Candidate criticizes ‘blatantly false’ statements

Robert Saunders

Robert Saunders

A Montana House candidate emphasized Thursday that he is not now suing anybody for libel but that his opponent has to be held accountable for “blatantly false” statements.

Robert Saunders, 27, had a Billings law firm send a cease-and-desist letter over Labor Day weekend to Rep. Jessica Karjala, whom he is attempting to defeat in the House District 48 race. The letter threatened to sue Karjala for defamation if she did not apologize to constituents to whom she made allegedly false statements and to provide copies of the apologies to the law firm.

Saunders responded on Thursday to a telephone message left by Last Best News on Tuesday.

“This isn’t about hurt feelings,” he said. “This isn’t about campaigning.” He acknowledged that candidates may get “bloody noses” in a political race, but he said that Karjala went too far in suggesting that he believed only Americans who are wealthy and own property should be allowed to vote.

While campaigning door to door, Karjala admittedly suggested to a constituent who expressed support for Saunders that Saunders thinks it’s OK for veterans to fight for their country but it’s not OK for them to vote unless they have a million dollars in assets. She referred the constituent to a post at quora.com in which Saunders seemed to write approvingly of limiting the vote to wealthy property owners.

“I believe every citizen of the United States should be allowed to vote,” Saunders said Thursday, emphasizing that that right certainly belongs to veterans.

When Karjala mentioned the cease-and-desist letter on Monday at the Greater Yellowstone Central Labor Council Labor Day Picnic, some in the crowd speculated that Saunders might claim he had not written the post she cited. On Thursday, Saunders declined to either confirm or deny his authorship, saying that is a completely separate issue.

“I’m not currently addressing that issue,” he said, “and I could.” He said he would release a statement later.

He also said that the constituent contacted by Karjala planned to file a complaint with the Montana commissioner of political practices.

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