John Meyer met with the Daily Inter Lake last month to discuss his bid for Montana’s lone congressional seat.
The self-described “independent Democrat” entered the party’s five-way primary race just before registration closed. Originally from Indiana, Meyer graduated from the University of Montana in 2003, worked as a timber technician for the U.S. Forest Service, then received a J.D. at Vermont Law School. He founded and heads the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center in Bozeman.
Now, he explained, “I’m running for Congress because I think I am best suited to serve the people of Montana.”
His environmental work figures heavily in his campaign. “I’m a hunter, I’m a mountain biker, a skier, I used to work with the Forest Service — I’ve seen a lot of different sides of the same coin that we call Montana.”
One of Meyer’s highest-profile cases, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service, concerned the Canada lynx in Northwest Montana. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that its employees had been pressured to under-measure the habitat of the threatened cat.
It vastly enlarged the territory to include several U.S. Forest Service projects. However, the Forest Service never re-entered consultation with Fish and Wildlife on the projects.
Cottonwood sued, arguing that this was a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Following its ruling, the Forest Service warned that about 80 forestry projects “could be litigated and possibly enjoined.”
That’s hurt Northwest Montana’s timber supply and the sawmills that need it, according to the incumbent in this race. Suits like Cottonwood have drawn the ire of Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., who blasted “frivolous lawsuits from environmental extremists” during a September visit to Columbia Falls. March’s omnibus spending bill contained provisions meant to partially repeal the ruling.
But Meyer defended the case, putting the focus on its underlying cause. “The Cottonwood lawsuit was in response to political interference with public employees’ decisions on how to manage the forest,” he said. “That lawsuit would have never happened if high-ranking political appointees [had] not interfered with biologists that work for the U.S. Forest Service.”
Asked what forestry policies he would back if elected, Meyer replied, “I think that by having people get into the forests, do some management by hand, use horses, keep all that timber in the state of Montana, we can start developing solid communities where people can grow their own food.”
Land and water managers in this part of the state also have their eyes on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact, which now awaits federal ratification. Both Kathleen Williams and Grant Kier have voiced support for the measure in Daily Inter Lake interviews, but Meyer did not directly state that he would vote for ratification. “I would support a Native American’s right to protect their water resources,” he said.
Outside the environmental realm, Meyer’s policy stances fall across the political spectrum. On gun control, he said “I would support any effort by the Trump Administration to eliminate bump stocks,” and voiced confidence that his hunting background would appeal to gun owners.
On health care, Meyer denounced “socialized medicine,” calling instead for “a market approach where there is no for-profit company” in the system.
While he shares his primary opponents’ hostility to last year’s tax law, he also floated a little-discussed idea: “legislation where the CEO or the leader of any company can’t get paid more than seven or 10 times the amount of the lowest-paid employee....In that way, everyone can work together as a team.”
In his view, Montana’s economic future lies in its wind and solar energy resources. Meyer vowed to seek federal funds for the state to study and develop these sectors if elected.
He will face John Heenan, Kathleen Williams, Grant Kier and Jared Pettinato in the June 5 primary.
In Meyer’s view, this election marks “an incredible opportunity for the people of Montana to take charge and say that we’re going to lead our country in a new direction, we’re going to develop our wind energy, we’re going to develop our solar energy, we’re going to do some sustainable logging, help revitalize communities and make Montana even better than it is now.”
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 758-4407.