5 Democratic U.S. House candidates discuss guns, Russian meddling, tax cuts, ACA
Five Montana Democrats are running in June 5 primary election for a chance to unseat first-term incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte in the Nov. 6 general election. The Montana Free Press, along with veteran Montana political reporter Chuck Johnson, surveyed the five candidates to see where they stand on 10 key issues. The candidates were asked to respond in 50 words or less to each question. Below are their responses, edited only for length and style.
Q: What legislation would you support to help create good, high-paying jobs?
John Heenan: As a restaurant owner myself, I am committed to fostering entrepreneurism and small business development. I will work to forge economic development strategies that spur entrepreneurism, innovation, and the creation of good-paying jobs. I’ll stand strong with Montana farmers and ranchers to advance trade policies that create opportunities, not barriers.
Grant Kier: I’ll prioritize Montana’s two biggest economic engines: agriculture and recreational tourism. For example, I will ensure that the Farm Bill benefits Montana producers, support trade policies that open growing Asian markets, and promote full funding for LWCF, which uses offshore energy development royalties to expand access to Montana’s public lands.
John Meyer: I would support federal legislation that lifts the cap on the amount of renewable energy that can be produced across the United States.
Jared Pettinato: Montana has opportunities with the wind and the trees. We can make money out of thin air with wind
energy: the next treasure from the Treasure State. We can use money that grows on trees to manage forests, to reduce high-severity wildfires, and to restore fire to its natural role.
Kathleen Williams: While parts of Montana are well-off, others, especially rural communities and reservations, need more high-paying jobs. I’ll push economic diversity and higher wages. I have denounced “right to work” bills that undermine wages and benefits. I’ll protect economic development funds, including those in the Farm Bill, crucial to rural Montana.
Q: Do you support the Affordable Care Act and if so, are there any changes you think are needed?
Heenan: The ACA was written by corporate lobbyists and bakes in profits for insurance companies, drug companies and wealthy corporate executives at the expense of consumers. I support single payer, Medicare-for-all style healthcare reform to ensure that everyone has access to high quality, affordable health care and prescription drugs.
Kier: I support the ACA because it made health care more accessible to Montanans, but we need to bring down medical costs. We should allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, create a public option open to everyone on insurance exchanges, and make the costs of treatments and services more transparent.
Meyer: I support parts of the Affordable Care Act. We need to keep the market but make all health insurance providers nonprofit to eliminate incentives to deny claims and give CEOs large bonuses.
Pettinato: We can reduce pharmaceutical prices by setting prices equal to the lowest price in a developed nation—just as the market would if Congress did not prohibit the U.S. from importing drugs. Paying new enrollees on the exchange $200 will push premium prices down while enrolling more people.
Williams: I support the ACA, but it is no longer affordable for some. We must stabilize the individual market and take strategic steps to transform our healthcare system. I have the most practical, detailed plan to fix our healthcare system. I invite you to learn more at: www.kathleenformontana.com/healthcare.
Q: Do you favor or oppose having more or fewer restrictions on corporate money and anonymous “dark money” in federal political campaigns?
Heenan: I’m the only candidate who has a track record of fighting against dark money as I represented all Montanans (for free) as a lawyer. My work is featured in the film Dark Money. I have rejected corporate PAC and lobbyist money. I will introduce legislation to reverse Citizens United.
Kier: Corporate money in politics threatens all of our democratic institutions. Its effects creep into every law and policy. The first thing we must do is require complete transparency at every level of political giving and spending. We can do that right away without a constitutional amendment.
Meyer: I support more restrictions on corporate and dark money. I will not take any PAC money in this election. I favor overturning Citizens United.
Pettinato: Republicans are cheating because they can’t win fair and square. They use campaign finance loopholes, gerrymandering, and voter identification laws to undermine our democracy. They take directions from their donors—not their constituents. We need to overturn Citizens United using every tool: legislation, Supreme Court appointees, amendment, and litigation.
Williams: I favor restrictions on limitless, unaccountable spending in elections. I support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. We need full transparency in where money is raised and how it is spent. I would like to see progress toward public financing, so not only the ultra-wealthy can run for office.
