|JS: Folks, I'm here with Cheryl Steenson. She's the House candidate for House District 8 in the Flathead Valley. How are you doing, Cheryl?
Steenson: I'm doing well...
JS: So, how's the race going?
Steenson: It's going really well, actually. We've just finished canvassing the neighborhoods for the third time. We've walked through the streets three times.
JS: How many doors do you have in your district?
Steenson: There's about thirty-eight hundred doors that we've been knocking on. We're focused on registered voters, and once we've identified folks as being really friendly -- you know, folks that'll volunteer for my campaign -- we don't go back through, to continue to hit those. And the same is true for folks who plan to vote Republican no matter what, we're weeding them out every time we go through.
Every time it's a little quicker, but we're really starting to focusing on the undecided folks, and the people we haven't reached yet.
JS: How many doors would you say you've knocked on this campaign?
Steenson: I would guess, we're close to four or five thousand. I've had a lot of great volunteers, and I know between myself and a lot of volunteers, we've probably...I would say ten thousand. We've gone through the district so many times.
We've really knocked on every door. A couple times.
JS: That's great. So what did you learn about your district while knocking on doors?
Steenson: The things that really stand out to me, as far as learning about my district, there is certainly the economic diversity. And you can really see that as you drive around the district, but talking to folks amplifies it.
I certainly think one side of the district, folks wanted to talk to me about wages, and they can't earn enough to live here in the Flathead, it's difficult to live here. While the other side of the district might be more interested in talking to me about issues of small business taxes, and the ways they could improve their small business. Or maybe the options they have for health insurance.
So I really noticed the economic diversity.
I think the other thing is that -- something I've always believed, but was reiterated by meeting folks in my district -- is that you could find a way to relate to nearly everyone. I really found commonalities, and relationships with folks which were great. They hopefully it will pay dividends when folks go out to vote, but also it was great to learn and make connections with the actual voters in my district.
JS: What kind of things, what kind of values or ideas does your district share in common? That's intriguing.
Steenson: We definitely all love Montana. Whether people were born and raised here, like I was, or they decided to move here, we are all so passionate about this area. Everybody loves it here, we all want to make sure to take care of it. I think that our outdoor heritage is something everyone takes so much pride in.
I think some of the other things that really struck me: independence and privacy are issues that I always have come up at the doors, and it can mean so many different things to different people, whether it means people want to have the independence and privacy to own fifteen guns, or if it means people are concerned about issues of choice. Those issues are a thread throughout the entire district.
I also think that there are a lot of folks really concerned about family. Whether they're senior citizens, or parents, really there's a concern of taking care of kids in this district. And it seems like it was unanimous regardless of work or where they are in life.
JS: What are you telling people about your candidacy? What are you promising, or talking about to these folks?
Steenson: Well, my campaign certainly has focused on the issue of bipartisanship. This district is one that has gone back and forth between Democratic and Republican for the last...about twelve cycles. And incumbents have held this district twice. And part of that is, folks talk running a moderate campaign, and when they get to Helena and vote straight party ticket. And realistically that doesn't represent this district best.
And that's the hardest job to run around, and I really hope that, with my Republican family backing me up, and the few issues that I have really strong Democratic beliefs on, I can stick to my guns. And also I am willing compromise. And I can identify a few issues at times I think that doing the best for the district is more important than staying really rooted in some of my personal opinions.
I think that resonates with a lot of folks. You know, there's always a few issues where people will ask me questions, and I know for awhile I'm going to disagree with them, but people respect me more for telling the truth and understanding that we may disagree than trying to hide my opinions. And really that civility that was lacking in the last session is something people are looking for it, and they want to see it in their representative.
JS: What...um...this is kind of a leading question...but how are you going to disappoint we Missoula Democrats? What kind of things are you going to buck party lines about?
Steenson: You know, I was asked this question recently as well with the Flathead Beacon, and I don't remember that there's one key one I'm looking at. I certainly have been told that my commitment to local and small government is on the conservative side. I certainly think things can be done more more efficiently at the local level a lot of times. It can also end up saving money. I think that's a good quality on a personal level and in the wider government.
Specifically, there might one of education. And, as a teacher certainly, I'd accept a pay raise, but I also think things work pretty well, and in Montana it's just a matter of watching that money all the way to the classroom, making sure that schools have specific budgets and that the money gets to the classrooms and to the people who actually affect the kids the most.
I certainly would support school consolidation, which in Montana tends to be less of a partisan issue and more of a geographic issue. School consolidation has repeatedly come up in the last few sessions, and I think it will again. I tend to be one that would consolidate to save some money, and to make sure that we can do the right thing for the kids.
JS: What kind of stuff do you want to be involved in, in Helena, in the legislature? What kind of committees would you like to be on?
Steenson: Certainly education. Besides thinking about the kids I teach, I had an excellent education here in the Flathead Valley growing up, and I think it's critical that we continue to provide that kind of education for students.
I've always been incredibly involved in issues of social justice, and so dealing with issues in Helena that relate to any sort of human social work issues would be of particular interest to me.
Actually, after I became a candidate, I became interested in taxes. Honestly, I did not know much about how we tax folks in Montana, the business equipment tax, until I started to run for office. I'm very interested in, if I'm elected, to become a member of the Tax Committee, and really provide a service for the people of the Flathead.
