HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer's controversial choice to head the state health department won narrow recommendation Friday despite lingering questions about his qualifications and political philosophy.
The Senate State Administration Committee voted 6-5 to recommend Dr. Robert Wynia's appointment to the full Senate for approval, but only after a failed attempt by Democrats to reject his nomination.
Longtime friends called Wynia, a Great Falls physician and medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration, a reliable, honest and caring person who would serve the state Department of Public Health and Human Services well.
"He will dedicate himself to the well being of the people in Montana if he's confirmed to that chair," said Everett Bosch, a Great Falls resident and the minister at Wynia's church.
Health care advocates and other opponents took no issue with Wynia as a person, but questioned his ability to administer the department's $1.2 billion budget. Others criticized his views on public health care and abortion and called him "out of touch."
"He is anti-choice, but has said there's not much he can do as director of DPHHS," said Jeri Duran of Planned Parenthood of Montana. "Well, not much can be a lot for the thousands of women that could be affected in Montana."
Wynia, a 72-year-old Republican, supported the Montana Christian Coalition, Montana Right to Life and other groups a decade ago in opposing a state effort to study a government-run health care system in Montana.
In 2002, Wynia told the Great Falls Tribune that health insurance should exist to cover catastrophes, not routine expenses, and said medical savings accounts could be used to pay for everyday medical costs.
He told the committee Friday he felt qualified for the position and was learning more every day. Bruce Nelson, the governor's chief of staff, said Schweitzer stood behind his appointment.
"I'm a person who is dedicated and committed," Wynia said. "If I take on a project, I stick it out until the end or until I'm asked to leave."
Senate Majority Leader Jon Ellingson, D-Missoula, reluctantly voted against Wynia's appointment, citing the "state of his resume and the demands of this particular department."
Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, questioned the admission by many opponents that they did not know Wynia and had no qualms against him as a person.
"The people who know him best support him and think he's qualified, and that's true whether they've been Republicans or Democrats," he said.
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