Andrew Person is a Democrat running for the House District 96 seat in the Montana Legislature. He faces Republican Lyn Hellegaard in November’s general election. Neither has a primary election opponent.
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?
When it comes to providing kids in Missoula and across Montana with a great education, a strong partnership between teachers and supportive parents is by far the most important element. Historically, schools have been mostly locally controlled and I think it should remain that way. However, I respect what the Common Core initiative is trying to accomplish. We’ve all heard stories of the high-school graduate who somehow did not learn to read or write. We need to take steps to make sure every high school graduate meets at least a minimum standard. Setting a baseline through Common Core while giving teachers the freedom to teach they way they see fit seems to me a sensible way to increase the value of a high school diploma.
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. This isn’t a partisan issue. The Montana Chamber of Commerce supported Medicaid expansion. This was in part because small-business owners struggle to provide part-time or seasonal workers with health care coverage. Rejecting Medicaid expansion is a perfect example of how some legislators put ideology ahead of common sense. When I was deployed to Iraq, it was standard for officers to refuse to eat until every one of their soldiers was fed. Most of the legislators voting against Medicaid expansion were covered by a gold-plated government health care plan. I’d like to bring a few military values into the legislature; a legislator should be ashamed to accept generous benefits while denying them for the working poor. In the next session I hope to make sure the voices of the 70,000 Montanans who have been denied access to health care – and their employers – are heard loud and clear.
3. Should the state encourage or discourage the production of coal, oil and gas? How?
I don’t think the state should be in the business of picking winners and losers in the energy market. The No. 1 issue my constituents raise with me is jobs. Nearly every one of them agrees that new jobs should not come at the cost of placing Montana’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing at risk. How we balance these sometimes competing priorities will shape the kind of state our kids grow up in. Companies like ExxonMobil and Northwestern Energy are preparing for the possibility of federal carbon regulation in the next decade. Montana should be prepared as well. That means preserving a strong renewable energy portfolio and supporting university research in the Next Big Thing in energy technology. Finally, I think it’s great that Montana is not Wyoming; our energy policy should be Made in Montana, not a carbon copy of our neighbors.
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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.”
The voters I’ve been talking with have made it very clear that they expect the legislature to show strong fiscal responsibility. Rather than a politically opportunistic refund check, the state should take this opportunity to put Montana on sound footing for years to come through targeted tax cuts for Montana small businesses and working families, and building a 21st century infrastructure that will facilitate job growth. For example, we need more high speed broadband in the state to grow new tech industries. These are the “highways” upon which much of the commerce in the future will travel. I would support tax reform that simplifies the tax code for Montanans while reducing the overall tax burden on working families.
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?
I support a pragmatic approach to marijuana in Montana. It doesn’t make sense to put someone in jail for possessing a small amount of marijuana. This is an ineffective use of our state’s scarce judicial, law enforcement and incarceration resources. I know combat veterans who have relied on medical marijuana to help rebuild their lives after suffering from severe post traumatic stress. However, marijuana remains a Schedule One drug under federal law. It was disturbing in recent years to see federal agents arresting Montanans who genuinely believed they were following the law. The legislature should be careful not to encourage violations of federal law. Finally, we are seeing a real drug epidemic in this state – the abuse of prescription drugs. We should take immediate steps to address this crisis.
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?
Yes. A tuition increase is the equivalent of placing a new tax on families all across Montana. If someone wants a higher education we should never let a lack of financial means stand in the way. One option I think the legislature should consider for bringing new revenue into the university system is attracting more veterans from out of state to study here in Big Sky Country. The GI bill pays full tuition and rent during the school year. If we offered grants for summer apprenticeships or internships for veterans it would be a win-win: the program could pay for itself, more veterans would enroll in our university system and it’s the right thing to do for our veterans.