JS: What about the business equipment tax? What's your stand on that? That's been an issue in the gubernatorial race.
Steenson: It is in the Flathead a really big issue here. I would like to us to get rid of the business equipment tax for businesses that have less than two hundred, two hundred fifty thousand dollars worth of equipment. That would certainly affect at least ninety percent, if not upwards of ninety-five percent of the businesses in Montana.
And I would like to see created a more defined difference between small businesses and corporations. There's no reason why corporations should be getting big tax breaks over small businesses. Here in Montana eighty-five percent of our economy is made up of small businesses, and we have to continue to take care of it. And I think one way that we can is by asking the corporations to take on their fair share of the burden, and giving the small businesses a little bit of a break.
JS: So, as an education person, who do you like in the OPI race?
Steenson: Certainly Denise Juneau. I actually had an opportunity to work with her when I was an undergrad at the University of Montana when Indian Education for All was just beginning, and her passion and committment to education in Montana is striking. So she is certainly a stand-out candidate, and I would want to see her taking on that leadership role
I think she's a top-notch woman, and she's incredibly intelligent, and she'll do a great job.
JS: I want to talk about your family for a little bit. This is one of the things that's interested me about this race, is that your folks are die-hard Republicans? Are they going to vote for you?
Steenson: Yes! Actually, and unfortunately, they are not living in my district, so they won't have the opportunity to. But my sister lives in my district, and she will be voting for me. And she's like so many Montana women between the ages of 19 and 30, they're the least likely voters in Montana. So this is actually her first election she will vote for. She voted in the primary for me, and she'll vote in the general. It's pretty exciting to get my sister to vote.
Actually, my aunt, though, is a die-hard Republican, and she really struggled in the primary, because she wanted to vote in the Republican primary, for our county commissioner race up here. But she decided to go ahead and vote in the Democratic primary so she could vote for me. She's been incredibly supportive, she has my yard sign in her yard, it's up right there next to the McCain and Palin sign.
It's been a lot of fun, actually, for my family. We've had a lot of good laughs. And we certainly talk about issues, but otherwise it's no different than we always have. We've always talked about issues in my family. It's been, I think, a great experience for all of us.
JS: I remember reading somewhere that your grandfather is running your campaign, or serving --
Steenson: Yeah, he's my treasurer.
JS: And he's also -- he's going to vote for you, too?
Steenson: Yup, he's a big Republican here, he's actually a -- he used to own a logging and trucking company here in Kalispell for thirty-five years. So he's been a business owner and really involved in the way our state developed its logging industry, and he certainly was part of the decline of logging in the Flathead. I think that's where he got his political roots and his interest in politics.
He and I -- as treasurer, one of the things he does for me is he gets all my mail. So when I get surveyed from different special interest groups that want me to seek their endorsement, he and I have a good time over lunch talking about some of these surveys, some of these questions.
Most of the time -- it's funny -- we usually do agree on almost the entire survey. But there's usually one issue or two that we disagree on, you know, I think my family's always done a great job of talking about it, and, you know, agree to disagree.
JS: So where did you get your...how did you become a progressive Democrat?
Steenson: I would say that there's a few important issues in my life that have led to me being a Democrat.
I think the first one was in, let's see, eighth grade? I did a project for the National History Fair, and I did it on Roe versus Wade. And it was the first time I had ever considered having an opinion that differed from my parents'. And so I learned a lot in that project.
And then, in high school, I did speech and debate, and I did one of the topics that dealt directly with issues that related to the news. So I was really involved in politics at that age. There was the first presidential election in '96 that I followed...and trying and getting to learn more...
And then in college, I became incredibly involved in issues related to violence against women and issues of the environment, with the Milltown Dam being a key issue in Missoula at that time.
So I kind of had this progression in politics. And certainly, as I've got further into becoming a teacher, I've also realized that I've definitely agreed far more with the ideals of the Democratic party.
JS: One thing I've heard and witnessed myself, is that there are quite a few moderate Republicans that are -- especially this election season -- moving over to the Democratic party. Have you seen that in your own family as well? Are there family members planning to vote for other Democratic candidates despite their life-long association with the Republican party?
Steenson: Certainly I think Max has a lot of support in my family. You know, my grandpa likes to say that Max has done a lot for Montana, it would be pretty stupid for anyone to vote him out of office. And so Max has a lot of support in my family.
And also my family has had the opportunity, that they maybe wouldn't normally, to meet each of the Democratic legislative candidates in their districts, just by coming to functions with me. And so, that's been a really good opportunity.
I'm going to try to convince my grandfather to vote for his House candidate up there. I think he may do it. He's had a chance to meet Scott Wheeler, and Scott's a great guy, and so I'd like to see my grandfather to vote for him, and I think he just might.
My grandma has actually come to a few Flathead Women Democrats luncheons with me. And that's been a lot of fun. I think she might -- you know, I'm suspicious about who she's voting for president. I actually think she's thinking of switching sides. She'll never tell anybody, but she just may...
JS: Yeah, that's exciting stuff. Okay, well thanks for the time today, Cheryl, and good luck with your race and all that.
Steenson: Thank you very much.