Democratic candidates speak in Havre


November 5, 2019

Several statewide candidates campaigned at the Hill County Democratic Party’s Pasma-Peck fundraising dinner at the Havre Eagles Club Sunday, speaking on a variety of issues and their campaigns for 2020.

Watch for more about the candidates who spoke at the dinner in Wednesday’s edition of The Havre Daily News.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is defending his seat against Democratic challengers Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, Cora Neumann of Bozeman, Michael Knoles of Bozeman and John Mues of Loma, who will face off during the primary before the general election against Daines.

Collins was the only candidate who attended to speak at the event.

He is a refugee of the Liberian Civil War, fleeing to Montana in 1994. Since then, Collins has served in the National Guard, U.S. Army Reserves and the U.S. Navy Reserves for more than 20 years. He has also worked as a teacher and for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Veteran’s Affairs administration and as a child protection specialist at the state of Montana.

He was elected mayor of Helena and is Montana’s first African-American mayor.

Sunday, Collins said the reason he is running for senator is because Montana needs someone who is there for the people, someone who is present in the state and will work on the hard questions Montanans have, such as the effects of climate change, the trade war and protecting public lands, he added.

“Montana is being short-changed, because we are entitled two senators. Sen. Daines decided to leave us and join the executive branch,” Collins said.

“You must show up … Montanans have questions that need answers,” he added.

He added that Montana is facing some major issues, and needs to work to protect future generations. Montana needs someone who will work to protect the state and the children, rather than voting against them, he added.

Several Democrats are running for Montana’s sole U.S. House seat.

After incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., announced his candidacy for governor earlier this year, several Republicans and Democrats have announced their campaigns for the vacant house seat. 

Republicans Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, State Auditor Matt Rosendale, Lewis and Clark County GOP Central Committee Chairman Joe Dooling of Helena Valley, former state GOP party chair Debra Lamm and Corvallis Public Schools Superintendent Tim Johnson are running in the Republican primary, while Democrats former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, D-Bozeman, state Rep. Tom Winter, D-Missoula, and U.S. Army veteran, teacher and rancher Matt Rains of Simms have all announced their candidacy.

Williams and Rains were at the event.

Hill County Democratic Central Committee Chair Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, said Winter was unable to make it because he was in a car crash while coming to Havre. Winters was not seriously injured and sent a short message which was read by state Rep. Barbara Bessette, D-Great Falls.

Winter, a first-year legislator, said in his message his campaign has two clear goals: To win back the House seat which has been held by Republicans for the past 20 years, and to bring representation and strength back to working class Montanans.

“That’s fighting for any policy that benefits those who work every day to build a better Montana around them,” Winter said in his message.

When Winter first ran for office, his district was primarily Republican, he said. But because he was willing to reach across party lines, he was able to flip the seat and do a number of things in the Legislature

He said he hopes to be able to do what he did last election and flip the seat once again. He added that a number of issues face the state and the country which need to be worked on, such as health care, the cost of prescription medication and climate change. 

Winter said he wants to see the Democratic party get back to its roots as the party of the people.

Williams, who unsuccessfully ran against Gianforte in the 2018 election, is attempting once again to win the House seat.

She said Sunday that she is one of the few candidates with the experience and the temperament to build relationships across the aisle and be effective in a hyper-partisan legislative environment. Serving three terms as a state legislator and working for 36 years in natural resources, she has the experience to bring people together and find creative, long-term solutions to complicated issues, she said.

She added that in 2018, her campaign was the closest in 20 years to unseating an incumbent. She said she decided to run again for office after a lot of consideration and while on the campaign trail previously, she heard a number of stories from Montanans which has motivated her to run again for office. A number of the issues Montanans are concerned about and facing every day is health care, student debt and public lands.

“We can foster opportunity for all, not just special interests, whether it’s farmers who are struggling with the tariffs, whether if it’s students who don’t want to be buried under debt, whether if it’s folks on our Native American communities who want just clean water to drink,” Williams said. “… We can foster opportunity if we elect the right person to Congress.”

