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Joe Read, Republican incumbent, House District 93

by CAROLYN HIDY
Lake County Leader | October 8, 2020 12:05 AM

Joe Read is a man of many talents. He has farmed and raised cattle in Ronan most of his life. He ran an automotive repair business, taught welding and mechanics at Kicking Horse Job Corps, and continues to serve on fire and emergency management teams, as he has for 30 years. He served one term in the Montana legislature as a member of the Constitution Party, representing House District 15 for the 2011 session, and is currently completing a second term, representing House District 93 as a Republican.

Read described his freshman legislative experience as getting deluged with information as if from a firehose, with only a few drops sticking. There is so much to the process in the short 90-day session, he said, that it is impossible to learn how everything works. He spent the next three terms out of office, observing and learning, and meeting active legislators and other movers and shakers in the process. He said this experience brought a deeper understanding when he re-entered the House and served on the Appropriations Committee, responsible for funding and balancing the budget, for the 2019 session.

The legislature is currently evaluating alternative legislative schedules. Read said one proposal would split the session into two, considering policy bills in one session, and then the bills that provide budget for them in a later session. He sees this as “almost unworkable,” having found the appropriations process takes a lot of idealized bills down. “If there is not the money, it kills the bill,” he said, and says the two processes are too intertwined.

Read said he feels it is important to consider all sides of an issue, which includes listening to colleagues from other parties and of other backgrounds. “You have to know where they are coming from, see things how they are seeing them.” He said his record reflects his ability to listen to people, as well as his own values, and not just vote party line. “Helena is as much about after hours as the House,” he said, and he has made friends on both sides of the aisle. “Some see me as balancing on a tightrope, but for me, it’s just the way I walk.”

The vote to reauthorize Montana’s Medicaid expansion in 2019 was a difficult one for him. He had expressed his support for it, but when it was finalized, it included health care coverage for abortion, which he opposes. “When it comes down to it, on a Biblical basis, I am going to be pro-life. Let’s leave the federal government out of it. Let’s leave the state out of it. Let’s make it a personal issue and not get in the weeds.” He says he is “OK” being seen as part of an ideologically intractable group for that vote, but “it doesn’t show my mindset.”

Some Republicans argued that if the federal Medicaid expansion funds ever went away, Montana would be “stuck with the bill,” Read said. There was an alternative proposal, he said, but it did not make it out of committee to be considered by the House. With the Affordable Care Act being reconsidered at the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, that program, which covers 80 to 90 thousand Montanans’ health care and provides major funding for rural hospitals, could indeed be threatened.

“We do need to keep and support our local hospitals,” Read said. He considers a suggestion from President Trump, that medical facilities list the prices they charge for each procedure and supply, “like a menu,” as a help to consumers. However, it could hurt local hospitals if they have to compete by price. “We don’t always know the unintended consequences of a proposal. That’s why we need to have that discussion at the legislature.”

Read’s recommendation for the upcoming session is, “Do no harm. Don’t reorganize. We have worked so hard to get some of these programs to a point that we just need to let them flow for a period of time. We did some changes last session that haven’t even showed up yet. Wait to see where the budget comes out, and how things work.”

Read supports efforts to expand vocational and technical educational opportunities. “Not every kid needs to go to college,” he said. “In fact, it was in shop class when I knew I needed math, to figure out how to make things fit.” He often mentored students at his auto repair shop and at Kicking Horse, who had been through school, but had no working skills. “The first thing I would have to teach was that there are 12 inches in a foot,” he said. His own sons were Job Corps trainees; one became a carpenter, and one a welder.

“I think we need to re-evaluate school all the way around.” He cites an example in Louisiana, when they offered private schools the same amount of funding per student as public schools. As long as a student passed a competency test at the end of each year, the funding continued for that student. He said large companies set up schools near factories, and teacher salaries rose. “We lack competition between schools,” he said.

Read credits his wife Jill with being “half of my success. No legislator is more important than their spouse,” he said, as it if often they who keep the home fires burning, crops growing, and businesses running during the session.

Joe Read

Age: 65

Family: Youngest son of veterinarian Doc Read; father of three tribal-descendant children: Dan, Sarah and Michael; stepfather to two; grandfather to four; married 15 years. to Jill.

Occupation: Fire and disaster management team member

Background: Owned Read's Automotive Repair Shop in Ronan; taught at Kicking Horse Job Corps; put up hay for 40 years; cattle rancher, managing multiple herds; served in Montana House (2011, 2019) for two different districts (15 , 93).

Education: MSU/Bozeman, one year; two years at Northern Montana College in Havre: agriculture mechanics at Salish Kootenai College; associate’s degree in forestry.

On Facebook: joe.read.73

Contact: readconstitution@gmail.com