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Candidates for Missoula legislative district differ widely on views

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

The race for House District 99 in Missoula includes two Democratic candidates who will square off in next month’s primary election, with one focused on education and the other looking to “fix” what he described as a failed party.

Marilyn Ryan, who retired as a school teacher after 29 years, and Greg Strandberg, a prolific blogger and social-media commentator, are vying to advance to the General Election in November where they’ll face Republican challenger Susan Cundiff.

“I’m a retired teacher, so educational issues are important to me,” said Ryan. “I strongly support the public school system and believe it’s the basis of our Democracy.”

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Marilyn Ryan, left, and Greg Strandberg are both running as Democrats for House District 99 in Missoula.

Ryan, who taught at Dickinson School in the 1970s and ended her career at Hellgate High School, said she supports Gov. Steve Bullock’s early childhood education plan. She opposes tuition tax credits and would defend stream access.

Ryan said she’d also work to get an infrastructure bill passed in 2017 and would support expanding alternative energy opportunities across the state.

“I think we’re behind in alternative energy and we need to work harder at it,” she said. “The coal development in our state will be determined by outside forces, but at the same time, I’m concerned about jobs and workers down in the coal counties.”

Her opponent, Strandberg, offered few details on what he’d work to accomplish in the Legislature. Rather, he described the Montana Democratic Party as a failed party and chided its elected officials for not being able to win a majority.

Strandberg, a self-published fantasy author and blogger, has a long history of attacking others on social media. “My God, what a failure he’s been,” Strandberg wrote of Missoula Mayor John Engen on May 12.

On May 21, he attacked both candidates running for Missoula County commissioner, saying it “would be a huge mistake” to vote for one while the other was merely a tax-and-spend politician.

Strandberg also went after University of Montana officials in April, saying “the failed ‘leadership’ of UM is to blame for most problems.” To that, he added, “(President Royce) Engstrom has to go. If the Board of Regents had any real power they’d have gotten rid of him long ago. Bullock pulls their strings. Who’s pulling his?”

When asked about his history of criticism and rhetoric, Strandberg said the phone on his battery was low on power, though he did call state Democrats “corrupt.”

“We have serious corruption in Missoula among Democrats and the Egnen machine and his rubber-stamp City Council,” Strandberg said. “At the state level, we have Democrats that are incapable of winning. We never talk about this because our fear guides us. The multitude of Montanans continue to suffer, and our Democrats don’t care. Their message doesn’t appeal to anybody in the state other than the small urban enclaves.”

Asked what he would do to fix the perceived problems if elected to the Legislature, Strandberg said he would “find” a viable message and “take the statehouse back.” He disconnected the call before stating how he’d serve as as an effective leader given his views of the party.

“Democrats call me an anti-Semitic Republican,” he said. “How am I supposed to feel about that? I’d be so low on the totem poll, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”