HELENA — Former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings has a standard answer when he’s asked why Montanans should vote for him in the five-way Republican primary for the U.S. House.
“I’m a passionate, experienced leader who likes to take on the big issues and solve the difficult problems, and America’s got big issues and difficult problems,” said Stapleton, a former U.S. Navy officer and former state Senate minority leader who ran for governor in 2012.
Stapleton, 46, faces three current or former legislators in the primary — Elsie Arntzen, of Billings, Matt Rosendale, of Glendive, and Ryan Zinke, of Whitefish. Also running is Drew Turiano, of Helena.
How does Stapleton distinguish himself from the other Republicans who’ve served in the Legislature?
“I’m a Montana kid, which separates me from some,” he said. “I’m a conservative, which separates me from some. I’m a proven leader, which separates me from some.”
Stapleton said he’s demonstrated as a legislator that he doesn’t shy away from leadership.
He cited his raising many questions about a costly computer software system purchased by the state Revenue Department during the Marc Racicot administration that never worked as billed. Stapleton was highly critical of the software system. Gov. Judy Martz later pulled the plug on it.
If elected, Stapleton said he wants to serve on the House Natural Resources Committee and help expand the state and national economy through natural resources development.
Another top priority, he said, would be using his financial background to “be a wise and conservative vote and leader on all issues economic, namely reducing our deficit and our debt.”
Finally, citing his Navy experience, Stapleton said he would be like to be a leader in Congress working on how the U.S. relates to other sovereign countries.
As for the Affordable Care Act, Stapleton called for repealing it and starting over with a couple of basic provisions that most people can agree on.
The major place to start, he said, is to prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people based on their pre-existing health conditions. Another is to call for a recommitment to employer-sponsored plans as the backbone of the U.S. health system. Stapleton also called for making the federal tax code easier to accommodate health savings accounts.
He advocated striving to make the federal tax code simpler across all areas, without increasing taxes.
Stapleton said he prefers the budget by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan passed by the Republican-controlled House recently to what House Democrats offered. The Democratic budget would raise taxes by $1.5 trillion, increase spending by $2.5 trillion and explode the deficit to 2024, he said.
“The important part is Republicans are reducing the deficit, which I support, and Democrats are increasing the deficit, which I do not support,” Stapleton said.
If elected, Stapleton pledged he would read budget bills to find ways to reduce the federal deficit and debt.
“I’m not absurd enough to think that I can change the culture there, but I am willing to spend some of my political capital resisting being forced to vote on things if I haven’t been given 24 hours’ notice,” he said.
Stapleton said younger generations should be able to invest a portion of what now automatically goes to Social Security in investment-grade bonds and stocks.
Stapleton said it’s possible to find a solution to fix the immigration law.
“My solution: enforce all laws that are currently on the books for 365 days,” he said. “Then in one year, get a bipartisan bill through. If that 365 days reduces us from 13 million to 7 million illegals, then we deal. Republicans would have to bend a little bit, but they would get their enforcement mechanisms. We would follow all the laws. The Dems would have to recognize they can’t use the issue if they really want it solved.”
Here is where Stapleton stands on some other issues:
— Minimum wage: Stapleton said he opposes President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the current $7.25. “I don’t think it solves anything,” he said “We need to create some jobs that pay people much more than that.”
— Keystone XL Pipeline: Stapleton said he supports construction of the pipeline, noting that it’s Democrats like Obama who are blocking it.
— Improvements in Congress: Term limits on members of Congress would be an important step to make the House and Senate more responsible, he said.
— Campaign finance: Stapleton said he doesn’t have strong opinions about controversial decisions on campaign finance issues by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I want to be the quarterback,” he said. “I don’t want to be the referee. I’m running for Congress, so whatever the people in America or the courts say, we’ll play by those rules.”
Coming Friday: A look at Drew Turiano, another Republican running for the U.S. House.