The former speaker of the Montana House, the treasurer of the Montana Republican Party and a captain with the Bozeman Fire Department are vying for the Senate seat that represents the people living on the west side of Canyon Ferry Reservoir through Townsend and Three Forks to the edge of Bozeman.
Debra Brown, Kurt Bushnell and Scott Sales are vying for Senate District 34 in the primary election. The seat was vacated by Joe Balyeat, who faced term limits.
Michael Comstock is running unopposed as a Democrat. He was defeated in 2010 in another Senate race where he ran as a Republican.
Brown drives into Helena from Winston on most business days. She’s worked at the GOP headquarters for about four years. While earning a degree at Carroll College, Brown worked doing data entry until last June when she was hired by the Republican Party. She says she’s excited to get deeply involved in Montana’s government.
“I hear a lot of people complain and not do anything about it,” she said. “I don’t want to be one of those. I’m hoping I can encourage people to get involved and become educated in what’s going on and how they can make things better.”
There’s not necessarily one bill that Brown plans to champion, but she does have areas of interest, including creating more guidelines and education about abortion.
“My concern is that (girls) don’t have all the facts and we need to have really strict guidelines before a young girl is allowed to get an abortion,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there that want to adopt babies.”
Abortion causes serious repercussion later on life for women, Brown says.
“I don’t think people realize all the things that it does to a woman’s body,” she said.
Brown thinks that parental notification should be required for girls seeking an abortion under the age of 18 and they should undergo a more detailed screening process. She says teaching abstinence could prevent teen pregnancies.
“Somehow girls have been brainwashed into thinking (abstinence) is not an option anymore,” Brown said.
Brown said if elected she’d work to stimulate business.
“There seems to be a lot of things that hinder business development in the state and that’s something I’d like to see changed so it’s easer to run a business in Montana,” she said.
Brown says she’d take a close look at the departments in state government to verify they run efficiently.
“One of my skills is organization and paper-flow systems — a lot of times that is a big part of making an office efficient,” she said.
Bushnell is third youngest of 10 children and a third-generation contractor in Bozeman. He became a volunteer firefighter 20 years ago, and is now a fire captain in his hometown.
“If you can trust me to make your bad day better, why wouldn’t you trust me to be your elected official?” he said.
Bushnell is running as a Republican but says he surrounds himself with people who support firefighter issues. Which is why, he says, he has financially contributed to the political campaigns of Democrats running for office.
He describes himself as a common-sense candidate that knows about hard work. He’s pounded nails, worked as a sports director at a television station and was the former broadcasting voice for the Bobcats. “There’s not a lot I haven’t done,” he said.
Bushnell says he can work with people on both sides of issues. He says he’s demonstrated such skills through his work on firefighter pension issues.
“You bring a good idea to the table that’s good for Montana, I want to hear it,” he said.
Like Brown, Bushnell says he doesn’t have specific legislation in mind if elected.
“I want to hear what the people have to say,” he said. “I have to know what the impacts are.”
When it comes to the budget, Bushnell says everyone needs to pay their taxes, no exceptions, and if any services are added, it can’t lead to a tax increase.
Bushnell would focus on imports and exports to stimulate economic growth. He described himself as an “ag guy” and touted Montana’s beef, grains, wool and sugar beets.
“I want to see that stuff exported to whoever believes in Montana as much as we do,” he said.
He’d also like to see Montana use its natural resources in a responsible manner, especially with renewables.
Sales is the veteran politician of the threesome. He represented House District 68 for four terms and was speaker of the House in 2007. He says this is a real pivotal point for the nation.
“Government spending at all levels, in my opinion, is no longer sustainable,” he said. “We need to get people elected that understand the process and rein in government spending and government regulation and try to preserve the free-enterprise system that has served us well.”
He believes strongly in preserving individual freedom. For example, Sales supports the use of seat belts but opposes requiring their use.
“I’m not opposed to seat belts, but in a free society, they should be able to decide whether or not they want to wear them,” he said.
Sales is not known as a high-volume bill sponsor. “There are already a lot of laws to live by,” he said.
Unlike Brown and Sales, Bushnell is not a supporter of the Tea Party.
“They have some good ideas and I believe in some of their things,” Bushnell said. “I would say the same thing about the liberals. I’m a moderate conservative.”
All three Republican candidates say the less government, the better.
He’d like to reduce the scope of Montana’s dependence on federal funds because the federal government is involved in many facets of Montana life.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult,” to reduce that dependence, he admitted.
Bushnell says Montanans do fine on their own.
“I don’t want the feds interrupting Montana’s thinking,” Bushnell said. “Montana does pretty darn well at making our own decisions.”
That said, Bushnell does recognize the federal dollars that have benefited the Treasure State through railroads, airlines, and highways.
“We have to have federal involvement to a certain extent,” he said. “Do I want them telling us how to manage our wolves and bison — no.”
Brown says the difference between her and her opponents — beyond gender — is openness.
“I want to remain open to what needs to be done,” she said. “Until you’ve been in there and doing it, you don’t know what needs to be done.”
Brown says she’ll hear both sides, weigh the options and come to an agreement that is best.
Sales says he is the best candidate because he brings the most experience.
“I’ve got a substantial voting record that people can look at,” he said. “I voted for right-to-work, gun rights; never voted for House Bill 2; and consistantly voted against tax increases.”
He admits though that through the years his voiced opinions can alienate people.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Sales said.
The winner of the primary will face Comstock in the November general election.
Place of birth: Eureka, Calif.
Occupation: Fire captain
Family: Wife, Rikki; married 25 years this month
Education: Bozeman High graduate; attended Montana State University; and graduated from the Mays School of Broadcasting
Past employment: Third-generation construction family; worked in radio and television; Bozeman fire department for nearly 20 years.
Political experience: Long-time member of the executive board of the Montana State Fireman’s’ Association.
Place of birth: Wyoming
Occupation: Private investor
Family: Wife, Sandie; son, Colten; and two daughters, Emma and Rachel.
Education: Earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial business from Boise State University
Political experience: Member of the National Rifle Association and the CATO Institute. Served in the House of Representatives since 2003 and was speaker of the House in 2007.
Place of birth: Stillwater, Okla.
Occupation: Treasurer, Montana Republican Party
Family: Husband, Levi; between them they have five children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild
Education: Graduate of Carroll College
Past employment: H&R Block — 10 years; newspaper publisher — five years; various other accounting and management experience.
Political experience: Past president of Lewis & Clark Republican Women, currently vice president of the Montana Federation of Republican Women and the chair of the Broadwater County Republican Central Committee.