Rains was born and raised in Montana, he said. After attending grade school he went to college at West Point University, before enlisting in the U.S. Army and is a veteran of the Iraq War, retiring as a captain. After the military, he said, he became a humanitarian photographer, traveling the world seeing the best and worst of humanity. He then came back to Montana to work as a power plant engineer and attended Washington State University.

After graduating with a Master of Business Administration, he returned to Montana to take over his family’s Birdtail ranch.

“I know Montanans vote for someone they trust, trust someone who has been in their shoes or boots; in my 39 years I’ve worn a lot of boots,” he said.

“I want you to know, I am not running this race to knock the primary out of the ballpark, I am running this race because I can knock the general election out of the ballpark,” Rains added.

He said he wants to bring life back to rural Montana, and focus on giving Montana the tools it needs to succeed. He added that he grew up in a small town and attended public school and understands the importance of a good, strong public education. He said that, as a veteran, he can also protect the military and other veterans from a veteran’s viewpoint. As a rancher, he understands Montana agriculture and knows what Montana producers need.

Three of the candidates who have already announced their intentions to run for the governor’s office this year attended the Pasma-Peck Dinner.

That ticket is full of a slew of candidates, including Republicans state Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, Attorney General Tim Fox and Gianforte, and Libertarian Ron Vandevender is running.

On the Democrats’ side Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls, businesswoman Whitney Williams of Missoula and former Rep. Reilly Neill, D-Livingston, have also announced their candidacies.

Cooney, Williams and Schreiner attended the event Saturday. Neill was unable to attend due to other obligations.

Schreiner said he knows the issues everyday Montanans face and has a proven track record of getting legislation passed in the state which benefits Montanans. 

He said he comes from a blue-collar family; his family previously had worked in mines, hospitals and schools. Before he got into politics, he was a school teacher in Great Falls, and while serving in the Legislature he has worked to improve the educational system, health care and the economy, he said.

He said he often speaks his mind and will hold himself accountable to the people in the state. He added that, at the beginning of the last legislative session, he made a number of promises to the people of Montana, which he was able to follow through with. He said he promised to provide health care for firefighters, pass a comprehensive infrastructure package and pass Medicaid expansion, and all were passed by the end of the session.

“I put my money where my mouth is,” he said.

He added that Montana has a number of issues it is facing, but these issues can be resolved, and through strong leadership Montana can succeed.

Cooney, a former Montana legislator and secretary of state, has been Bullock’s lieutenant governor since 2016. He said he had not previously intended to run for governor, but, after consideration, he felt it was the right decision to run to keep Montana moving in the right direction.

He said it is critical Montana stay on the right path and not elect a governor who will reverse all the progress previously made with education, health care and public lands.

Montana needs a governor who will fight for the people and not industries, someone who will  invest in public education, securing public lands and health care, as well as ensuring prescription medication is affordable to everyone, Cooney said.

“If we don’t do that, we are cheating our young people,” he said.

It is important to invest in future generation, especially their health care, so they can compete across the world, he said. He added that it is also important to preserve public lands, because it is “who we are as Montanans,” and is something future generations should be able to enjoy and appreciate.

He added that he also already has a plan in the works to help with the high cost of prescription medication and, as governor, he would fight to assure people can afford the care they need.

Williams is the daughter of longtime U.S. Rep. Pat Willians, D-Mont., and Carol Williams. Whitney Williams is the founder and CEO of Williamsworks, a Missoula-based philanthropic consulting firm.

“I believe Montana is what America started out to be, from a place of family-run farms and ranches, clean rivers and this big beautiful sky,” she said. ”I have this deep belief that the Montana that I sort of grew up in and that I went to college in is getting harder and harder to find.”

She said that Montana needs a governor who will work to help restore the state and make it strong. She said the state needs a strong governor who will stand up to prescription drug companies and industries that want to take the states public lands. The state needs a governor who will invest in renewable natural resources and include rural communities so they are not left behind. The state needs a governor who will stand up against bad bills and protect the state’s Constitution and the rights of its citizens, Williams added.

She said she also wants more focus on missing and murdered indigenous women and on preventing child sex trafficking. She said she has experience fighting these issues and can work with private and public entities to find a solution.

“I am here,” she said. “I was taught in my family that service is a privilege, but it’s up to every generation to fight for it, so I am here to fight for it.”


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