Montana House District 71
Politics have always interested both of Montana’s 2020 House District 71 candidates. Ken Walsh, the Republican candidate, and Ian Root, the Democratic candidate, are running for an elected office for the first time in the 2020 general election.
Walsh got involved in politics when he retired as owner of the Ruby Valley Bank in Twin Bridges this year. Walsh said retirement has allotted him time to commit to House District 71’s representative in the Montana Legislature.
“I poured all my resources into my job,” Walsh said. “I’d expect my elected officials to do that an equal amount.”
Root has been following politics since he was a 7-year-old in a t-shirt supporting the 1956 Democratic candidate for president, Adlai Stevenson. He continued to participate in politics from marching in Washington D.C. against the Vietnam War to becoming the Chairperson of Madison County’s Democratic Committee. Root entered the race for Montana House District 71 in response to President Trump’s election.
“Democracy is in danger,” Root said. “I’m running to protect democracy.”
The Montana House of Representatives goes into session with the Montana Senate for 90 days every year. The state legislature is responsible for enacting new state laws, appealing or removing existing state laws and balancing the state budget with the governor.
The state legislature is also made up of dozens of committees to address bills and issues for new legislation. Both candidates for Montana House District 71 said they would be interested in joining the House Business and Labor Committee.
Walsh said he understands the struggles that small businesses face from his experience as a banker and small business owner. Certain regulations restrict businesses, according to Walsh. He identified high costs for workers’ compensation and healthcare as issues impacting small businesses.
“It’s great to have compensation, to have those benefits,” Walsh said. “But the state needs to help provide those benefits or require less from [small businesses].”
Montana’s 66th legislative session passed bills from the Montana House Business and Labor Committee like House Bill 92, which generally revised insurance laws, and House Bill 373, an act revising insurance producer affiliation regulations.
One of Root’s campaign promises is to support raising the minimum wage to $20 an hour. He also wants stronger unemployment laws to benefit employees rather than the employers.
“They’ve stacked the deck against workers,” Root said. “Raising the minimum wage is the most important thing that I could push.”
Bills on minimum wage and workers’ compensation also came from the Business and Labor Committee in Montana’s 66th legislative session. House Bill 84 proposed the minimum wage be raised to $15 by July 1, 2020. The bill did not pass and the minimum wage in Montana is $8.50.
Montana’s 67th Legislative Session Jan. 2021 will have many new and deepened challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Montana legislators could be deciding on legislation dealing with COVID-related issues, like paid sick leave, different teaching platforms in the education system and healthcare accessibility.
Root also prioritizes free public education from Pre-K though college and supports universal healthcare but said he could settle for doubling Medicaid Expansion. Montana Department of Health and Human Services reported Montana’s Medicaid enrollment increased 87% from 2013 to 2019, covering over 278,000 Montanans.
“My shoulders are rounded from compromise,” Root said.
Walsh prioritizes Montana’s natural resources and water rights for all users. He wants Montana’s laws to adjust with the new difficult challenge of COVID. He said that state regulations in its education system limited schools’ abilities to adjust to the public health crisis. Walsh expects healthcare to be another industry that could see certain changes due to the pandemic.
“It’s not just money that’s going to be an issue but policy too,” Walsh said. “To accommodate the needed changes, open the box and start thinking outside of it.”
The candidates live at different ends of Madison County, which encompasses most of Montanan House District 71. But the district also covers the southern corners of Silver Bow and Jefferson counties.
Walsh said he advocates for “less rules and more common sense.” According to Root, he offers House District 71 an alternative option to a party that has entangled themselves with “a dictator, a mob monster.”