Know Your Candidates: Kathleen Williams
MISSOULA, Mont. —
1. In your own words, what differentiates you from your opponents?
I have decades of experience serving Montana, including three terms as a state legislator, where I created jobs, lowered healthcare costs, and protected our public lands. Since announcing my candidacy, I’ve driven over 40,000 miles across Montana, and I’ve taken the time to build my understanding of the issues facing everyday Montanans. Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen that Congressman Gianforte doesn’t understand our priorities: he is more interested in serving millionaires and special interests than meeting with his constituents and solving their problems.
Short version: I have more policy-making experience; I have a broader background and will be more independent than the incumbent; I’m more like every-day Montanans; I know how to keep my cool.
2. Explain what you see as the most important issue facing the state.
High healthcare costs are driving many of our families to the brink of bankruptcy. They are also weighing down our economy, making it more difficult to create jobs with good benefits and discouraging entrepreneurship. We absolutely must fix healthcare to keep Montanans healthy and our economy strong.
3. How are you uniquely qualified to address that issue?
Healthcare is personal for me. When I was 11 years old, my mother started to lose her memory. She would get lost while driving and I would ride my bike to find her and help her get home. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and my father and I were her caregivers until she passed away. I know what a healthcare crisis can do to a family. That’s why, in the Montana Legislature, I passed legislation requiring insurance companies to cover life-saving cancer care. In Congress, I’ll work to fix healthcare and be an unwavering champion for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
4. Should teachers and/or other school employees that are not law enforcement be armed?
Local officials need to decide how best to secure their schools, but I believe arming teachers, who in many cases are already overworked and underpaid, could easily exacerbate dangerous situations involving firearms. I would rather the federal government focus on comprehensive solutions like school resource counseling, mental health programs, and common sense gun safety laws that reduce the risk of massacres in our schools. Both the students and the teachers I’ve talked to don’t support arming teachers.
5. What can be done to prevent wildfires from becoming more catastrophic? Why?
We need a broad portfolio of options to prepare for and address wildfires. This shouldn’t be a partisan battle, but a collaborative effort between local communities and state and federal agencies to reduce wildfire severity risk. There are a variety of management tools including mechanical treatment, prescribed burns, and more. We must also take steps to combat climate change, which is contributing to longer and more severe fire seasons across Montana and the West.
6. Montana currently allows marijuana for medical use. What has shaped your position on the issue?
Science has shown that marijuana has important medicinal qualities, and Montana’s voters have decided that it should be legal for medical use. In the Legislature, my district included Bozeman’s hospital, and many health care providers (notably oncologists) told me that they had seen no other substance that has the positive effects on patients (appetite stimulus, etc.) as marijuana.
7. Under what circumstances would you support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use?
Montana’s state government must decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana. At the federal level, I believe we should reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. We are wasting federal law enforcement resources and exacerbating societal inequalities by assuming that marijuana is more dangerous than methamphetamines, cocaine, or fentanyl.
8. Do you believe in climate change? Yes or No? What is the best course of action?
Climate change is a fact, not a belief. The overwhelming majority of scientists have confirmed that our climate is changing rapidly. You do not need to look far to see its effects: hotter, drier summers, longer fire seasons, earlier runoff, and more tornadoes are a fact of life for Montanans today. We need strong action to promote renewable energy and energy jobs while passing legislation that helps us adjust to life in a changing climate.
9. Montana has one of the highest veteran’s population in the country. What will you do to help our veterans?
I grew up in a military family, and I know that Congress has a lot of work to do to serve our veterans. Too many Montana veterans are not receiving the healthcare they deserve. We need Congress to roll up its sleeves and work on more solutions, like Senator Tester’s VA MISSION Act, that put veterans and their doctors at the center of healthcare decisions. We need to reduce VA wait times and continue to tackle the backlog in the disabilities appeal process. And we must invest in mental health services and chemical dependency programs so that the Montanans who have sacrificed the most know that, even when things are the darkest, we are there for them.
