Republican candidates vying for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat showed little tolerance for abortion, gay marriage and immigration at a Tuesday night forum in Billings.
Minus Matt Rosendale, who canceled to attend a family funeral, four of the GOP candidates, competing for their party's nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, spent more than an hour polishing their conservative bona fides, with little separation between them on most issues.
But there was wiggle room on life issues, namely abortion and the death penalty, where Ryan Zinke, of Whitefish, indicted some acceptance of abortion as part of society while Elsie Artnzen, of Billings; Corey Stapleton, of Billings; and Drew Turiano, of Helena; voiced strong opposition to the former.
“Abortion is a very tough issue for Republicans. It’s a dividing issue, but I think we can all agree to make to make it as rare as possible,” Zinke said.
In the days leading up to the forum, Rosendale supporters had began characterizing Zinke as favoring abortion.
Zinke told the audience America needed to do better job supporting its young adults and families and that abortions would decrease if it did. He said that in Billings, where 500 young adults are homeless, more needed to be done.
His opponents were more clear about their opposition to abortion and support for the death penalty.
“I’m 100 percent pro-life and I support the death penalty as well,” Turiano said. “We’re aborting hundreds of thousands of babies in this country. Hundreds of thousands. That’s just unbelievable.”
Turiano set himself part from the pack by advocating for a moratorium on immigration to the U.S. He said immigrants generally support big, powerful governments and Democrats. If the immigration to the U.S. isn’t stopped, there won’t be a Republican Party in 20 years, he said.
Arntzen lead the group in calling for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. She said the U.S. couldn’t afford mandatory health insurance for all, including government-paid expansion of Medicaid for low-income Americans.
“We need to repeal Obamacare and that’s going to save us $1.7 trillion on day one. Twenty taxes are in Obamacare and I signed a no-tax pledge,” Arntzen said.
Arntzen put the elimination of Obamacare in the context of multiple cuts to government services, which she said were needed to eliminate deficit spending. She drew the line at cutting Social Security and Medicare, which Arntzen said need to be there for older Americans.
Asked whether the U.S. should defend Israel in case of a nuclear attack from Iran, Stapleton said the U.S. needed to, calling Israel the only democracy in the Middle East. He said Americans needed to understand the history of the formation of modern-day Israel in the context of World War II, something he said need to be taught in U.S. classrooms.
On gay marriage, all four candidates said they couldn’t support marriage between same-sex couples.
“The term 'marriage' is sensitive to Christians. I just don’t agree with ‘same sex’ — the term. I don’t disagree with the union. You know, maybe that group should embrace union,” Zinke said. “But the term 'marriage' is sensitive. It’s sacred and it’s part of the Christian culture that I think is just a bridge too far.”
Stapleton said opposition to gay marriage was a deeply spiritual issue but also rooted in history and family.
“I’ll tell you why it should to be no and why Republicans need to stand for traditional values,” Stapleton said. “We need to hold on a pedestal marriage and what it means. We need to encourage and promote our young people. I’m not saying we ever discriminate against anybody."