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U.S. House candidates lay out their visions during Missoula forum

 John Lamb, Ryan Zinke and Monica Tranel at a U.S. Congress candidate forum in Missoula, August 8, 2022.
Freddy Monares
Montana Public Radio
John Lamb, Ryan Zinke and Monica Tranel at a U.S. Congress candidate forum in Missoula, August 8, 2022.

The three candidates for Montana’s new western congressional district squared off for the first time Monday in a public forum hosted in Missoula. Tensions were high between Republican Ryan Zinke and Democrat Monica Tranel.

Within the first 15 minutes of the forum as candidates gave opening statements, Tranel and Zinke were already talking over one another.
The two continued to trade barbs throughout the Missoula City Club forum. Tranel, a longtime Montana energy attorney who grew up in eastern Montana, is seeking her first elected position.

"You all have a clear, stark choice between the three candidates running for this office now," she said.

Zinke, a Navy SEAL from Whitefish, has represented Montana before in Congress, was a state senator for two terms and also U.S. Secretary of the Interior for two years under former President Donald Trump.

"I believe this country is fixable," Zinke said. "And I believe also in defending Montana values, because if this country falls, Montana values and Montana falls with it."

John Lamb, the Libertarian candidate in the race, is owner of a greenhouse and recycling business in the Gallatin Valley who previously ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate. He said he sees too much government overreach.

"And it made an impact on me growing up, and I’ve always had a desire to change things,” Lamb said.

Audience members in Missoula were able to ask questions of the candidates, and the first was whether they would support a federal ban on abortion if elected to Congress.

Lamb said he opposes access to abortion given his religious beliefs.

“You might have heard I have 12 children, so abortion is something that I’ve been totally against my whole life," he said.

Zinke said he’s anti-abortion, but thinks a total ban on abortion access is too harsh, saying he supports exceptions for rape, incest and imminent health danger. He said late-term abortions should not be legal.

“I’m sorry, I do not agree with termination moments before birth," he said. "And privacy has limits.”

Elective abortions remain legal in Montana, but only before the third trimester of pregnancy. According to the Poynter Institute, six states do not limit when an abortion can occur, but less than 1% of abortions happen after 21 weeks gestational age when life-threatening health complications arise.

Zinke’s stance is more moderate than the Montana Republican Party platform, which supports a complete ban without exception.

Tranel says she supports access to abortion and providing resources to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

“I will go you one step further and say that I will vote for women’s rights to live life on our own terms and to be able choose how, when and whether we become parents," Tranel said.

The source of drugs like meth and fentanyl coming into Montana was another point of conflict between Zinke and Tranel.

Zinke attributed much of the problem to illegal trafficking through the southern border.

“We’re going to have to shut down the southern border first. And that’s not that hard," he said. "You can finish the wall where the wall’s appropriate, empower the border patrol to do their job, empower ICE to do their job, but we need to get the drugs out.”

Tranel countered that fentanyl is manufactured and trafficked from China.

“We need to solve the problem, but we need to figure out what is actually happening first and not demonize and blame things that won't actually fix anything, but are easy talking points and maybe an easy bumper sticker," she said.

Tranel also said access to mental health care is important to solve the issue. Zinke agreed with her on that point, but said anyone who ignores the southern border has their head in the sand.

According to the federal drug enforcement administration, fentanyl comes to the United States from both Mexico and China.

Lamb says government has been ineffective in preventing substance abuse.

“What we need is more education and teaching our children properly and bringing them up," he said.

On the topic of climate change, Tranel said Montana should be embracing opportunities to transition away from fossil fuels.

“We have a history of using our resources to make money for us and for the good of the country," she said. "Our wind is winter-peaking, so transmission is an incredible way to serve the load on the West Coast and make money for Montana.”

She said she supports subsidies for residential solar panels and charging stations for electric cars.

Zinke says the U.S. isn’t ready to transition away from using fossil fuels.

“If this is the new economy, I don’t think we want any part of it," he said. "So let’s look at energy – environmentally, it is better to produce energy in this country under our regulation than to watch it get produced overseas with no regulation. Undisputed.”

He maintained his position that America should up its production of energy, including fossil fuels, to keep prices lower for consumers.

Lamb said he is opposed to federal regulations that restrict energy production.

Ballots for the 2022 midterm election will reach voters in October. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.