BY BRIAN MCLAUGHLIN
PUBLISHER – TLI
There’s nothing more independent than being a rancher whose family has lived on the same 1,600-acre tract for more than a century. When you’re a rancher, you’re not used to outsiders dictating what you can and cannot do … and you don’t dictate to your neighbor, either.
That is exactly where Montana native Mark Wicks is coming from.
Wicks, 47, is the Libertarian candidate in a pivotal U.S. House Special Election that will take place May 25. Since the national reapportionment in the early 1990s, Montana has had only one U.S. House seat, known as its ‘at-large’ slot.
The U.S. House at-large seat is currently vacant after Ryan Zinke was appointed and confirmed as President Trump’s Secretary of Interior. By state law in Montana, the U.S. House seat has to be filled within 85 to 100 days of the vacancy, which the May 25 special election will do. The seat has been Republican since the late 1990s, but Wicks is out to change that.
This special election has all kinds of national ramifications, as the Democrats are hoping it will become a referendum on Trump’s first 100 days in office. Republicans are spending big money to avoid the potential embarrassment. The money has been flowing and the political pop stars are finding their way to Big Sky Country.
Wicks wants to throw a gold-embossed wrench into the rusty machinery, Libertarian style.
“I don’t think you have to worry about me being the spoiler because I have no intention of coming in third,” Wicks quipped during his interview on Tuesday with The Libertarian Identity.
RELATED: Mark Wicks Campaign Donation Page
On April 29, Wicks was in a televised debate (See KTVQ Debate) with Democrat Rob Quist and Republican Greg Gianforte, and the Libertarian reaction to his performance has been positive. Also, in two polls so far, Wicks has peaked at 11%.
Wicks told TLI he’s always been a Libertarian. Though LPs don’t register as such in the open primary state of Montana, he said he has voted for Libertarian candidates since he was 18 – when they were an option on the ballot, which oftentimes they weren’t.
“When you live out here and do everything on your own, you feel the freedom to do whatever you want however you want, and then you see people trying to stop you from doing what you choose … it leaves a bad taste,” Wicks said. “The people all around me are very independent people. We don’t like government telling us what to do. My family has taken care of this land for more than 100 years without the government’s help.”
Wicks and his family of six reside in Hill County, Montana near the town of Inverness – just south of the Canadian border in north central Montana. His grandparents came to the area in 1913 to be ranchers. He currently raises cattle on his land, along with his haying operation.
“We finally paid it off,” Wicks joked, when asked about the property. “We might even turn a profit one of these days.”
He and his family also transport agricultural goods westward during peak season. Most people who ranch also have jobs outside the home, or at least one of the adults does. He and his wife of 21 years, Beth, are part of the rural route post office operation locally. Their oldest son Hunter (18) is at Montana State-Northern in Havre, studying agricultural technology. Jewel (16) is a high school student who Wicks said may be the next politician in the brood. Choral (12) and Liberty (5) – yes, Liberty – round out the family.
With so much responsibility at home already in hand, Wicks did go back-and-forth with the decision to enter this race as a Libertarian. But, he looked at this as another responsibility he couldn’t shirk.
“I had been kind of thinking about doing this for a long time and I kept looking at whether this is the right time in our lives, and are the kids the right age for this,” Wicks said. “And I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t really the perfect time in my life for this, but I thought it looked so bad if people didn’t step up and do something in this race.”
On March 11th, the MTLP held a convention in Helena and Wicks won on the third ballot with 56% after eight LP candidates originally threw their hats in.
When it comes to his strongest Libertarian stances, Wicks doesn’t hesitate to bring up the fiscal responsibility side of the equation. He feels that if he has to run a balanced budget in his own home to survive, the Federal Government should too. He said he’d be behind massive spending cuts and would fight in Congress to make it happen – that, first and foremost is his major push. He doesn’t feel either of the older parties attempt to cut spending anymore. It is his biggest beef.
Wicks’ (BallotPedia page) next biggest sticking point is education. For decades, his family tree knew well the successes of the hyper local one-room schoolhouse – that they didn’t need federal intervention to educate.
“It’s really important to me,” Wicks said. “It sounds like common core is going away, and that really needed to be done. I think we should phase out the Department of Education. We have good teachers in this state, and there’s nothing that another level of government is going to tell our teachers that they don’t already have a handle on.
“Let the states decide to teach their students instead of this one-size fits all setup. Our students have a lot of different needs than those in New York and California.”
Already, he achieved a victory when it came to reaching the debate stage to sit equally with Quist and Gianforte. But it didn’t come easily. Two earlier debates were cancelled for no reason, and he wasn’t even notified about two editorial board dates in some Montana’s larger towns/publications.
Wicks originally received an email saying he would be excluded from the KTVQ debate. He immediately got ahold of Montana Libertarian Party (MTLP) leaders Ron Vandevender (State Chairman) and Michael Fucci, as well as LNC Region 1 Rep Caryn Ann Harlos and they helped raise awareness of Wicks’ snub, and ultimately helped get the decision turned around. KTVQ News Director Jon Stepanek first message cited time constraints as their reason for not inviting Wicks to the Billings debate.
“We just started sending the word out, not just to Libertarians but across the board and people were upset that we were being excluded and it started coming together,” Wicks said. “We proved that we met the standards they set for us. We have two unpopular candidates who are both weak. We have a chance here, this is a very Libertarian state.”
His competitors? Wicks sees them as identical twins. What exactly is the difference? In fact, he points to their TV advertisements as an example. Both have televised ads shooting televisions.
“I’ve told PETA …you know, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Appliances … that I won’t be shooting any TVs in this campaign,” Wicks said.
We’re down to 23 days on this one, sports fans.