Andrea Olsen is a Democrat running for the Montana House District 100 seat in the 2015 Legislature. Her primary election opponent is Chuck Erickson. There is no Republican vying for the seat, so the Democratic primary is a winner-take-all vote. Other legislative Q&A’s are available online at Missoulian.com.
1. Montana schools are implementing new math and English standards and testing known as the Common Core standards. Do you support these? Why or why not?
I generally support the Common Core standards because, as MEA-MFT states, “it will be good for Montana kids as long as the state provides enough resources to allow schools to comply with the standards.” Educational rigor is good, as is critical thinking. In Montana, our teachers care about student achievement and preparing students for challenges, opportunities and jobs we can’t even imagine yet. Reform can be good, but as with many new initiatives, it takes time to experience the changes and to work out all the bugs. Good parts will survive the process and there will be renewed attention to quality instructional materials and methodology. I expect that our teachers will adapt their teaching to accommodate the common core standards, while still inspiring our students to think critically and follow their passions.
2. Should the state of Montana expand Medicaid to Montanans earning less than 138 percent of poverty, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act? Why or why not?
Yes. Health care is a basic human right. It is unfortunate for the state’s economy and devastating to many people that the 2013 Legislature, led by a Republican majority, refused to accept federal funds that would have provided health insurance to nearly 70,000 Montanans. Failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act cost Montana millions of dollars in revenue that would have also increased jobs and improved our economy. More importantly, failing to expand Medicaid cost many Montanans their health, their lives, and their economic security because they lack access to affordable healthcare insurance. We missed an opportunity to make the system work better for people and must not do so again.
3. Should the state encourage or discourage the production of coal, oil and gas? How?
Energy production has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of our economy, contributing significant revenues as well as jobs. At the same time, Montana must develop policies and have public investment in the needs of the 21st century, particularly clean energy. Our state needs to be at the forefront of efforts to develop resources that sustain not only our energy needs, but our health and the environment as well. Energy projects should be planned, constructed and operated in a manner that attains the highest standard for the safety of the workers, the community, and the environment. In addition, Montana’s energy policies must require those who profit to pay the full costs to society for the development of our resources, and therefore Montana should eliminate tax holidays and tax relief to high profit extractive industries that continue to create huge liabilities that are passed on to ratepayers and taxpayers.
4. The state of Montana has had budget surpluses in recent years. Should this money be invested in public services, returned to taxpayers in some form, or both? Please be specific on the “how.”
Probably, a bit of both. I’d like the Governor’s Office and the legislature to consider committing some portion of surplus funds to revenue sharing with local governments. The ability of city taxpayers to support the increasing number of costs shifted to them by the federal government is limited. Some localities, and Missoula is a terrific example, have been very innovative in finding solutions to the diminishing federal support for key programs in education, housing, transportation and health care. Local programs like Partnership Health Center and the Solstice and Equinox housing developments should be encouraged and financially supported by the state and potentially duplicated in other towns.
5. Do you favor or oppose changing state law to decriminalize or legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, as Colorado and Washington have done? Why?
Yes, I support decriminalization of marijuana. It has been financially and socially destructive to criminalize the use of marijuana, rather than regulate it like we do cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs. Our efforts to deter people from using marijuana have been ineffective and, at their worst, have unduly added staggering costs to law enforcement and corrections, and prevented needed assistance for drug dependency. Our demonization of marijuana has thwarted development of medical marijuana, and hemp alternatives. The experience in Colorado confirms that legalization is good for the economy and a good source of tax revenue.
6. Do you support freezing tuition for in-state students attending state colleges and universities for two more years, as the 2013 Legislature did? Why or why not?
Education is the best investment Montana can make in our children, our economy and our future. Unfortunately, recent years have seen the university system lose more and more of its public funding. As a result, the budgets of our colleges and universities rely more and more heavily on tuition, and out-of-state students. The cost of education is diminishing the ability of Montana students to go to college, and in the long term, this threatens our strength as a state, and a nation. I believe we must invest in university education by making school affordable and student loans accessible. We should fund scholarships, teaching assistantships and research or we will lose our competitive edge in the world. We have to stop the continued dismantling of our public education system, by fully funding education and investing in our teachers, students and technology. Therefore, I would support a tuition freeze for two more years.