This is the second of a three-part series on the candidates in Montana’s U.S. House race.
BOZEMAN – Democratic U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams isn’t getting much media attention, as she campaigns across Montana – but says that’s OK, for she’s following the strategy that led to an upset victory in the June primary election.
Williams, 57, a former state legislator from Bozeman, is using a campaign camper and her own car to hit numerous Montana towns, big and small, as she talks to voters about whatever they care about.
She says she gets a great reception from Republicans and Democrats alike, as she touts her law-making background on bread-and-butter issues and a plan to fix health care – a combination of expanding Medicare to cover more people and strengthening the private health-insurance market for individuals.
“I think it’s the combination of the experience, the temperament, the policies I’m talking about and the proposals, and the contrasts with our current representative,” Williams told MTN News in a recent interview.
The “current representative” is Republican Greg Gianforte, who’s running for re-election to a second term as Montana’s sole U.S. House member. Libertarian Elinor Swanson also is in the race.
Gianforte, a former software company executive who’s also from Bozeman, is aligning himself with President Trump, saying Republican policies of tax cuts and less regulations are creating robust economic growth.
Williams said she would have voted against the GOP tax-cut bill of 2017, because it balloons the federal deficit and wasn’t needed when the economy already was well into recovery after the recession of 10 years ago.
“Now what we have is the largest projected deficit in American history, and we’re talking about how do we keep Social Security and Medicare, let alone all of the other things that people depend on from the federal government,” she said.
But she generally refrains from criticizing Trump directly, saying she’s running against Gianforte, not the president.
Williams, a state representative from 2011-2016, was a relatively late entry into the U.S. House race last fall. But she won the six-way Democratic primary in June, edging out two better-funded opponents.
Williams actually out-raised Gianforte during the six-week period that ended June 30, by $100,000, but he ended the period with about three times the money in his campaign account: $1.37 million to Williams’ $462,000.
The next finance report for the campaigns isn’t due until mid-October.
Williams grew up in California and moved to Montana in the mid-1990s. She has degrees in resource and recreation management from the University of California-Berkeley and Colorado State University, and most recently worked as associate director of the Western Landowners Alliance, a group of conservation-minded farmer and ranchers in the West.
As for her legislative record, Williams points mostly to her work on creating two laws: One that required health insurers to cover the cost of clinical trials for cancer patients and one that enabled the creation of more local retail-food producers.
“The local food bill allowed me to act on my commitment to our ag community and diversify that economy,” she said. “A lot of those 170 businesses that that bill created are in rural Montana.”
But health care is the issue she says voters are most concerned about.
“There are some pretty heart-wrenching stories about health care out there,” she said.
Williams has proposed allowing people 55 and older to buy into Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly. That change wouldn’t cost any taxpayer money and would help stabilize the individual market, she said.
For those still in that market, Congress and the Trump administration should reverse course on several steps it has taken that have undermined it and made it more costly for the industry and individuals, she said.
And, Williams wants Medicare to be able to bargain directly with the drug industry on prices, a step she said could reduce high-flying drug costs by nearly 50 percent for that pool.
Gianforte and Republicans don’t really have a plan to fix health care, and that’s a big difference between them and her, she said.
“He used to talk about repeal and replace (the Affordable Care Act),” Williams said. “But there’s just nothing that’s coming forward to replace. … This piecemeal way of doing it is creating both uncertainty and a projection that tens of thousands of Montanans would lose their health care. … I think we need to fix the system, not pick it apart bone by bone.”
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News