Democrat incumbent Zac Perry will be seeking a third term as Montana House District 3 representative this November.
House District 3 is one of the biggest in the state, stretching from Columbia Falls to the Canada border to Marias Pass. Perry knows it well. He grew up in Martin City and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 1996. He went on to the University of Notre Dame and holds a bachelor’s degree in government and international relations. Today, he’s a clerk at O’Brien’s Liquor and Wine in Columbia Falls and substitute teaches at the high school.
He’ll square off against familiar foes in the general election. Paralegal Jerry O’Neil is running on the Republican ticket and Shawn Guymon is running on the Libertarian ticket.
The races have been tight over the years. In 2012, O’Neil beat Perry by 439 votes. In 2012 O’Neil outpaced Perry by 338 votes. In 2014, Perry defeated O’Neil by 49 votes. In 2016, O’Neil didn’t run and Perry beat Republican Taylor Rose, who was from Kalispell, by 278 votes.
Guymon, over the years, typically picks up around 250 to 350 votes. He didn’t run in the 2016 race.
Perry said he’s seeking re-election because he’s committed to serving the community he lives in. He notes that in the last session, he sponsored a bill that gave start-up companies and companies that were expanding a tax break for adding new jobs.
That bill was actually opposed by some Democrats, but was supported by many Republicans and it passed.
“It will help create living wage jobs,” he said.
He said this session, he’d like to see some cuts that were made in the special session restored, including cuts to mental health and drug addiction counseling. He noted that Montana has the highest suicide rate in the country.
Perry said he supports permanently funding Medicaid expansion and he was leaning toward supporting Initiative 185, which raises the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to pay for the expansion in the future.
I-185 has seen fierce opposition from tobacco companies and some lawmakers, who claim it’s an unfunded mandate.
“Permanent funding is a good thing,” Perry said. Though he said he had concerns that some of the funding could go into the general fund.
He said Medicaid expansion has been great, especially for this district.
“A lot of people have benefited from it,” he said.
Capturing more tourist dollars is also a hot topic. However, he said in the discussions he’s had with the residents, a sales tax is untenable for most.
“It’s not something that’s palatable,” he said.
He said he expects another infrastructure bill to come up again this session. Paying for it is the hard part. He said he supports an increase to the bed tax, which would largely utilize additional tourism dollars.
“I wouldn’t have a problem raising the bed tax,” he said.
Another possibility would be to legalize marijuana. He notes many states have found that it provides a substantial revenue stream, though he doubted it would pass in Montana.
Are there places state government could cut?
He said after special session, which hollowed out many state services, he didn’t think so.
“I don’t see how we can responsibly and morally make cuts to public services,” he said.
On a more local level, he hoped the state would work more closely with the city on snow removal on U.S. Highway 2 and Nucleus Avenue.
“They (Montana Department of Transportation) have got to be willing to work with the city to come up with a better solution than what we have now,” he said.
Perry, O’Neil and Guymon are scheduled to debate tonight (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. at an event hosted by Montanans for Multiple Use.