Q: What would you do to prevent foreign governments from tampering in U.S. elections, & do you support the F.B.I. investigation into Russian meddling into U.S. elections?
Heenan: As we learn more from Robert Mueller about foreign interference, there will be results upon which we can take legislative action to prevent undue influence in the future. Separation of powers as reflected in the Constitution dictates that the Department of Justice should be allowed to proceed independently and without obstruction.
Kier: America’s democracy is threatened if anyone can corrupt our elections. We must protect them, both with cybersecurity and laws defending voter access. As a scientist, I believe in evidence and investigation. Mueller should be allowed to discover the truth about past elections so that we can defend future ones.
Meyer: I support an investigation into whether Russia meddled in U.S. Elections. We need greater cybersecurity to protect the United States from foreign meddling in our elections.
Pettinato: Russia attacked the United States and it attacked our democracy. Hacking to change election results strikes at the heart of our nation. We need to invest in cybersecurity at the state and federal levels and to punish Russia. The Rule of Law compels us to allow Mueller to finish working.
Williams: I oppose efforts to shut down the Mueller investigation. We must learn the truth about Russian meddling. The federal government must provide states and localities support to protect elections infrastructure. All election machines should have paper records in case their electronic systems are compromised.
Q: Do you support the Trump tax cuts? What if any changes would you propose?
Heenan: I support tax reductions for working Montanans, not handouts to wealthy corporations and billionaires. 83 percent of the cuts went to the top 1 percent, leaving a $2 trillion budget deficit that Republicans want to “make up” in the form of social security and Medicare cuts. I won’t let them.
Kier: I do not support this tax policy because it pays for permanent corporate benefits by borrowing money from our children. It cuts needed government services and provides hard working families with limited short term benefits. Taxes should be simple, fair, and as low as possible to deliver needed government services.
Meyer: I do not support tax cuts for the rich. The lower and middle class are tired of being trickled on.
Pettinato: Repeal it. Republicans took $1.5 trillion from our children and grandchildren and gave it to rich corporations, big banks, and Wall Street. No evidence shows it helped middle-class Americans. Instead of creating jobs or raising wages, major corporations poured tax savings into stock buybacks to increase their stock prices.
Williams: I do not support the tax bill. As a former Vice Chair of the House Taxation Committee, it was painful to watch the process: no hearings, handwritten amendments, representatives voting without reading the bill, ballooning the deficit. I will work hard to fix these mistakes and foster equitable tax policy.
Do you support President Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico?
Heenan: Politicians who seek to exploit racial divides for their own political benefit are on the wrong side of history. We need to strengthen and secure our borders to remain secure. We also need to be able to grow our economy and country by allowing paths forward for lawful citizenship.
Kier: I believe in evidence-based policy. For immigration, that means high-tech, strong, efficient border security, but also a lawful path to citizenship for workers who will fuel economic growth, and strategic diplomacy in countries that are the source of illegal immigration so that people will not need to relocate to survive.
Meyer: I do not support Trump’s proposal to build a wall. I do support legislation that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Pettinato: We need to secure the border. But building a 2,000-mile wall through environmentally sensitive areas, farms, homesteads, and wildlife refuges would not accomplish that. Immigrants would tunnel or use ladders. It would waste billions of taxpayer dollars. Fund manpower and technology for Customs and Border Protection officials, instead.
Williams: We need secure northern and southern borders, ports and air transit hubs borders that foster trade and travel. A physical border wall is impractical, aggravates wildlife issues, and sends the wrong signal to the world. I support a clean DREAM Act and immigration policy that balances security with compassion.
What, if any, changes in federal gun laws do you support to curb gun violence?
Heenan: Find commonsense solutions that keep our children safe while preserving our Second Amendment rights. Keep guns out of the hands of people who want to cause harm to themselves and others, not law-abiding gun owners. Close the gun show loophole and fund programs to equip teachers to identify warning signs before a tragedy.
Kier: I support changes to the background check system to make it complete and consistent and apply it to gun shows and online sales. We must fund gun violence research to identify the interventions that are most effective at increasing safety. We also need to improve access to mental health treatment.
