MT Congressional candidates talk agriculture

When President Donald Trump nominated Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior, it spurred a special election to replace Zinke as Montana's lone Congressman.

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From left, Greg Gianforte, Rob Quist and Mark Wicks are running to fill Montana's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

When President Donald Trump nominated Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior, it spurred a special election to replace Zinke as Montana's lone Congressman.

The election scheduled for May 25 features three candidates. Republican Greg Gianforte, the founder of RightNow Technologies, ran unsuccessfully in the 2016 election for Montana governor. Democrat Rob Quist is a folk singer from a farm family who has served as the state's cultural ambassador and on the Montana Arts Council. Libertarian Mark Wicks is a rancher who served in the Army Reserves.

Agweek posed four questions to each candidate. Answers have been edited slightly for space and style.

Explain what kind of trade moves you would support to help Montana's agricultural producers.

Gianforte: We need to tear up the trade deals that are hurting Americans and negotiate free and fair trade deals. Bilateral trade deals. This would ensure that when a country fails to honor their side of the agreement they are held accountable. If we can open up more markets overseas, our farmers and ranchers can sell their products to a new consumer base. Increased demand abroad is one of the best ways to help bolster beef prices.


Quist: I will fight against unfair trade practices that hurt Montana producers. I will ensure that when Montana wheat is sent north to Canada, it isn't downgraded to feed status. I will also fight to keep Montana's ports open constantly so farmers and ranchers can more easily transport their products to Canada. I will work to ensure Montana's cattle producers can tap into the Chinese market while preventing dangerous Brazilian beef from entering the U.S. I will also explore trade options with Cuba so Montana's grain producers can have a new trading partner.

Wicks: What worries me on trade agreements is that a lot of times the special interests in Washington are more concerned about manufacturing and not as worried about the affect on the agricultural end of things, and we may end up with a million tons of cheap beef dumped into our market. I would like to see fair trade deals that work for the U.S. and the farmer. But we can't be having trade deals that are just benefiting multinational corporations. My biggest worry is we have to make sure it works for the American voter and not just corporations.

What will be your top priority as negotiations over the next farm bill begin?

Gianforte: Montana absolutely needs a farm bill. The current farm bill is set to expire at the end of FY 2018. Negotiations are already beginning and I want to make sure the concerns of Montana's farmers and ranchers are heard. A few weeks ago I met with leaders from the Montana Grain Growers to listen to their concerns. In light of falling commodity prices, we need to get a head start today to address this issue.

Quist: It is vital that the farm bill supports Montana family farms and ranches. Growing up on a family ranch in Cut Bank, I look forward to working with Montana's farming senator from Big Sandy, Jon Tester, to ensure that the next farm bill preserves the safety net so that a bad year doesn't wipe out family farms and ranches across this country. In Congress I will oppose efforts that would cut funding from the farm bill.

Wicks: I would like to see better supports of insurance subsidies and get some of the price supports up a little higher than they are. I've collected crop insurance way too many times over the years, unfortunately. The levels they are insuring aren't enough to keep us really going. It's a break-even deal. And it doesn't take many break-even years and you're thinking of going into a new line of work. I now rent out my farm land to a young farmer. He's having a hard time finding something he can plant and come out ahead if he has to collect.

Explain your philosophy on the future of public lands in Montana.

Gianforte: I'm here in Montana because of our public lands. I fell in love with Montana over 40 years ago on a backpacking trip in the Beartooth Mountains. My wife, Susan, and I raised our family in Montana hiking, fishing and backpacking on Montana's public lands. I firmly believe that our public lands need to stay in public hands. I do not support efforts to transfer federal lands back to the states. I'll work to increase access to hunt, fish and recreate on Montana's public lands, and I'll fight back against Washington bureaucrats when they try and lock us out.


Quist: Public lands must remain in public hands. I will stand up against any effort to shift management of federal public lands to the state or any effort to sell off our public lands to the highest bidder. My opponent, Greg Gianforte, gave thousands of dollars to special interest groups dedicated to selling off our public lands and restricting stream access, and he even sued Montanans to eliminate a public stream access easement near his riverside mansion.

Wicks: I want access to public lands. I'm tired of gated or ripped-out roads. We need to be able to use that land and get in there to fight fires. Public lands aren't going away. We're not selling off Yellowstone National Park, and the tactic of acting like we are bothers me. But maybe we could sell off parcels for cabins around lakes to help build tax base, like Lake Elwell in Liberty County or Fresno Lake in Hill County or Fort Peck in Valley County. Any public lands that are sold need conservation easements so Montanans will always have access.

Why will you be the best choice to represent Montana's farmers and ranchers?

Gianforte: I'll be a strong voice for farmers and ranchers. Over the last 18 months, I've traveled across Montana listening to the concerns of Montanans. I have a pulse on the concerns facing our farmers and ranchers. I was very pleased to see President Trump rescind the Waters of the United States executive order because it would devastate our farming and ranching communities. I'll always fight back against these excessive and burdensome regulations. As an engineer, I've been trained to solve problems, and my pledge is to work together with farmers, ranchers and stakeholders to tackle the tough issues they face.

Quist: I grew up on a farm and ranch in Cut Bank and understand the issues facing Montana family farms and ranches. In Congress, I will be an independent voice for these families in Washington and will fight to make sure they always get a fair shake.

Wicks: I don't have strings attached from big parties telling me what to do. I get to look things over and decide what's right and what's wrong and decide what's right for Montana. Also, when the media looks for viewpoints, and they get the Republican view and the Democratic view, then they'll look for the Libertarian view, and they'll get the Montana view. It gives Montana power we haven't had before. One representative in Congress is pretty small in the grand scheme of things, but one Libertarian - all of the sudden you have people who start listening.

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