Healthcare is among my top concerns as a candidate. I grew up in a large ranch family west of Three Forks, Montana. My parents couldn’t afford health insurance so we got by without. Luckily nobody was seriously injured or contracted a major illness. Today, like other self-employed individuals and small business owners, my wife and I struggle with the costs of a high-deductible insurance policy. Republicans claimed they had a better plan, but where is it? All they’ve done so far is undermine the Affordable Care Act with no improvements, no price relief and even more uncertainty.
- Cost Containment: Health care consumes far too much of the average worker’s wages or a small business owner’s bottom line. Savings from cost containment must give relief to patients and their families.
- Incentives for Healthier Americans: People need real incentives to care for their physical health and well-being. Programs in the workplace, in public education and the personal arena that make people healthier could be tied to financial incentives. Healthier people are more productive and happier. It’s also easier to keep a healthy body healthy.
- Protections for Rural Healthcare: Numerous rural hospitals have closed in the past few decades. Now even small clinics that offer basic services are under threat in our small towns. Access to local healthcare must be seen as a basic human right. Rural Montanans in Broadus or Glasgow shouldn’t have to worry about local access to basic healthcare.
Public education is foundational to a functional democracy. It’s also the means by which young people increase their earning potential and contributes to health and happiness. An educated workforce is the best means to keep the country on-track economically and compete in the global marketplace. However, many Montanans struggle to achieve their educational goals.
When I was a college-aged adult, an ambitious person with a good summer job and some support from family could graduate from one of our state universities without taking on student loans. Today, a college education is beyond the means of many Montana families without the burden of excessive debt. Support for college students, directed toward institutions committed to affordable education, is a terrific public investment, be it trade and technical education or a traditional college degree.
Supporting rural education is another issue for Montana and other states with substantial agricultural populations. Rural communities face significant obstacles in providing quality education for their children. In many places, facilities are old, energy inefficient and badly needing updates or replacement. Farming and ranching communities have a difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers as their salaries are typically much lower than their urban counterparts. With small tax bases and sometimes declining populations, meeting these financial challenges at the local level is impossible.
We need to look at innovative ways to support rural education at the federal level. Part of keeping families in agriculture is providing rural kids with a quality education. That’s the least we can do for the folks who keep food on our tables.
For the past two decades, the bulk of my writing has tied directly to public land, conservation and wildlife. My latest book, Large Mammals of the Rocky Mountains (2018), details the biology and behavior of animals whose habitat lies primarly on public land and that play a critical role in Montana’s outdoor recreation industry, a massive economic driver that account for $7.1 billion and is the second largest sector of the state’s economy.
It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the value of public lands in our state and across the nation. These lands represent the source of most of the nation’s drinking water, and they’re home to our most treasured wildlife species. They provide ranchers with grass for their cattle and hold vast energy resources. They’re where Montanans go to hunt, hike, fish and relax. But the current administration’s management and funding of public land resources are misguided.
Because Congress can’t seem to acknowledge the value of investment in public lands, visitors endure lines just to use the bathroom in Yellowstone National Park during the summer. National Forest campgrounds are closed during our hunting seasons. Law enforcement on BLM lands is laughable due to lack of resources.
Management is often as poor as the funding. For example, in 2015 ranchers, energy interests, hunters, state and federal land managers and biologists crafted a compromise plan to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list. But in recent months the current administration threw the plan aside in favor of oil and gas extraction on millions of acres of sage grouse core habitat, upping the odds of a future endangered species listing – which nobody wants because it greatly encumbers the land – and increasing the degradation of habitat for prized big game animals, like mule deer, and other wildlife that share sage grouse habitat. No one got everything from the sage grouse recovery plan, but all constiuencies bought in. Those kinds of compromise solutions are far better than sacrificing wildlife, water and habitat resources to the highest bidder.