Republican Senate Candidate Debate

Republican candidates competing for Senator Jon Tester’s seat in the U.S. Senate — Russell Fagg, from left, Troy Downing, Matt Rosendale and Albert Olszewski — listen to a question posed by a moderator belonging to the College Republicans at Montana State University on Thursday in the Strand Union Building at MSU.

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The four Republican candidates vying for the chance to take on U.S. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester met for the first time Thursday night to discuss national security, public lands, the economy, health care, the military and local issues.

State Auditor Matt Rosendale, Big Sky businessman Troy Downing, former Billings judge Russell Fagg and state Sen. Al Olszewski fielded a series of questions in front of a large crowd at the Montana State University Strand Union Building.

The debate, hosted by the College Republicans at MSU, allowed each candidate two minutes to answer questions by club members Melodee Wines and Justin Hodges. Wines said the organization set up 350 chairs for the event.

The candidates broke away from the messages they’d been touting during their campaign trails at the very end when the debate category shifted to local issues.

The first question asked Rosendale why he felt being elected as a U.S. senator would be more beneficial to Montanans. Rosendale said he has been working with lawmakers across the state to bring legislation forward that is critically important to benefit the state like health care and worker’s compensation issues.

“Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter, and should not matter, who is actually sitting in the auditor’s seat to make sure that that legislation is brought forward,” Rosendale said.

The moderator asked Downing to ease concerned voters and address several alleged misdemeanor charges for purchasing and transferring a resident hunting license. Downing said the citations were an attack and that hunting and fishing have been a big part of his life. He said he’s spent thousands of dollars bringing wounded veterans to Montana for fly fishing.

“This is clearly an orchestrated attack. I plan on fighting it, and I will win this,” Downing said.

Olszewski was asked to support his vote against reforming laws regarding raw milk distribution, which would have allowed vendors to sell and consume raw milk in Montana. Olszewski said the legislation turned into a food freedom bill that would have prevented the state from inspecting and regulating the production if a vendor paid a small license fee.

“One of the most important reasons that we have a state role of the government is to protect the health, welfare and safety of our citizens,” Olszewski said.

Fagg was asked to answer whether he would support term limits for judicial appointments, after declining to answer a questionnaire from Montanans for Limited Government. Fagg said even though he loved the 22 years he spent as a judge, he knew it was time for him to move on. He said he has supported term limits when he was in the Legislature, he supports term limits in Congress and would support term limits for judges.

“I loved being a judge, but I knew there was a new chapter, so I guess I put self-imposed limits on myself,” Fagg said.

Most of the candidates agreed on their party’s values like rolling back regulations, protecting the right to bear arms, securing the nation’s border and funding the military properly, among others. Each candidate, however, had their own way of accomplishing each of the goals outlined in their speeches.

The primary election to determine the candidate to take on Tester will be June 5. The general election is Nov. 6.

So far in campaign contributions for the race Downing leads with roughly $857,000 raised, Rosendale $764,000, Fagg $615,000 and Olszewski $209,000, according to the most recent filing.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at

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