Grant Kier visited the Daily Inter Lake recently to discuss his candidacy for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat.
While some of his opponents stress legislative or civil-service experience, Kier, 43, has spent his career outside the public sector. A geophysicist by training, the Missoula Democrat worked in Montana’s petroleum industry before moving into conservation, serving as executive director of both the Bitter Root Land Trust from 2005 to 2007, and the Five Valleys Land Trust from then until 2017. The latter group doubled in size under his leadership, and secured Farm Bill funding to protect agricultural land around Missoula.
These experiences, Kier said, had prepared him to meet Montana’s public policy needs.
“I really believe that my track record of working through federal programs...gives me the experience to show Montanans that I can get things done in DC that benefit them here at home.”
He identified one opportunity to do so in the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact, which currently awaits ratification by Congress. Kier said he would back the deal “without question.”
“A lot of people in this valley have worked really hard to put that partnership together and to build that,” he said. “It is an incredibly challenging issue with a lot of collaboration behind it, and that’s what Congress needs to reward.”
Kier sees room for further cooperation on managing Northwest Montana’s forests. Some environmental groups’ lawsuits have stopped management projects on federal forests, drawing sharp criticism from U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., in the wake of last summer’s wildfires.
“In my opinion, we absolutely need responsible forest stewardship” involving the public and private sectors, he said, “and that includes really good science that tells us where and how we should be doing thinning.”
Echoing Gianforte, Kier acknowledged that “the lawsuits that have been a headache and a challenge for communities trying to pursue responsible forest thinning.”
But Kier didn’t give forest management the all-important role in fire mitigation that Gianforte had, noting that “the areas where those [projects] exist are tiny and pale in comparison to the vast regions of unmanaged forest where we’re seeing fires.”
According to the Missoulian, University of Montana researchers have found that, since 1999, only about 7 percent of areas given fuel-reduction treatments were later hit by wildfires.
The blazes that do occur, Kier continued, “are a direct result of climate change and the impacts of climate change.” The Montana Climate Assessment predicts that rising temperatures will increase the state’s wildfire risk this century.
Kier has been endorsed by a group seeking action on this issue. 314 Action, a recently-formed political action committee, endorses scientists running for office as Democrats. It calls for “evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change.”
Asked what policies he would pursue to address Earth’s warming climate, Kier noted Montana’s considerable potential for wind and solar power generation. “I think we’ve got a lot of opportunities to grow those in Montana, and a lot of that’s state-based policy, but there’s a really important federal component to invest in the kinds of infrastructure to allow us to transfer that power across the country.”
314 Action also demands an evidence-based approach to gun violence. Kier declined to back specific gun-control measures, saying that a better understanding of the problem was needed first.
“I think that we’ve got to invest from a federal level in understanding what kinds of policies make an impact on gun violence. Otherwise, this is purely a partisan fight and not one that’s based on evidence.” He called for repealing the Dickey Amendment, which has severely restricted federal funding for gun violence research.
On health care, Kier remains a defender of the Affordable Care Act, and identified a number of possible fixes to the law: letting people buy into Medicaid in an effort to drive down private insurance rates; improving transparency for insurance customers; reimbursing health-care providers based on patients’ health outcomes, rather than the number of tests they perform; and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
These policy points are likely to see more debate before the June 5 primary. Kier faces five candidates – Kathleen Williams, Lynda Moss, Jared Pettinato, John Heenan and John Meyer – for the Democratic nomination. Like Kier, many have some background in conservation and the nonprofit sector.
Among this crowded field, Kier said that “I have proven, over and over again in my career, that I show up and listen to people in their communities. I serve them by helping them succeed, and I think that’s what people need in Congress right now.”
Patrick Reilly can be reached at email@example.com, or at 758-4407.