Not to be too dramatic about it, but Kathleen Williams is the congressional candidate Montana has been waiting for.
Experienced. Knowledgeable. Thoughtful. Measured. Most remarkably, Williams exudes that unique combination of grit and camaraderie that embodies the very best traits of Montanans, and which is an essential trait of any truly great statesman.
Her campaign to be elected Montana’s sole member of the U.S. House has highlighted other important qualities lacking in our current representative. She shows up — in communities large and small across Montana — in person, listens carefully and speaks candidly. Williams would bring a refreshing approach to problem-solving and policy-making to Congress.
U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte has been Montana’s representative in the House since he won a special election in May 2017. The Missoulian initially endorsed Gianforte for that race, with strong reservations, but was forced to take the unprecedented step of rescinding our endorsement immediately after Gianforte lost his temper and physically attacked a reporter, and then issued statements to police and through his staff that directly contradict his own official admission of guilt.
Asked about that discrepancy in a meeting with the Missoulian’s editorial board last week, Gianforte maintained that the police statement accurately reflects his “recollection of what occurred” and said he has taken full responsibility. But he hasn’t — not until he explains why he lied to police and the public, and not until he denounces, rather than embraces, President Trump and others’ ongoing verbal attacks on the press.
Gianforte has had a phenomenally successful business career, and a great many organizations have benefitted from his philanthropy. But over the course of his short time in elected office, it has become abundantly clear that he is the kind of leader who prefers to give orders, rather than follow them; he is used to being the boss, not a servant.
This is evident in his use of “tele town halls” and selective appearances in place of open public meetings, in his breezy dismissal of legitimate criticism and in his pushing controversial legislation, such as the proposal to release wilderness study areas in Montana, without bothering to get input from Montanans first. Worse, he has done nothing to build consensus around these proposals.
In contrast, Williams has pledged to be an independent, moderate voice for Montana. Already she has called for new leadership among both parties in Congress, saying she would not support fellow Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader.
Williams is a gun owner and hunter who has competed in shooting competitions and promises to defend the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment — while also acknowledging the need to pass sensible reforms to address the epidemic of gun violence.
She has articulated a reasonable four-point plan to address health care, including specific measures to help stabilize markets, provide for children’s and rural health care, negotiate lower prescription drug prices through Medicare, and allow people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare if they prefer.
Williams has experienced her share of hardship and loss; she has also demonstrated an ability to persevere. Her husband, veteran Tom Pick, died a little over two years ago. Her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and died when Williams was still a teenager. Williams went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in natural resource economics and a master’s degree in recreation resources, leading to a career and related expertise of particular value to Montanans.
Williams has worked for the U.S. Forest Service and has lead nonprofit conservation organizations, managed the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks water resources program and was a lead staffer for the Montana Environmental Quality Council. With more than 35 years’ experience in natural resources, Williams deeply understands the complexities of lands management as well as how various agencies operate.
Gianforte, in contrast, holds a rather overly simplistic view that timber salvage operations can fund a Forest Service that has seen its budget severely cut in recent years. He also advocates limiting the legal fees that can be collected through an Equal Access to Justice Act settlement, which would only serve to discourage plaintiffs from settling and toward even more expensive litigation. And he is pushing to open gate roads, despite confessing that he does not fully understand why they have been gated in the first place.
Williams also has more years of legislative experience. She was first elected to the Montana Legislature in 2010 and served three terms, during which she built a reputation for earning bipartisan support on a range of legislation dealing with everything from health insurance to water policy to for-profit public benefit corporations.
Earlier this year, Williams ran a successful campaign in the Democratic primary that surprised many who considered her a long shot, having been significantly outraised by two other candidates. Supporters credited her dogged determination to visit with Montanans in every corner of the state despite the challenges inherent in driving long distances over wintery roads. Her Facebook page shows a photo of Williams lying in the snow, putting chains on the tires of her electric hybrid Ford.
Now, Federal Election Committee reports show that the Williams campaign had raised $2.1 million over the most recent three-month reporting period, and had $1.2 million on hand at the beginning of October. Her Republican opponent, meanwhile, had raised about $1.1 million during the same time and has $397,000 on hand.
Clearly, Williams knows how to rally support when it counts. We fully expect her to do the same for Montana in Congress.
Montanans sent Jeannette Rankin, the nation’s first female representative, to Congress in 1916, and again in 1940. This November, Montanans should vote to carry on that legacy — not because Kathleen Williams is a woman, but because she is by far the better candidate.