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Billings Gazette - "Political novice gets support in U.S. Senate race"

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Location: Helena, MT

Billings Gazette - "Political novice gets support in U.S. Senate race"

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kirk Bushman says it was a question from his wife, Jill, that clinched his decision to challenge Democratic incumbent Max Baucus.

"She said, 'Would you regret it if you didn't do it?' and I said, 'Yes,' " he recalls. "Then she said, 'Then you'd better run.' "

Five months later, this unlikely candidate - a political unknown who's never run for office before - finds himself as one of the possible favorites to win the five-way Republican primary on June 3 and take on Baucus this fall.
The other Republican Senate candidates are attorney Bob Kelleher of Butte; state Rep. Michael Lange of Billings; accountant Patty Lovaas of Missoula; and trucker-rancher Anton Pearson of St. Regis.

Bushman, 41, an industrial facilities designer for a Billings engineering firm, has won the backing of some Republican Party stalwarts and has ties to the family of the late Karl Ohs, the former chairman of the Montana Republican Party who died last fall.

If Bushman should win the primary election, he knows it will be a Herculean task to take on Baucus, a five-term incumbent who has already amassed a $6 million-plus campaign war-chest.

Yet Bushman says his personal history and business background make him an ideal pick to challenge the "fiscal irresponsibility" of Washington and advance reform of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

"I think I'm someone who brings a lot of experience to the table, when it comes to real-world solutions," he said. "And my personal story and family background allow me to be critical of the entitlement programs."

Bushman is one of 12 children, and his father, Don, died of cancer when Bushman was just 16. His mother, Hazel, still had six children at home, and Social Security helped pay the bills.

Bushman says he'd never do anything to harm the program that helped his own family survive, but that Social Security and Medicare can't continue unchanged and expect to remain solvent when the baby boomers retire.

"We have to talk about cutting benefits and raising taxes," he said. "Nobody will talk about it, so we never talk about a solution. The longer we wait to address them, the more (cutting of benefits and raising taxes) is going to occur.

"We're kind of like a bunch of deer frozen in the headlights, waiting for the car to run us over."

Bushman says the issue of Social Security first got him thinking about political involvement, when President Bush came to Montana to promote his proposed privatization reforms in early 2005 and Baucus led the charge against them without proposing any alternative.

"I was very frustrated that Baucus didn't acknowledge that this was a problem, and wasn't trying to work out a solution," he said.

Early last year, Bushman started talking to friends about whether he might run against Baucus. One of those friends was Brad Ohs, a fellow Billings Motorcycle Club member and a son of Karl Ohs.

"He just wanted to get involved and get things turned around," Ohs recalled. "Part of it was because (Michael) Lange was the only guy in (the Senate race), and Kirk thought maybe he'd be a better candidate."

Ohs said no one in the Republican Party courted or tried to recruit Bushman, who initiated the idea himself.

Bushman had met Karl Ohs through the latter's sons, and met with him last spring to talking about running. Bushman later attended the state Republican Party convention in Helena last summer, where people were encouraging.

He continued to introduce himself to party people across the state, but didn't make up his mind until December, after his first son was born - and after his wife asked him the linchpin question.

Since then, he's switched his job with UniField Construction to a contracted position and has campaigned nearly full-time.

Bushman, who has an engineering degree from Montana State University, also has worked building log homes and for Marquip Inc., which builds machinery for cardboard-box manufacturing plants.

Marquip sent Bushman to plants in Europe, Australia, Thailand and Canada to help instruct plant workers how to work on and repair the machinery built and installed by the company.

Eric Bushman, one of Kirk's older brothers, said he's not surprised to find his brother running for the U.S. Senate. He described Kirk as a "club person," who, when he joins an organization, likes to get involved in running things and looking for ways to make it work better.

Kirk also was one of the siblings who often moderated disputes among their large family, particularly after their father had died, Eric said.

"He had to do a lot of that father-type mentoring to the younger ones," Eric Bushman said. "He does very well at getting along with all factions; he's very good at compromising. In my estimation, that has something to do with being a good politician."

On most issues, however, Bushman's stands reflect conservative Republican Party thought: He wants to extend the Bush tax cuts beyond 2010; he says America "doesn't have the option of leaving or pulling out of Iraq;" he is not convinced that global warming is occurring and, if it is, whether it's caused by humans; he wants to boost production of oil, gas and coal.

He also preaches fiscal conservatism, saying Congress must start making hard choices to cut spending to balance the budget - without raising taxes or ending military spending in Iraq.

When asked how Republicans can claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, when a GOP Congress and president oversaw a huge ballooning of the federal debt, Bushman said he wants to work on bringing the party back to its fiscally conservative roots.

"We have to let them know this is not the time to surrender," he said. "It's the time to step up and take back control of the government."

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