Bozeman Dem touts progressive record in U.S. House race

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  • Democrat Kathleen Williams of Bozeman smiles while listening to a question during a gathering Thursday evening at the Whitefish Community Center. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

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    Kathleen Williams

  • Democrat Kathleen Williams of Bozeman smiles while listening to a question during a gathering Thursday evening at the Whitefish Community Center. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

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    Kathleen Williams

Kathleen Williams, a Bozeman Democrat seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, sat down with the Daily Inter Lake Friday to discuss her campaign.

Williams, 57, has spent decades working on water policy issues for both the state of Montana and private organizations. She currently serves as an associate director with the Western Landowners Alliance. Motivated to run for office by the 2007 Montana Legislature’s failure to pass a budget, she represented Gallatin County’s House Districts 65 and 61 from 2011 to 2015.

Being a progressive voice in deep-red Montana’s Legislature, she argued, has prepared her to advance the state’s interests in Washington.

“I am not a real strong partisan,” she said, explaining that Democrats’ minority-party status required her to reach across party lines. “I just roll up my sleeves and try to get things done for the people of Montana.”

The state’s current representative, she claimed, wasn’t voting in Montanans’ best interests. While Rep. Gianforte hailed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as letting “hardworking Montanans keep more of what they earn,” Williams saw multiple problems with the legislation.

Some of these were specific provisions, such as loopholes for hedge fund managers. She linked the bill’s flaws to the rush to pass it through Congress. “It was debated on the floor, it was being amended as they were voting. I mean, it was just not the way to do thoughtful policy.”

Williams also takes issue with the tax bill’s projected $1.5 trillion addition to the national debt – and Rep. Gianforte’s support for that increase.

“Our present representative went to Washington to advance a balanced budget, and then a couple of months later he voted for the tax bill that puts us further into debt, and now he’s talking about a balanced budget again, so I just think at a minimum our reps need to be consistent.”

There’s more overlap between her and Gianforte’s stances on forest policy, a concern for many Northwest Montanans. After last summer’s devastating fires, the Congressman began calling for more logging and thinning, and denouncing environmental lawsuits that have stopped management on National Forests.

“Our forests do need some human-based management,” Williams said. “I don’t align with stopping all forest management...I think we all need to work together to figure out how to use the most practical ecologically and economically efficient management tools in our forests to ensure that they’re healthy.”

Last year’s Montana Climate Assessment warned that a warming, drying climate will stoke future wildfires. While Gianforte has downplayed this topic, Williams made clear that “we need to acknowledge that climate change is a factor” in fires.

In a state with a strong tradition of firearm ownership, the Parkland, Fla. shooting prompted Williams to issue a statement vowing that “in Congress, I will support assault weapon controls designed to keep military-style weapons off our streets while protecting responsible owners.”

She explained that these controls would involve limiting assault rifles to controlled environments, such as shooting ranges.

“I’m a gun owner, I’m a hunter,” she pointed out. “Our family owns quite a few shotguns and rifles, (and) we’ve never felt the need to own an AR-15, or any military-grade type of weapon.”

If Williams is elected, some of her most consequential work on the state level will follow her to Washington. She sat on the Montana Reserved Water Rights Commission that approved the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact in 2015, prior to its narrow, hotly-contested passage. Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, described Williams as “a major behind-the-scenes force ensuring the sufficiency and eventual passage” of the compact.

It now awaits federal ratification. As the Inter Lake reported in December, state opposition to the deal remains strong, and Montana will have the right to withdraw if Congress doesn’t ratify it by 2019.

“I’m hopeful” that Congress will approve it, Williams said, “and I think it will be exceedingly helpful to have someone who was intimately involved in the creation of the Compact in Congress helping that along.”

Before Williams can tackle these issues in the House, she’ll have to defeat several other Democrats – Jared Pettinato, Lynda Moss, Grant Kier, and John Heenan – in the June 5 primary.

Asked what sets her apart in this crowded pack, Williams replied, “I have a strong progressive advocacy and voting record that a lot of folks that are on the farther left of the political spectrum really appreciate.” She’s received strong ratings and awards from a wide range of groups, including Montana Conservation Voters, the Montana Sportsmen’s Alliance, Pro-Choice Montana and the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s that spectrum that will really make me competitive against Gianforte in the fall,” she said, “and it’s a very unique breadth and depth for a Democrat in Montana.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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