Editor’s note: The following story was written by a student in John B.

Saul’s graduate reporting class at The University of Montana. You are free to share or publish this story, provided you retain the reporter’s byline.

House District 96: Steve Eschenbacher BY WILL GRANT Steve Eschenbacher wants to put Montana back in the hands of Montanans. He says the strength of the state is its people and so they should have the power. A candidate for House District 96, Eschenbacher is a libertarian running as a Republican. He prefers to use a small “l” for libertarian because he says he is only moderately consistent with their traditional views. Eschenbacher’s campaign is based on his belief that the specialization of private entrepreneurs will lead to fiscal and social independence from the federal government. And “let’s face it,” he said, “that’s the future.” And the future for him, at least, is the one-room schoolhouse. One of his battlegrounds for independence is the education system. He said he believed teachers working in one-room schoolhouses would be more independent because of less administrative personnel. “Like superintendents, curriculum development. Why did we create these things? Because… I don’t know,” he says. “Why are these people having to be involved?”

Without paying the salaries of these bureaucrats and with no annexes to any buildings, his plan would free up capital to pay teachers higher salaries, he said. The weeded-out professionals could operate as private contractors offering their services to the public. As far as minimizing government, for Eschebacher the oil field isn’t far from the schoolhouse. The Bakken Formation of Eastern Montana is a large oil reserve that Eschenbacher believes could contribute to energy independence. Removal of federal drilling restrictions would open the door for local energy companies to develop the Bakken Formation and soften the blow of rising energy costs, he said. Eschenbacher acknowledged that Montana’s energy independence was a ways down the road. For him, more immediate change should be in health care. As a public defender, Eschenbacher said he had seen the healthcare system fail the mentally ill, who are relocated to other facilities around Montana to receive treatment and rehabilitation. Ferrying these people back and forth is neither economical nor prudent, Eschenbacher said. “It’s not morally right, it’s not fiscally right, but it’s legal,” he said. He wants to establish a facility with the psychiatric personnel to serve those people in Hamilton. He said the mentally ill are legally underserved because there is no insanity defense in the Montana courts. He called the system for dealing with these people outdated and too general. Which is also the way he feels about health insurance.

He wants to redesign health insurance to better fit individuals. According to him, the current system categorizes people and often provides unnecessary or irrelevant coverage. Specializing insurance programs would be more effective and cost less, he said. Eschenbacher said his pursuit of independence would put teachers in control of their schools, give Montana back its oil and better serve the mentally ill. He wants to see more Montanans and fewer Feds. Of nearly every sector of society Eschenbacher asks the question: “Do we have to have the government do it?” And to him, the answer is generally “No.”