GREAT FALLS — Democratic candidates campaigning for the chance to unseat GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte met in Great Falls on Monday and fielded questions ranging from health care to wage disparity to dark money to energy to public lands to trade and immigration.
Candidate John Meyer, by the way, answered the immigration question in Spanish.
Throughout the evening candidates took swipes at Gianforte, the high-tech entrepreneur and multimillionaire who the winner of the June 5 primary will face in the Nov. 6 general election for Montana’s lone congressional seat
Nearly 170 people attended the 90-minute event held at the Episcopal Church Of The Incarnation and sponsored by Great Falls Rising, a nonpartisan progressive organization.
Questions were posed by two Great Falls Rising board members: Jane Weber, a Cascade County commissioner, and Ken Toole, a former Public Service Commission member and legislator.
In addition to Meyer, an attorney, candidates included Billings attorney John Heenan, former land trust director Grant Kier of Missoula, Whitefish attorney Jared Pettinato and former state lawmaker Kathleen Williams of Bozeman.
Absentee ballots were mailed out Friday.
Candidates were critical of President Donald Trump’s tax reform package, with Kier referring to it as a “tax scam, not a tax plan.”
“We need a tax plan that helps working families and small businesses,” he said, noting the plan passed in December helps the rich and large corporations.
Pettinato said wages need to be raised, and added that could be done by increasing the minimum wage, increasing supply and demand, and helping unions become more powerful.
Candidates were asked what they would do if Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a former Montana lawmaker and U.S. representative, wanted to reduce the size of the Missouri Breaks National Monument.
Williams said leadership would have to make sure that idea was never proposed. She said relationships need to be made with officials to ensure that never happens. She also said there needs to be grassroots opposition.
Heenan called Gianforte a “rubber stamp” for Zinke. In answer to an earlier question, he said that Gianforte had corporate insiders telling him how to vote on public land issues.
Candidates were also asked if there were any especially memorable moments on the campaign trail.
Kier said there is a universal theme that people appreciate it when their elected officials show up, in reference to Gianforte having tele-townhall meetings. He also said that he was touched by the Helena Youths Against Gun Violence forum, adding he wished more of the candidates had attended. Meyer and Williams both attended.
Meyer said he was particularly struck by a woman on the campaign trail who said to him, “Don’t forget about us.”
Williams said her memorable moments were always “about the people.” She talked about a Blackfeet man who has been maintaining a cemetery for 26 years, and a woman who was panicked about mental health cuts.
Heenan said he has met amazing people who work hard. He also said he was touched by his tour of the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind, with its old furniture for residents.
“The reality is we have a representative who doesn’t care about this,” he said.
Pettinato said he was moved by a man who said he wanted to retire but couldn’t because of drug costs. He said the government should take strides to control drug prices.
Candidate also voiced support for renewable energy, with Pettinato saying “We can make money out of the air in Montana.” He said wind would “bring more treasure to the Treasure State.”
Williams said she was “absolutely committed” to advancing renewable energy in Congress. She said there needed to be efforts to increase the storage of renewable energy.
Kier noted that fires over the summer and spring flooding show that climate change does exist.
“Climate change is impacting our everyday lives,” he said.
Heenan said resistance to renewable energy was a “dark money” issue that played to special interests, and that fossil fuel supporters were opposed.
He said renewable energy could bring more six-figure jobs to Montana than other energy sectors.
Meyer said “actions speak louder than words” and added he has lawsuits against the Public Service Commission, saying it has hampered efforts to allow more renewable energy.
Gianforte is running for his first full term after filling the term won by Zinke in 2016. Zinke resigned his House seat after joining Trump's cabinet as Interior secretary.
Other candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot will be Green Party Candidate Doug Campbell and Libertarian Elinor Swanson.
Great Falls Rising meets monthly to explore issues related to human rights, equality of opportunity and a sustainable future through respectful dialogue, education and advocacy.
Phil Drake can be reached at 406-422-0772 or email@example.com.