This summer, at her invitation, Whitney Williams and I sat down for lunch in Missoula and I listened to her think out loud for about 90 minutes. In advance of that meeting, I knew Whitney wanted to have a conversation with me about the possibility of her pursuing public service as Governor, and I approached that lunch warily.
In short, I was skeptical.
But when you listen to Whitney Williams, any skepticism you may have gives way to surprise.
I know that governing, done well, is a damn difficult job. It requires more patience than most can muster and, paradoxically, impatience with the status quo and a drive to make change in a system designed to thwart that change. The job requires taking thoughtful risks, compromise and lots and lots of listening. It requires being present, on the ground in communities and in the capitol, long days of cheerleading and cajoling and collaboration. It requires thinking about what’s best for the residents of Montana, who need and desire strong, bold, thoughtful leadership in making lives better.
Whitney Williams wants to make lives better for Montanans.
Williams has the gift of imagining the possible in the face of the improbable. She has made a career of solving intractable problems by approaching them with eyes wide open and the assumption that good people working together can fix things. As Montana’s governor, Williams will tackle Montana’s toughest challenges with the same grit and optimism that has defined her career.
Having served as Missoula’s mayor for 13 years, I know that Montana needs a governor who thinks like a mayor. Whitney Williams is that someone.
Williams recognizes that, as a state, we’ve largely been abandoned by the federal government and we need to change the way we do business to fill in the gaps. From housing Montanans, protecting our access to public lands, helping people through mental-health crises, educating little kids to graduate students, building roads and bridges and sewers and parks, feeding hungry families, treating addiction and addressing the climate crisis, state and local governments have the talent and creativity to solve what Washington, D.C., will not.
She understands that every local government in Montana, large and small, faces similar challenges and opportunities and, in many cases, are solving them and could solve more with a real partner in the governor’s office. We’re solving for homelessness and hunger, transportation and climate change, housing and prosperity, but need an ally in Helena.
She recognizes that government is a “we” business and that when we work together we get meaningful work done.
She knows that the wealthy out-of-staters coming to Montana to buy summer homes and land — shutting off access to public lands, driving up the cost of land and housing, and reducing the agricultural production of our state — are not paying their fair share and we ought to do something meaningful about that.
And she’s looking at a four-year horizon, making a list of the most important work to be done and planning to do it.
I’ve had more conversations with Whitney Williams. And if Williams could have a conversation with everyone who will cast a ballot for governor in 2020, my hunch is that they would have the same enthusiasm for what she has to offer that I have.
Experienced. Thoughtful. Confident. Connected. Compassionate. Innovative. Ethical. Hard-working. Energetic. Inspiring. Different. Committed. Rooted. Grounded. Collaborative. Kind. Tough.
These words are the foundation for the case I’ll continue to make for Whitney Williams, who should be Montana’s next governor.
John Engen is mayor of Missoula.