Five Montanans spoke to several hundred Missoulians Thursday night, as the Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives presented themselves at the University Center Theater.
Each candidate was given 20 slides to introduce themselves and their campaign, with 20 seconds per slide to talk, for a total of about seven minutes apiece.
“It’s gonna be fast movin’,” emcee Anne Szalda-Petree said.
Missoulian Grant Kier led off, with a timed speech over the top of a slideshow made up of photos from the campaign trail and family albums.
Kier was the executive director of Five Valleys and the Bitterroot land trusts until he filed last year.
His relationships with farmers, ranchers, loggers and outdoor lovers have shown him, “there is far more that unites us than divides us."
Montanans are practical problem solvers, Kier said, and he can use his experience turning business opportunities — like the Rock Creek subdivision — into public lands.
“Having traveled the state, I am proud of Missoula’s values and they are shared throughout Montana,” Kier said. “We have so much to teach this country.”
Billings attorney John Heenan opened his time with a campaign ad, featuring a woman who needed help with her insurance company.
Heenan helped her, and another couple, who were up against a national bank trying to foreclose on their home.
His whole career is made up of cases like these, Heenan said.
“I’ve helped them fight bullies…powerful interests.”
Running against Montana’s current representative, Republican and tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, doesn’t scare Heenan.
“I deal with guys like this all the time in my work,” he said. “I hold them accountable.”
State legislator Lynda Moss, also from Billings, used the same slide presentation as Heenan and Kier, showing photo after photo of state leaders she’s worked with or admires — from Mike Mansfield to Joe Medicine Crow.
Moss showed photos from a trip she took with students to New York City, where they met with members of the United Nations and a trip to Argentina, where Native American students and Patagonians shared their cultures.
“We need to find that common ground we all have,” Moss said. “We have an opportunity to do good work.”
Bozeman legislator Kathleen Williams used her presentation to tell about herself, from her childhood in a military family, to college, where she studied resource economics, and travels around the West for work and school.
Throughout her life, Williams repeated, she saw a need, had the ability and stepped up.
Williams wanted to come to Montana around two decades ago and got a job with the Environmental Quality Council in Helena, spurred by the state’s history of strong women.
“There was a need, I had the ability and I stepped up.”
She stepped up and served in the state legislature for three terms, and, “motivated and terrified” by recent national politics, Williams is stepping up again.
She pegged herself as Jeannette Rankin’s “long overdue successor,” to the loudest applause of the night.
Whitefish native Jared Pettinato had the most traditional slide presentation of the night, using graphics and charts to share some clear-cut ideas for adding Montana jobs and wildfire fighting to the national agenda.
Pettinato (who has not yet filed for the seat) did start with a couple of hiking photos featuring himself, but promised “this is all you’re going to see of me.”
Using his nine years of work in the U.S. Department of Justice defending public lands and resources as a backdrop, Pettinato argued that wind energy could be the next great Montana industry, creating industrial jobs and funneling money into the state from large Western cities needing power.
He also had ideas for wildfire management. Current suppression efforts are unsustainable, drawing too much of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget away from other areas.
“We did this. We cut down the largest trees in the forest,” Pettinato said. “It’s our responsibility to fix it.”
Contracting with timber companies to do responsible thinning, along with clearing old, dead trees and undergrowth, would make everyone happy, he said.
Pettinato asked the crowd to remember his nine years of executive branch experience, compared to none from his fellow candidates.
“You can wait for them to get the expertise I have, or you can elect me and I can start tomorrow,” he said.
Longtime Montana Democratic Party member and forum organizer Pete Talbot said he first thought the idea for individual presentations was “kinda strange.”
It “threw a wrench in the works for how it’s usually done,” Talbot said. “It got the candidates out of their comfort zone.”