I met Sen. Jeff Essman of Billings last fall when he was traveling through our area looking for people to run against Sen. Llew Jones. I was asked to speak to him and he asked me whether I knew Jones. He was looking for someone to run against Jones who was more fitting to his conservative views.

Jones is working for our rural communities of the Golden Triangle. Agriculture is still the #1 industry here and supports this state well. It is hard to keep our small businesses open with a population of 1,700-2,500 people, compared to Billings with a population of 107,000.

Essman supported a bill promoting “charter schools.” Billings has three public high schools and five private high schools with 5,175 students. It is no wonder he didn’t understand that his bill would have killed our rural schools, which are vital to our community. I had seven in my class, not 400.

Essman didn’t understand why Jones wanted to find a better way to fund our schools. We were tired of sending some of our tax dollars to fund the larger schools. Billings is the largest school system with over 16,000 students.

He blocked a Medicaid waiver program that was a Montana-made solution to address healthcare while waiving Obamacare, which put the rural hospitals at risk of closing, and the state at risk for a full Medicaid expansion initiative, which is now being drafted. Billings has two major hospitals and numerous clinics. Essman doesn’t have to worry about a 90-minute drive in severe pain to get major surgery. When I needed stitches this summer, I only had to drive 14 miles versus 80 miles to have my hand sewn up.

Essman blocked funding to rural libraries, while Billings just opened a new $20 million library.

He doesn’t understand that we live here because we don’t want the big city. We also don’t have the big money, but we make do. We support and get involved in our schools. We enjoy our libraries and appreciate that we have a hospital for emergencies. We believe in helping our neighbors and working together for a common solution.

Leaked emails revealed that Essman is looking to take away from rural people their right to choose their own candidates. He is also looking to recruit those that align with his urban ways.

Senator Essman, we can choose our own candidates and elect them without your help. We know what we need and you don’t. Stay home and worry about your own community. We neither need nor want your opinion.

Jones’ family has lived here for over 100 years, paying taxes and supporting the area. His humble beginnings give him the knowledge of what we need and he listens when we talk. He worries about our communities and has a stake in making it better for his grandchildren.

Thank you, Senator Essman, for your concern, but I will be voting for Senator Jones and Rep. Christy Clark. They serve mine and my communities’ best interests.

Vicki L. Baker