Democrat Williams savors surprise victory; looks ahead to challenging U.S. Rep. Gianforte

Posted at 3:40 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-08 17:40:52-04

Kathleen Williams’ victory in Tuesday’s five-way Democratic U.S. House primary may have been unexpected for some, but Williams says not to her.

“We knew our message was getting across,” she told MTN News in an interview at her Bozeman home Thursday. “We were confident all the time, we had a great strategy, and we executed it.”

Williams, 57, a former three-term state representative from Bozeman, won the primary with 34 percent of the Democratic vote, edging Billings attorney John Heenan by about 2,000 votes. He had 32 percent.

Williams said she traveled to “all corners” of the state, and it showed: She won almost half of the state’s 56 counties Tuesday and ran strongly in most of the counties that she didn’t win.

“I think people are looking for experience and I think that resonated well, and I think the messages on health care … and returning civility to a broken Congress were all things that Montanans have been telling me about,” she says.

Now, Williams turns her attention to the general election, where she’ll challenge first-term Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a high-tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, also from Bozeman.

Libertarian Elinor Swanson of Billings and Green Party candidate Doug Campbell of Bozeman also are on the fall ballot.

Gianforte issued a statement Tuesday evening saying he looks forward to “a campaign of competing ideas,” and that the country “can’t afford to go back to the failed big-government policies of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.”

Williams said Gianforte’s “big-government” comment is nothing more than a “sound bite,” and that she’ll be glad to debate him on the issues.

She said a big difference between them is that she has a detailed plan to make health care more affordable, while his only plan seems to be repealing the Affordable Care Act, “that would throw tens of thousands of Montanans off their coverage.”

Williams’ plan calls for allowing those from 55-to-64 years old to buy into Medicare, bolstering the health-insurance market for individuals and allowing Medicare to bargain on prescription drug prices – a move she said could reduce drug prices by as much as 46 percent.

Williams also has said that semiautomatic “assault rifles” should be available only in restricted areas, such as shooting ranges, and that she’s not worried about being tarred by the opposition as someone who wants to take away gun rights.

“I think people appreciate the fact that I’m brave enough to stand up and say we need to have an adult conversation about … how to keep our schools safe,” she told MTN News.

Williams has college degrees in resource economics and recreational resources, and has spent most of her career as a water- and recreational-resource planner for federal and state agencies and nonprofit landowner groups.

Her most recent job was associate director of the Western Landowners Alliance, where she managed a water-resource plan and helped interpret federal policy for farmers and ranchers. She describes the nonprofit group as an organization of “conservation-minded farmers and ranchers” who want to have sustainable working operations that also preserve landscapes and wild species.

Williams said she’s ready to introduce herself to more Montanans in the general-election campaign and make the contest competitive. A Democrat hasn’t won Montana’s only U.S. House seat since 1994.

“I’m just thrilled to be in this position and honored to have served on the campaign trail with the other Democratic candidates,” she said. “I just can’t wait to be Montana’s congresswoman – the second in history.”

Montana’s only other female congresswoman was Jeannette Rankin, elected in 1916 and 1940. She was the first woman elected to federal office in the United States.