BIG SKY – Corporations as people, health care, the cost of college, the reach of government, Fannie May and Freddie Mac, small business, closure of rural post offices, energy policy and independence, veterans.
These were some of the main topics addressed at the first official debate of the three men running forMontana‘s U.S. Senate seat in 2012, Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Denny Rehberg and Dan Cox.
Held on Saturday afternoon at Buck’s T-4 in Big Sky, the debate was well attended with standing room only.
Rehberg, the Republican challenger, spoke quickly in defense of his beliefs. Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester had a more metered pace. Independent challenger Dan Cox, a libertarian, brought humor to the room.
A panel of four journalists from Montana newspapers included Big Sky Weekly reporter Taylor Anderson andBozeman Daily Chronicle Managing Editor Nick Ehli. Their questions asked the candidates to related these major national issues to every day people of Montana.
Both Tester and Rehberg painted themselves as having come from lower-class ranching backgrounds. But their similarities stopped there, and they later jabbed each other about these backgrounds–Tester at Rehberg’s real estate history, and Rehberg at Tester’s policies.
Although the candidates requested no applause or boos from the crowd, members of the public shouted occasional comments, questions and even angry slurs.
Near the end of the debate, the candidates fielded questions submitted from the audience. One was particularly indicative of their stances and personalities:
“What do you specifically propose to do to get past gridlock, to reach across the aisle, and–even if it is a dirty word–compromise?”
Tester cited the importance of communicating in an honest and straightforward way, and used his recently passed JOBS bill as an example.
Rehberg brought up small business, saying they usually don’t have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem. “The compromise you’re probably talking about is raising taxes.” He said we need to remove the barriers in ability to keep money in these people’s pockets.
The debate mediator asked the question again, saying he didn’t hear much from either on the topic of compromise.