GREAT FALLS — Democratic House candidate John Lewis denied helping write the Affordable Care Act as an aide to Sen. Max Baucus, while Republican Ryan Zinke insisted he’s released all of the military personnel records in his possession and had a stellar record as a Navy SEAL.
They and Libertarian Mike Fellows debated Tuesday night at Great Fall College Montana State University sponsored by the college, Great Falls Tribune, Montana Farmers Union and STARadio. It was the final House debate before the Nov. 4 election and the fifth between Lewis and Zinke. Fellows has participated in three of them.
Zinke has been charging throughout the campaign that Lewis helped draft the Affordable Care Act, which the Republican wants to see abandoned once a better replacement is found.
“My role living in Montana as the state director for Sen. Baucus was to listen to Montanans,” Lewis said.
When the question came up again in the debate, Lewis called it ridiculous. He said the question didn’t address the fact that millions of Americans have no health insurance.
“Even though you say you didn’t write it, you had to have helped,” Zinke said, as Lewis’ supporters groaned loudly.
The Montana Democratic Party officials, meanwhile, has been asking about Zinke’s missing June 1999 Navy fitness report. They say that report came after Zinke said he was ordered to pay back the Navy $211 after it disallowed a flight he said he made to Whitefish to scout locations for Navy SEAL training sites.
Panelist John S. Adams of the Great Falls Tribune asked Zinke if he would release the June 15, 1999, fitness report before the election or reveal what’s in it. Adams said one former SEAL Team Six officer has said that report would reveal why Zinke left the team.
“First of all, I have released every scrap of paper I have,” Zinke said.
Since 1999, Zinke said he was screened and promoted to commander and executive officer, he was mission commander in Kosovo, he was deputy and acting commander of special forces in Iraq, he was awarded two Bronze Stars for combat and four meritorious service medals and he was the commander and officer in charge of the SEALs advance training command.
“To allege my military career is anything but extraordinary and distinguished as a SEAL, I find it an affront.” Zinke said to applause.
When Adams asked what was in that particular document, Zinke said, “There is nothing in my record that does not distinguish myself or me in honorable service. To allege anything different, Mr. Adams, is unjust, unfair and shameless.”
Lewis said he respected Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., for releasing all of his military records, and it’s up to Zinke to decide whether follow suit.
At one point, Fellows, a former Army reservist, said Zinke had crossed the line by using his Navy uniform for political purposes.
Here was where the candidates stood on some major issues:
NATIONAL SECURITY AND MIDDLE EAST
Zinke called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria “a direct threat here.” While he doesn’t want to send U.S. troops to fight, “we have to,” Zinke said. He also called for closing the U.S. southern border, which drew cheers and boos, and said the United States can achieve energy independence.
While calling what ISIS is doing “terrible,” Lewis called Zinke’s comments “fear-mongering.” He said Zinke stands alone among all of Montana’s House and Senate candidates in wanting to send ground troops to Iraq. He said Congress first needs to debate the issue, the goals and the costs.
“I am not somebody that’s going to jump to the conclusion that we need to go invade countries every time a situation arises around the world,” Lewis said.
Fellows said he opposes the United States sending ground troops, adding: “We’re just going to keep at this thing, losing lives and spending money.”
“I don’t believe the government should be dictating a woman’s health care decisions,” Lewis said.
Zinke said, “I am proudly pro-life.”
Fellows said he considers abortion wrong, but said Libertarians believe the government should not be involved in this issue.
Noting that the Republican Party platform endorses the idea of transferring federal lands to the state, Lewis said, “There’s a lot of bad ideas going around and this is the worst.” He calls for protecting public lands.
“Despite the rumor and song, I don’t want to sell public lands,” Zinke said, referring to a Lewis ad that says he supports transferring the lands. Zinke said the United States must protect public lands for the public’s benefit.
Fellows said Montanans oppose transferring federal lands to the state. However, he did say federal lands should be open to multiple use.
Lewis drew applause when he called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision that allows corporations and unions to give unlimited money in independent expenditures. Both Zinke and Fellows said they oppose such a proposal.