An underwhelming thirty to forty people attended the 2014 Colstrip Candidate Forum, hosted by Bicentennial Library at Colstrip High School, to meet and learn more about the candidates running for Montana Senate District 20 and House Districts 39 and 41. The candidate turn out was excellent with all but two of the scheduled candidates attending; Rod Mogen (D) of Rosebud, running for SD 20, and Patricia Rae Peppers (D) of Lame Deer, running for HD 41, were not able attend.
The first round of moderated questions went to Mr Howard Keller (D) of Big Horn and Mrs Geri Custer (R) of Forsyth both running for the open seat in House district 39. Prior to the start of the night, Mr Keller told the forum organizers that he felt nervous since he has never sought political office before, but when the forum began he appeared calm, prepared, and confident. Mrs Custer presented herself confident and knowledgeable, showing her political insight from her thirty plus years of political service as Rosebud County Clerk and Recorder.
The second round featured the candidates for Senate district 20, Mr Duane Ankney (R) of Colstrip and Mr Barry Usher (R) of Billings. In his characteristic down-to-earth manner, Mr Ankney displayed his knowledge and experience of legislative politics; having served the past eight years in the Montana House of Representatives. Mr Usher also showed insight and readiness for the senate seat drawing from his past experience as a military veteran, police officer, and current experience as a successful small business owner in Billings.
The forum was not a debate and as such there was no declared winner from either interviewed group. Rather, the audience was able to become better acquainted with the men and women seeking to represent them in Helena in 2015.
Mr Keller and Mrs Custer will face off during the general election to be held November 4. While Mr Ankney and Mr Usher will face off in the primary election to be held on June 3 and the winner will compete against Rod Mogen for the final victory to be decided at the general election. Ms Peppers is still expected to run unopposed for the House district 41 seat.
Colstrip resident, Gary Parry, performed an excellent job of moderator. The event schedule progressed more quickly than expected due to the two absent candidates and to the efficiency and preparedness of the candidates in answering the questions. To help lengthen the time with the candidates, Mr Parry was able to seamlessly interject relevant questions and opened the floor to questions from the audience.
Audience members were also treated by the attendance of two other political candidates; the Rosebud County Superintendent of Schools candidate Lisa Blevins (D) of Forsyth and U.S. Senate candidate Champ Edmunds (R) of Missoula. Mrs Blevins is running for a local office that has not seen much competition in the past while Mr Edmunds is running in the high-profile race against fellow Republican and current U.S. Congressman Steve Daines, both seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate seat recently vacated by Max Baucus. Both Mrs Blevins and Mr Edmunds were able to meet fellow audience members at the end of the forum to promote their own campaigns.
Even though the audience turn out was lower than hoped for, I certainly appreciated the effort and time put forward by the candidates to travel out to Colstrip to let local residents to get to know them. I hope that future events like this will be planned by the Rosebud County Bicentennial Library of Colstrip and that more people will take this great opportunity to meet the men and women who will serve and represent them in Forsyth, Helena, and even the U.S. capitol.