Cooney, Williams face off in Democratic gubernatorial primary: Whitney Williams
April 24, 2020
Editor's note: Watch for profiles of the Republican gubernatorial candidates in Monday's edition of the Havre Daily News
This version corrects some incorrect biographical information at the end of the story.
Whitney Williams, a Missoula philanthropic businesswoman and daughter of former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., faces former state lawmaker and secretary of state Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney in the Democratic primary for the Montana governors race.
"I love my state," Williams said. "I believe it ultimately kind of made me who I am. I think most Montanans sort of feel that way and I feel like lots of people in this state are struggling, and before COVID, even before I decided to get into this race, which was just back in October, it occurred to me that lots of communities all across the state including our rural communities and small towns were really struggling, and I thought we could do better, and have a governor who represents all of Montana, not just some of it."
She believes governors are the executive of the state, and as someone who has private sector experience with executive experience, she said, she is well-qualified to be governor and bring new generation leadership, with different ideas and thinking differently about the future.
With the COVID-19 crisis, she thinks current Gov. Steve Bullock has done a good job handling the situation, as well as Montanans, she added.
"The flattening of the curve requires all of us to do what we do well here in Montana, which is be good neighbors and listen to the public health experts, which I think Montanans have really done," Williams said. "I'm really proud that we are one of the lowest rates of COVID at the moment, in part because we have stayed home and people sort of followed what have been these new set ups of rules before us."
She said her top priority as governor would be to get the economy working again and making sure of that, for all of Montana including rural communities and small towns, by doing that building a "really strong" recovery team.
The recovery team, she said, would represent the diversity of all the geographic and businesses across the state.
"My father used to say, 'There is a genius on every block,'" Williams said. "I think that's such a lovely way of sort of expressing what it is true, which is that we have the assets and the resources that we need, we just need to tap into those across the state and bring in some expertise from outside the state as well to make sure we get the economy moving in the right direction."
Another priority of hers as governor would be to make sure all Montanans are covered with health care, she said, adding that the state needs to take on big pharmacies.
"It's time we take Big Pharma on with urgency, and so I think that's something that we would be working on very, very quickly," she said.
She added that another thing that would be focused on right away is having universal pre-kidnergarten.
"Our constitution in Montana guarantees to a good, quality, public education and that should start at 4 years old. We are one of a handful of states that doesn't educate our 4 year olds, and I think we need to do that and I think we to do this next session," she said. "Then we have to make sure we have pathways to good-paying jobs through community colleges and apprenticeship programs and trades at the other end for both young people that want that and that's the right path for them or for people who are re-entering the workforce in some way."
Another thing, she said, that will be a priority for as a governor is protecting the outdoors and public lands.
She said the Trump Administration is set on selling public lands to private developers and she thinks that needs to be stopped.
"Not only are our public lands are they so central to our culture and to our heritage as Montanans, they also fill the freezer for a lot of us, and top of everything else, they are our cash register in this state," Williams said. "$7 billion in spending, 70,000 jobs are dependent on our public lands, and so we need to make sure we have a governor who is sort of tough enough to stand up and make sure that we stop any attempts to privatize those lands or to transfer them from back to the states."
She said her plan is to keep the public lands in public hands.
If Montana sees a drop below projected revenue as it did in 2017, she said, she thinks the a budget that the governor puts forward to deal with it needs a reflection not only of the administration, but of the state.
"A budget is a reflection of our values," Williams said.
"I think we just have to do what we can to sort of see about looking for other revenue sources, which is going to be centrally important for us to do, and we have lots of folks helping us think that through now because of what we know there is going to be absolutely shortfalls in revenue in what we projected because no one was anticipating a pandemic," Williams said. "... We have to bring people together, lead by example, roll up our sleeves and get folks in a room to make the recommendations and decisions that will really help Montana's families."
She said communities from all across the state are brought together and the small business owners voice are heard for creating and attracting new businesses to the state.
Farmers and ranchers are an important part of that, Williams said, "which is why I put a farmer on my ticket, Buzz Mattelin, who is from Culbertson, a Hi-Line farmer, third-generation, of barley, durham, wheat and sugar beet farmer, because I wanted to make sure we had a central voice of agriculture and farmers and ranchers at the table with all the decisions."
Agriculture is centrally important to many individuals, families and communities across the state and the economy as a whole, she said.
In moving forward, in the future, she said, the governor is the representative for the state, the ambassador for the state, the negotiator for the state.
"I think Montanans want someone they can trust to sort of represent them and their sort of value set as Montanans both here at home and outside of the state," Williams said. "I think tourism is, again, centrally important to our state, to our cash register, to our economy and to our communities thriving in the ways that they have.
"We need to promote Montana in every way we can and I think that's centrally part of the role of governors is to make sure tourism continues to thrive and we're going to have to think about it potentially, a little differently in the short-term, because of COVID, because of mass gatherings of people, so there again we really need to think that through in a way is effective and innovative, but ultimately we have to promote Montana and be sort of a cheerleader for this state every single day," she said.
"I think that's what Montanans expect and deserve from their governor," Williams added.
Born April 9, 1971, Washington D.C.
Raised in Helena
No spouse, one brother Griff, one sister Erin, extended family in Butte
Graduated from University of Montana, 1994, degree in political science and a double minor in forestry school and Native American studies
Worked for the state Legislature and federal government
First time running for offices
Founder of williamsworks- private sector, help Fortune 500 companies and private citizens to help people who are struggling both here at home and the globe