By ERIN GALLAGHER Democratic senatorial candidate Cliff Larsen worries about Montana’s seniors.

If elected, he said, his top priority would be to ensure that they lose no ground when it comes to their benefits and rights. Larsen, a 65-year-old retired businessman, is running to represent Senate District 50, a broad stretch of land west of Missoula. The open seat was held by Missoula Democrat Greg Lind. Because heath care is a major concern for seniors, Larsen said it is high on his priority list too. He said wants to use more of the state’s tobacco tax revenues on a program called Insure Montana, which helps small businesses offer employees health insurance. Larsen, the program’s first state chairman, wants to double the number of people the program covers. Larsen said he supports Initiative 155, which would expand the number of children who receive health insurance under the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Montana Medicaid Program. Health care has been Larsen’s life work. From 1984 to 2001, he was the head of APS Healthcare Northwest Inc. With a staff of 150 psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, nurses and social workers, the company provided 1.2 million people with emergency mental health care, he said. Beyond health care, Larsen expects to face issues such as funding for public schools, a perennial problem for lawmakers because it’s hard to fix. Larsen praises Montana’s K12 system, but also said the answer is not simply giving schools more money. “Montana ranks in the top 20 percent in terms of per capita spending on students,” Larsen said. “We can’t just continue to increase the amount of funding for education without considering the root causes of this challenge.” Nor does he support enacting any new taxes or raising old ones. Montana tax system is “not unreasonable compared to other states,” he said. But Larsen said he does worry about what he sees as an imbalance in the amount of taxes poor people pay. “The poor are overtaxed compared to very wealthy, and I believe in fairness,” he said. “We need to find more ways to level the playing field.” This isn’t Larsen’s first stab at politics. In 2004, he ran against Democrat Greg Lind for state Senate District 50 and lost. When Lind decided not to run again, Larsen stepped up to face Constitution Party candidate Kandi Matthew-Jenkins. Larsen described his opponent’s thinking and value system as being “worlds apart” from his own. For instance, Larsen is pro-choice, whereas Matthew-Jenkins is not. As a traditional Democrat, Larsen said, he believes government can help solve problems, whereas his opponent believes government only do what the original Constitution says it can. Describing himself as a long-time progressive, Larsen’s said his first political hero was John F. Kennedy, whom he described as “kind of the Obama of the day.” Larsen also said he was “enchanted” by Idaho’s U.S. Senator Frank Church, who was known for being a strong liberal. In fact, Larsen helped Church with three senatorial campaigns and his presidential campaign in 1976.

Larsen said he is widely known as an optimist and someone who is open to making friends. He believes those attributes will help him in Helena. “I think it’s important that people know I’m accessible and open-minded,” Larsen said. His candidacy has been endorsed by former District 50 Sen. Greg Lind, Missoula Mayor John Engen, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier, the Montana Public Employees Association and the Montana AFL-CIO. Since his retirement in July, Larsen has spent much of his time campaigning. He said he spends 50 to 60 hours a week attending meetings and knocking on doors. It’s been an enjoyable experience, he added. “I like listening to what people have to say and sharing their concerns,” Larsen said. “I’ve met some really wonderful people and it inspires me to keep going. This is a challenging time for me, but I’m having a really good time.” -30-

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful