Sales, Hayman, Hamilton

Democrats Denise Hayman and Jim Hamilton and Republican Walt Sales are all running unopposed for seats in the Montana Legislature. 

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Three state lawmakers from Gallatin County will return to Helena for the upcoming legislative session.

Democrats Jim Hamilton and Denise Hayman and Republican Walt Sales are running in uncontested state House and Senate races.

Each said they hope to use the experience they’ve gained to represent their constituents’ interests and improve the lives of all Montanans.

Hamilton worked as a financial advisor for Edward Jones Investments for 35 years and serves as a volunteer firefighter with the Fort Ellis district. In January, he will begin his third term serving House District 61, which runs from northeast Bozeman to the county’s eastern edge.

In the June primary, Hamilton beat Brian Close, 56% to 44%. No Republicans entered the race.

As a state legislator, Hamilton said he has used his financial background and his experience on the House Taxation and Appropriations committees to help craft Montana’s budget.

He has worked on ways to provide property tax relief. As a member of the Interim Revenue Committee, he has collaborated with other lawmakers on a bill for next session that would provide a tax credit to some lower income homeowners and renters.

In the last legislative session, he joined other local lawmakers in introducing several bills that would have created different forms of a local option sales tax. None progressed very far.

Although the bills were unsuccessful, Hamilton said he would continue to push for a local option sales tax as long as it provides tax relief to homeowners and renters. He sees a sales tax as a way for cities like Bozeman to secure the revenue they need for managing growth.

If appointed to the Appropriations Committee, Hamilton said he’d advocate for programs that make health care more affordable and expand mental health services.

He also hopes to join the committee’s education subcommittee to represent Bozeman’s and Montana State University’s interests in the budget. Given that Democrats are likely to remain in the minority, he said he’d also focus on ensuring education spending isn’t cut and gathering support for a pre-K program, which failed during the 2019 legislative session.

“A lot of people are worried that the budget will be so bad that all Democrats will be able to do is play defense,” Hamilton said. “But I think we can play offense by working with anybody who wants to on issues like education and health care.”

Hayman served on the Bozeman School Board for 15 years before joining the state House in 2015. She’s the minority whip and is on the Legislative Audit Committee and the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee.

Last session, Hayman successfully sponsored a bill that allows the state to use securitization for energy infrastructure. Securitization is a financial tool that enables companies like NorthWestern Energy to use ratepayer-backed bonds to pay off debts on infrastructure like the Colstrip power plant. It’s a method several states are using to facilitate a transition to clean energy.

“Because Democrats are in the minority, passing a bill as a Democrat is a big deal,” Hayman said.

In the next session, she said plans to continue her work on energy legislation. She also said she’d continue to prioritize funding for education, mental health services and addiction treatment.

Hayman said the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult to plan for the 2021 legislative session, in part, because it is uncertain what state revenue will look like.

“We are going to have to look at everything and carefully weigh the pros and cons,” she said. “I’m hoping we’ll have elected leaders who will be able to bring balance and a cool head because politicization doesn’t help anyone.”

Senate District 35

Sales, a long-time Manhattan farmer and rancher, has served two terms in the state House representing northwest Gallatin County. In January, he will move to the state Senate, where he will continue to serve northwest Gallatin County, along with parts of Broadwater and Lewis and Clark counties.

In the June primary, Sales beat two more conservative Republicans, Debra Brown and Gary Perry, for the nomination for the seat. No Democrats filed for Senate District 35.

Sales said he sees himself as a voice for agricultural families and rural areas in Helena. As Gallatin County has grown, he said agriculture is disappearing and people are losing their connection to the land.

“I think the challenge is understanding the value of agriculture and our other resources as the growth comes in,” he said. “We all need to understand that the growth is here to stay but that we can work toward protecting what we have for future generations.”

Last legislative session, Sales joined Democrats and some Republicans in voting for the renewal of Medicaid expansion and an infrastructure bonding measure.

He said he plans to continue to work on ways to improve Montana’s infrastructure, including by expanding rural broadband. He also would like to continue focusing on water rights and investing in education.

Given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Sales said the state may see a decline in revenue and have to make cuts in the next budget.

“I think we’ll need to run more efficiently and leaner this next session, although I do think we will rebound,” he said. “Even while we might need to make cuts, we need to ensure that we are there for people and businesses that are struggling.”

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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