The two candidates vying for House District 80 say hitting the streets, knocking on doors and talking to voters is critical in running a good campaign, and the two political newcomers are using it as a way to connect with voters on a number of key issues.
Don Judge, a Democrat, and Liz Bangerter, a Republican, hope to represent the district, which is currently held by Mary Caferro. She is running for Senate District 40 and is relinquishing the House seat.
Judge previously ran Caferro’s campaign, so he has walked the district in three different election cycles. He’s familiar with the people he seeks to represent, he says.
“It’s the most important part of the campaign because it gives voters a chance to meet you, give them a chance to tell you where they stand and what’s important to them,” Judge said.
This is the first time campaigning for Bangerter. She says she just wants to listen to people’s concerns and represent them without an agenda.
“It’s gives voters a chance to see me and see I’m not politics as usual,” she said.
Although they’ve spoken with many of the same people, Judge and Bangerter came away with different thoughts about what is most important to voters in their district, which covers an area from 11th Avenue to the Civic Center, up the middle of town to the mall, and north encompassing most of the Sixth Ward. It also includes Benton to Sanders, and north from Green Meadow to Sierra Road in the Helena Valley.
Judge said one of the biggest issues he hears from voters is access to public land for hunting. He says hunters are frustrated with the disputes they get into with lessees for state land access.
Bangerter said the biggest issues she hears campaigning are the Helena School District’s health enhancement curriculum and the poor state of county roads.
Bangerter, who considered running as an independent but chose Republican for better awareness, drives the tour train during summer months. She spends most of her time being a mom, but says she was raised to be civic-minded.
“I had no desire to enter (into politics) but spent a few days at the Capitol last session and was really frustrated with what I saw and heard, and I thought I should get involved,” Bangerter said.
She said there are very few women in general in the Legislature, and very few moderate females. “Families like mine were under-represented,” she said.
Judge is running as a Democrat, but says Republican voters aren’t dissuaded to talk to him. “Very few people have had the attitude that ‘I’m a Republican and don’t stop at my door,’ ” he said.
While their philosophies differ on some topics, they agree on certain issues. The economy is a big issue facing the voters in this district, both candidates say.
Judge says he, like many other people, feels at a loss because of the state of the economy, which has affected his consulting business.
“But I have hope,” he said. “If we put rhetoric and anger aside to deliver solutions rather than just hurrahing about the problem, we can turn this economy around.”
Bangerter says she’ll work to help bring in businesses to stimulate and stabilize the economy.
“The economy is on everyone’s minds and people are concerned,” she said. “People are going to vote for someone who they think is going to build the economy. The private sector can build the economy more safely with a sure foundation more than the federal government.”
Both candidates also agree that it’s imperative for legislators to work together during the upcoming session so important tasks can be accomplished.
Bangerter says she dislikes political games, and that legislators must compromise if they want to get anything done. She represents “common-sense, value-based, moderate people,” she says.
Judge says everyone has a priority when it comes to balancing the budget, but cutting services or employees doesn’t promote economic development.
“We’ll need to look at the economy of what we do … can we do it cheaper, faster or better?” he said.
One suggestion he has is to establish uniform medical forms for providers and insurers, which he believes would bring down administrative costs of medical care. No matter where the budget belt is tightened, Judge says legislators will need to proceed with caution.
“We need to be careful making cuts to preserve that Montana receives the large federal matches,” Judge said.
Bangerter agrees. It will be important to listen to the experts — the people who work in the departments — when it comes to the eliminating waste in the budget, she adds.
When it comes to medical marijuana, both candidates say voters who passed the 2004 initiative should be respected, but loopholes need to be closed and reins tightened.
DUI laws also are likely to be a hot topic in the coming legislature, and both advocate for stricter laws for repeat offenders, but also more treatment for first-timers.
“We keep treating the system, and not the disease in Montana,” Judge said. “I’m not sure toughing up the laws is the ultimate solution.”
Bangerter has firsthand experience and personal feelings on the matter. A drunk driver crashed into her vehicle, which also had her children in it, in the middle of the day in Billings. The teenager, who was also talking on his cell phone, received only a slap on the hand, she said.
From what she’s been told, the 24/7 Sobriety program in Helena is working, she said. “That might very well be a program to implement throughout the state.”