10. The opioid epidemic continues to get worse. What needs to be done to stop this troubling problem?
Addiction, and related issues like suicide, poverty, and homelessness, are afflicting too many Montanans. The problem is particularly acute on our reservations. We need a strong federal, state, and local response to get the situation under control. In the face of devastating budget cuts that have shut down clinics across Montana, we need to elect champions for mental health programs that treat addiction as a disease rather than a choice. Local law enforcement needs access to naloxone and similar drugs. And we must secure our borders to prevent the influx of drugs like heroin and fentanyl that is making the crisis worse. And the problem is not only opioids, but meth and alcohol as well.
11. Many Montanans don’t have health insurance. Should anything be done about this? Is expanding Medicaid the answer?
I was proud to vote for Medicaid expansion in the Montana Legislature. Expansion has provided health coverage for over 91,000 Montanans and saved taxpayers over $40 million. We still have a long way to go. I have a detailed plan to lower costs and expand access, by stabilizing the individual market, protecting rural health centers, lowering prescription drug prices, and allowing people 55 and older to buy into Medicare if they choose. Congressman Gianforte, on the other hand, supported the Graham-Cassidy health law, which would have kicked tens of thousands off of their health insurance and allowed discrimination against older Montanans and people with pre-existing conditions.
12. Should affordable housing be a priority for our state, and is it?
It should be, especially in certain areas, but it’s not. Too many Montanans have to work multiple jobs to pay for housing, healthcare, student loans, and more. When our teachers need to work night shifts to make ends meet, we are doing something wrong. Congressman Gianforte seems more interested in special tax breaks for corporations and millionaires like himself than he is in giving the middle class a real raise. We need a leader in Washington who understands the challenges facing Montana families, and has a track record of getting things done for them.
13. Why is today’s political climate so toxic? What would you tell your fellow lawmakers?
Runaway campaign spending, a culture of corruption, and hyper-partisanship on both sides of the aisle are undermining public faith in our democracy. That’s why I’ve refused corporate PAC money in my campaign. And, with Speaker Ryan retiring, I’ve called on both parties to find new leadership that can work across political divisions. When elected, I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi for leader. Perhaps more importantly, I will lead by example in Congress, like I did in Helena, putting policy-making, public service, integrity, civility, and stateswomanship before short-sighted partisan politics.
14. What is an example of a policy or issue you have changed your view on in the last 20 years?
I never have considered myself to be very opinionated. I gather the facts and once I have the knowledge I make a decision.
15. What question do you wish someone would ask you and why?
The question they care about the most. And many Montanans have been doing so. I love is being grounded in my future constituents’ hopes, struggles, and dreams, and the opportunity to go work on them.
16. Under what circumstances would you lie?
To save the life of my husband, if others wouldn’t be harmed.
17. If you could invite three people over to dinner, who and why?
My dad, my eldest sister, and my husband. Because we never had a chance to all be together.
18. Who is your political hero? Why?
Former state representative Dick Knox. Dick was a Republican legislator from Winifred I met when he chaired the Natural Resources Committee for which I was staff. He would stay until every member of the public had a chance to say their peace, no matter how late or who they were. He was an incredible family man. He passed away partway through my second session as staff. At his memorial I sang his favorite hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” I so respected him for the example he set that all Montanans deserve to be heard.
19. What is the best advice you have ever gotten?
Twenty-four years ago, when I got an offer to move to Helena and work for the State of Montana on natural resource policy, I was unsure about how a single woman with few possessions besides a car and a dog would fit in. I asked one of my mentors, and she told me about Montana’s long legacy of strong and motivated women. From the first female homesteaders, to farm and ranch wives stepping up during wartime, to the first woman elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin, Montana women have left their mark on our state and the world. These stories told me I would love Montana, , and it was the best choice I have ever made.
20. Who do you cheer the loudest for? Grizz, Bobcats, or someone else?
In the state Legislature, I represented Montana State University and its brilliant students, teachers, and staff. I fought hard with them to cap tuition and expand opportunities for all Montana students. Go Cats!