Officials say, it was the first debate on the Fort Peck Reservation, and it did not disappoint. U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., and Democratic challenger Denise Juneau argued about issues at the national, state and local levels.
It was supposed to be a debate on how the two candidates stacked up against each other. But somehow Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became part of the conversation.
“I think my opponent has the same problem that Hillary does, the truth,” said Zinke.
"Congressman Zinke, it must be a very lonely place as the last man standing behind Trump,” said Juneau," said Juneau.
As the debate progressed, incumbent Representative and former Navy Seal Zinke attacked Democratic Challenger Denise Juneau’s record as Superintendent of Public Instruction for not helping reservation schools enough.
“I don’t think a 41 percent proficiency rate in math or science is something to run a victory lap,” Zinke.
Juneau is also a native member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribe. She went after Zinke’s lack of leadership.
“I sometimes wonder if Congressman Zinke knows where Montana is. He spends most of his time traveling around not looking out for the best interest of this state. He is more interested in getting on the 24-hour news cycle and being out stumping for Trump,” said Juneau.
Much of the discussion involved native issues such as water rights, relocation of bison and the meth problem on the reservation, a threat Zinke says is equal to that posed by ISIS.
Juneau also took Montana gubernatorial Candidate Greg Gianforte to task for saying Indian reservations hinder the free market, do not have consistent rule of law, suffer from nepotism and don’t have a culture that celebrates success.
“There are a lot of issues and we don’t need our politicians and candidates for elected office denigrating the American Indians communities. We need to work with them,” said Juneau.
As one debate wraps up, candidates try to position themselves for a November victory. The second debate will be held in Billings on Thursday night.
Two hundred people attended the debate.