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Feland, Miller Win PSC Races

June 3, 1998

HELENA (AP) _ Republicans have weeded out three of their most conservative lawmakers, ousting a self-described constitutionalist, a leading abortion foe and an advocate of public spankings.

Rep. Wes Prouse of Shepherd, and Sens. Sharon Estrada of Billings and Jim Burnett of Luther were among seven incumbents who lost intraparty contests in Tuesday’s primary election.

Prouse, seeking a second term, has professed a belief that he has no obligation to obey Montana laws he considers unconstitutional.

For instance, Prouse said the U.S. Constitution gives states no authority to issue licenses to private citizens. He said that’s why he drove for five years without a driver’s license. He also doesn’t believe in mandatory car insurance, vehicle registration or Social Security numbers.

``What’s right is right,″ Prouse once said. ``We’re guaranteed certain rights and if that makes me a constitutionalist, fine. ... I believe the Constitution is something we should defend. Quit running from it.″

Prouse, 29, spent two years appealing two traffic tickets for driving without a valid license.

Prouse asked voters in District 15 for one more term, saying he wanted to complete a legislative agenda that included abolishing mandatory insurance and state licensing, including driver’s licenses, returning schools to local control and eliminating federal funding for education.

He was defeated by former Rep. Daniel Fuchs of Billings, who captured 54 percent of the vote in House District 15. Fuchs has a Democratic opponent in the general election.

Estrada, 54, was challenged in her bid for a second term by Rep. John Bohlinger, a moderate Republican. The race was marked by accusations of unfair campaigning.

Bohlinger, 62, filed two complaints against Estrada, claiming she distorted his stand on abortion and accepted an illegal campaign contribution from a Billings businessman. The state political practices commissioner found Estrada had taken the kind of corporate donation forbidden by law, but rejected the accusation about her misrepresenting Bohlinger’s abortion views.

Bohlinger, who has spent three terms in the House, won with 62 percent of the vote. He will face Democrat Barbara Forrester in the November election.

Burnett, 80, gained noteriety last year with a bill that would have made public spankings the standard punishment for those convicted of vandalism. His explained the reasoning behind his bill by saying, ``You can fine ‘em, you can incarcerate ‘em, but unless you hurt ’em, they don’t remember it.″

Also losing his House seat in the primary was Rep. H.S. ``Sonny″ Hanson, R-Billings. He received 40 percent of the vote in his defeat by fellow Republican Mark Noennig, who is unopposed for the House seat.

Hanson is probably best known as an outspoken foe of a posted daytime speed limit. He drew attention to his stand when, in the 1995 Legislature, he was ticketed for driving 99 mph on Interstate 90 near Livingston.

Sen. Daniel Hurwitz, R-White Sulphur Springs, won’t get a chance to serve in a legislative session after being defeated by Rep. Duane Grimes, R-Clancy. Hurwitz was appointed to the Senate seat earlier this year after Sen. Mike Foster, R-Townsend, resigned.

Rep. Bob Spoklie, R-Kalispell, found himself in the same position as Hurwitz. He was appointed when Rep. Bill Boharski, R-Kalispell, resigned last year, but he was defeated in Tuesday’s voting.

But other Republicans fared better. Reps. Peggy Arnott and Jay Stovall, both of Billings, and Allan Walters of Hamilton won nomination. So did Sen. Ken Miller of Laurel and Reps. Arla Jeanne Murray of Miles City, Robert Story Jr. of Park City, Bill Thomas of Hobson, and Ernest Bergsagel of Malta.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Carley Tuss of Black Eagle, Matt McCann of Harlem and Hal Harper of Helena turned back their challengers, but Rep. Bill Whitehead of Wolf Point was rejected for a second term. Reps. George Heavy Runner, Browning; and Joe Quilici, Butte, led their opponents in partial returns.

In all, 20 incumbents were challenged among the 42 legislative primaries on the ballot and seven lost. Republicans, who hold a nearly 2-to-1 margin in the Legislature, accounted for 14 of the lawmakers with competition from their own party. Six were Democrats.

In the race for the District 1 seat on the state Public Service Commission, Republican Gary Feland of Shelby and Democrat Victor Miller of Harlem will square off in the general election.

Feland, an oil producer and four-term state representative, won the GOP nomination over runner-up Bob Gilbert, a former House member from Sidney. With 92 percent of precincts counted, Feland had 4,882 votes, or 38 percent, and Gilbert had 3,548 votes, or 27 percent. Havre rancher Ted Solomon was third with 3,256 votes, or 25 percent, and J.R. Myers of Glasgow was last with 1,230 votes, or 10 percent.

Miller, a Blaine County commissioner, had 5,252 votes, or 59 percent, to win the Democratic ticket over Ed Lipp, a part-time farmer from Hingham, who had 3,603 votes, or 41 percent.

Arnott’s race with Scott Rimpe was almost as contentious as the other Billings contest between Estrada and Bohlinger.

She claimed Rimpe was a front man for the gambling industry in its attempt to oust her from the Legislature because she sponsored a bill last year that would have let voters decide whether to outlaw video gambling machines.

Although two of every three campaign dollars Rimpe received came from contributors with ties to the industry, he denied Arnott’s allegation.

Butte-Silver Bow County had election-night troubles when its automated vote-counting machine blew up after counting only 400 absentee ballots. Officials began the slow process of hand-counting the remaining 3,600 ballots shortly after the polls closed.

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