. Better drug prices would make more money available for our healthcare systems.

“The expansion of Medicaid is creating about 5,000 jobs, and with those jobs, we generate around $280 million in income each year. That is just with the jobs, but we also can keep our rural hospitals open and keep jobs there, helping at least 100,000 people that need care,” she said.

Magone replied, “I think we can all agree that our healthcare system is a huge mess, from high costs of medication and care to not being able to see your provider, to not enough primary care providers, waiting months for procedures and the waiting to see if your insurance will cover it all. These are problems with our current system.

“What we cannot do is agree on how to fix it. However, there are some areas in our legislature that we can focus on that can help improve what we have,” she added.

OVERALL, CANDIDATES for House District positions agree that “party” preference should not dictate a positive outcome for citizens. No matter the party you hold, or your fellow state representative, you are all there to serve the people of Montana and what’s best for their best quality of life.

All three candidates who responded during the forum agreed that rural Montana is mostly getting the short end of the stick, and they are all passionate to help improve quality of life, and not continuously take from the pockets of those in already tough positions.

After the question session of the forum, members of the audience were invited to pose questions to candidates on a card to be addressed. Paradise showed to see a few questions, some easily inserted others not so much. However, most all candidates did speak with people from the audience once the event was complete to address more specific queries they had in hopes of being informed of what the candidate could do for them as a voter.

Though the forum was held at two different locations, the overall concessions were that of a positive outcome for both candidates and residents of Sanders County.

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