Meyer: As a hunter and owner of a rifle I support closing gun show loopholes, requiring background checks, and ending the sale of semi-automatic assault rifles.
Pettinato: My heart breaks for the school kids. We must do more to balance the freedom to own firearms against the freedom to go to school without fear. We start by enforcing the existing laws. Bump stocks are basically illegal, already. Universal background checks will help keep guns from terrorists and criminals.
Williams: Students must feel safe at school. Parents need to know their children are safe. As a gun owner and sportswoman, I support the Second Amendment. Congress should treat military-style weapons the way machine guns are regulated today. Four courts have declined to extend Second Amendment protections to such weapons.
If Democrats gain control of the House, would you support or oppose efforts to impeach President Trump?
Heenan: Impeachment is a very drastic measure and should only be employed when a president commits treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors. Special Counsel Mueller has not presented his findings to Congress. I won’t speculate on what I would do without the benefit of Mr. Mueller’s findings and recommendations.
Kier: I respect Montana voters and that they voted overwhelmingly for President Trump. I also respect the rule of law and believe that no one is above it. My support or opposition will rely solely on facts and evidence, not partisan rhetoric.
Meyer: If there is enough support in the Senate to remove President Trump from office I would support efforts to impeach him.
Pettinato: The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to remove the President “for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The evidence is developing. I will wait for the results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation before deciding how to proceed.
Williams: Before considering other options, I want the Mueller probe to conclude so we can learn the full truth about the 2016 elections and any improprieties by the President. We must stand up to partisan efforts to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.
What, if anything, should be done to address the issue of climate change?
Heenan: Climate change is a matter of scientific fact and we should demand our representatives acknowledge so. Failure to do so is capitulation to corporate lobbyists. There are more six figure jobs now in the renewable energy sector than any other energy sector. I’d rather see those jobs in Montana then Asia.
Kier: Climate change threatens Montana’s economy, security, public health, and safety. I will promote legislation that: 1) prepares us for expected changes like extreme weather; 2) mitigates financial impacts on our state like firefighting costs, and 3) promotes market based solutions like investment in Montana’s abundant renewable energy.
Meyer: Passing federal legislation that lifts the cap on the amount of renewable energy that can be produced across the states will help tackle climate change and create jobs.
Pettinato: Climate change threatens national security, coastal cities, and our environment. It has been costing the U.S. $240 billion per year in extreme weather. Investing in a moonshot to expand renewable energy and to develop technologies to take carbon out of the atmosphere will save money in the long run.
Williams: As an expert in water policy, I’ve seen first-hand the effects of climate change. We must work to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency, promote soil health (and therefore carbon and water storage) with our agricultural sector, and we must immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement.
Why do you think you are the best Democratic candidate to defeat the incumbent Republican congressman in the 2018 general election?
Heenan: I’m the only candidate who has a track record of fighting for working Montanans against corporatebullies. I’m also a restaurant owner. I live in Yellowstone County. I’m running to represent all Montanans with a platform that puts the people over the powerful. I have an amazing team across Montana.
Kier: Raised by a single mom, I understand the struggles of working families. I’ve worked as a scientist to produce energy, repair infrastructure, protect public lands, and expand agricultural businesses. I have a proven ability to bringing together strong successful teams that are pragmatic about solving problems and helping others succeed.
Meyer: I am the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year college (UM). I am a hunter, climber, mountain biker, skier, former employee of the Flathead National Forest, and a public lands attorney.
Pettinato: As the only candidate born and raised in Montana (Whitefish), I have the best shot at beating (incumbent Rep. Greg) Gianforte. I have defeated wealthy interests before. I fought Donald Trump’s personal lawyers’ firm and saved taxpayers $1.5 billion. And I have ideas for growing Montana jobs with the wind and the trees.
Williams: We know that Democrats like Jon Tester and Steve Bullock win in Montana: Democrats with a proven track record of experience, fighting for ordinary Montanans, and working across the aisle when appropriate. I have that experience. Please join our campaign at www.kathleenformontana.com and let’s win back this seat.