Four candidates for the U.S. Senate seat on the Nov. 5 general election ballot kept to their scripts Monday night during a televised debate in Billings.
There was little real debate and questions were frequently ignored or answered obliquely. The two minor-party candidates stuck to their stated principles and outlined their differences from the major party candidates.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., seeking his fifth term in the U.S. Senate, Libertarian Stan Jones, of Bozeman, Green Party nominee Robert Kelleher, of Butte, and state Sen. Mike Taylor, R-Proctor, appeared on KULR-8 television in Billings for an hour of questions from a panel of journalists.
From the get-go, Jones ripped into the federal government and Congress for its trampling of the Constitution and the individual rights of its citizens.
The Libertarian Party platform is one of principles rarely changed, he said.
"Libertarians do what they say they will do," he said. "We want to restore the Constitution and limit the federal government that tramples on it."
Kelleher, a parliamentary advocate, said a party designation in the United States is irrelevant; that those elected under a designation are free agents after the election.
Baucus touted his ability to work with opponents, citing his support for President George W. Bush on the tax cut and trade promotion bills.
Taylor cited his support for limits to "frivolous lawsuits," but avoided the question of who decides what is frivolous. His solution would be the requirement to post bonds when lawsuits are filed with losers forfeiting the bond.
On that topic, Jones would have the loser pay all costs in a lawsuit. Kelleher said the courts are now the only protection for citizens because the legislative and executive branches have failed to do so. Baucus said there "is no simple solution" but that citizens must have a forum for the redress of their grievances.
Jones later promised to give Baucus a lesson in what it means to have a redress of grievances when in November Congress is presented with a petition on the unconstitutionality of the function and collection of the income tax.
Members of Congress "have a right and duty to respond," he said. "So far they have refused."
Taylor spent most of his time talking about leadership providing solutions as the No. 1 issue in the campaign. Baucus said it was "what I can do for Montana." Jones: "Saving the Constitution from professional politicians" who have allowed "boundless government intrusion."
Kelleher said there was a duty to repeal the Bush-Baucus tax cut and reinstitute the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide work and infrastructure rebuilding.
The three opponents all said they favor the use of marijuana for medical treatment. Baucus opposed medical marijuana. Kelleher said the federal government is out of touch on the issue. Taylor said the U.S. should fight drug abuse by cutting off aid to countries that do not follow the lead of the United States. He called for more funding for treatment and prevention.
Jones said the War On Drugs was out of control. He would OK marijuana for medical use, and would legalize all drugs and control them like the states do with alcohol. He called the U.S. effort a war on its people and "police agencies are addicted to the money they get for the War on Drugs."
Baucus alluded that marijuana use leads to other drug use and that methamphetamine use "is the biggest law enforcement problem in Montana."
Michael Lyon, news director of KBLG, asked the most pointed question of the night: If the United Nations says no to an attack on Iraq, should the United States go in anyway?
"Answer yes or no and say why," he asked.
Baucus did not respond directly, saying he supported the president in his handling of the crisis since last 9/11. He said Saddam Hussein had to go.
Jones said he did not approve of an attack and added that the terrorist situation was brought about by terrible foreign entanglements. He said dropping bombs on Afghanistan and Iraq were "acts of terrorism."
Kelleher pointed to huge civilian and military casualties that could not be justified in an attack on Iraq.
Taylor declared his support for Bush. He said he believed all diplomatic efforts should be tried, "but if they don't work, we should root him (Saddam) out."
In addition to Lyon, Lynne Turner Fitzgerald, news director at Community Channel Seven, and David Crisp, editor and publisher of the Billings Outpost, posed the questions for the debate moderated by Gus Koernig, news anchor at KULR-8.