Inverness rancher Mark Wicks knows what it’s like to put in a hard day’s work.
The Libertarian Party’s candidate for Montana’s U.S. House seat runs a ranch that’s been in the family since 1913. He attended Montana State University Bozeman on a history scholarship and earned a degree in aviation technology maintenance from Lane Community College in Oregon. He’s also worked in the oil fields, driven propane trucks, owned gift shops and spent 20 years at gun shows.
“I have a wide range of experience,” he said simply during an interview with the Pilot Saturday morning in the lobby of the Firebrand Hotel.
The 47-year-old candidate made a campaign stop in Whitefish where he hosted an Ugly Truck Contest Saturday afternoon in the hotel’s parking lot. The contest came as a result of comments he made during a recent candidate debate in speaking about his opponents Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist.
The three candidates are running in the May 25 special elections to fill the U.S. House seat, which was left vacant when Ryan Zinke became Interior Secretary.
Wicks compared himself to a work truck, while he called Gianforte a “luxury car” and Quist a “little half ton pickup.”
“I don’t really know either of them well enough,” Wicks said Saturday. “I think Greg is just bored and looking for something to do. Rob is a nice guy, but he is going to get ate up out there.”
Wicks said he got in the race for “20 different reasons.”
“I got fed up,” he said. “I think regular people need to step up.”
Wicks says as a Libertarian he can bring a voice to Washington, D.C. that hasn’t been heard before and not be lumped in with the two major parties. He says that will bring Montana more power when it’s been underrepresented in the past.
“It gives me a little bit more power and something to get attention,” he said.
On healthcare, Wicks said he wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s crumbling,” he said. “I’ve always been a repeal person.”
He said Congress can’t keep creating a plan that is going to be bankrupt and then go back to fighting about healthcare every five years. He’d like to see the states take on the issue because he’s wary of Congress being involved in the issue. He said he wants to see prescription drug prices reduced, and doctors be required to post their costs so patients can make informed decisions about their care. He also advocates for tort reform, which is says will keep the cost of liability insurance down.
He also wants to give veterans a Medicare card so they can seek treatment beyond Veterans Affairs and be treated in their hometown.
“There’s a lot of ideas that I have that aren’t new,” he said. “There’s got to be a bill in a drawer somewhere that needs to be pushed from the outside and a Libertarian congressman might be the right person to do it.”
The transfer of public lands to the states has been a hot topic for sometime. Wicks said first it has to be figured out whether the states want the lands or not. He said he doesn’t believe places like Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness are ever going to be transferred to the state.
“I think if there is going to be a transfer of lands we need to make sure if they do sell there is a conservation easement on them that allows for recreation,” he said.
He doesn’t rule out transfers all together because he doesn’t like to put things in a “lock box because we don’t know what our needs are going to be” in the future. He said any transfers should be looked at as individual parcels.
He says he does see a mismanagement of federal lands occurring. He looks out at the forest driving over Marias Pass and says he sees a forest impacted by beetles that is ready erupt in a forest fire.
“That’s a real mess,” he said. “I think those trees should be burned in wood stoves ... rather than using non-renewable energy.”
The National Park Service has a $12 billion maintenance backlog. Wicks says he’d have to look at their budget “before saying we should throw more money” at the issue. He said Glacier National Park puts money into the Flathead Valley economy and for anyone driving it he’d like to make sure the Going-to-the-Sun Road is maintained.