Democrat Heenan makes case for House candidacy

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Before heading to Columbia Falls for the April 28 Democratic candidate forum, John Heenan stopped by the Daily Inter Lake to discuss his bid for Congress.

Heenan is one of five state Democrats hoping to unseat Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., in November. Like the incumbent, Heenan came to Montana from Pennsylvania. After graduating from the University of Montana School of Law, he began practicing personal-injury and consumer-protection law in Billings.

Now a partner at that city’s Bishop, Heenan & Davies Law Firm, Heenan said his legal experience sets him apart from his opponents.

“My background is different,” he said, recalling clients who faced health insurance disputes and foreclosures. “I’ve spent my entire career working with people that are the kinds of people that don’t have lobbyists in Washington, D.C...and that’s the [kind of] people that I want to represent.”

Heenan, 41, sees ordinary Montanans at risk in several policy areas.

This includes the tax cuts implemented last fall. Heenan said that “I think what we’re seeing play out in Congress right now is step two of a two-step process. The first step was tax cuts for billionaires and corporations last year...Step two now is, ‘How do we, Congress, take that, make up for the money that we’ve given to billionaires by taking away people’s Social Security and Medicare?’”

Heenan vowed that “I will not let Wall Street figure out how to privatize and make money off of Social Security.”

Turning to the tax code, he called for “eliminating those preferential treatments to the wealthy and restoring tax fairness at the upper end of the spectrum.” He argued that the current capital-gains tax is too low, and also asked, “Why are there deductions for things like private jets?”

One section of the recent tax law clarified that private-jet operators do not have to pay a certain excise tax required of commercial airlines. Another allowed a business jet’s cost to be entirely written off in the year of purchase.

“Who does that benefit?,” Heenan asked. “Not 99.99 percent of Montanans.”

He also seeks greater equity in health care. While all of this primary’s candidates back changes to the current system, only Heenan supports adopting a “Medicare for all” system.

Asked how he would implement this policy, Heenan explained that he was “not married and doctrinal to one particular way to get there.” Raising the health-care challenges he has seen with his clients and family, he said that “I believe that Medicare for all or a single-payer type system has to be the way because what we have now is just absolutely not working.”

His interview also covered topics more specific to Northwest Montana. Heenan was unsure whether he would vote for federal ratification of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact. “That’s something I have to look at honestly....I certainly would want to have more thought before I weighed in.”

Rep. Gianforte has advocated more forest management in the wake of last summer’s fires. Heenan, meanwhile, favors “local management where groups can come together, work on the ground in a local way to cut through the red tape and solve problems, because I think everyone gets frustrated when policy gets dictated from Washington, D.C. back to Montana.”

On the issue of forestry, Heenan also pointed out that “climate change is happening.” The Montana Climate Assessment warns that it could make the Treasure State more fire-prone in coming years.

Despite his differences with the incumbent, both Heenan and Gianforte disapprove of the Trump administration’s recent tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Gianforte blasted those as a “bad idea.” Heenan said that “trade wars are not good for Montana’s farmers and ranchers who need to be able to reliably export their crops.” The steel tariffs, he predicted, “are going to cause farm machinery [to] cost more money.”

If elected, Heenan said he would “support trade policies that would protect Montana’s farmers and ranchers.” These policies, in his view, include both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

While this stance may put him at odds with other Democrats, Heenan reflected that “for good, bad or otherwise, I’m not running to advance the Democratic Party, I’m running to represent all the people of Montana...Even here before a primary I really am just running to represent my clients, and people like them, people that don’t have lobbyists, don’t have access, and don’t have a voice in Washington D.C. right now.”

Heenan will face Kathleen Williams, Grant Kier, John Meyer and Jared Pettinato in the June 5 primary. Absentee ballots will be mailed out May 11.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at, or at 758-4407.

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