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Williams: Gianforte doesn’t understand role of Congress; hypocrite on deficit

Kathleen Williams, Montana’s Democratic candidate for the U.S. House, addresses members of the Missoula Senior Forum early Wednesday, where she detailed her congressional agenda and defended herself from Rep. Greg Gianforte’s attack ads. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Montana’s Democratic candidate for Congress took aim at her opponent on Wednesday, saying he doesn’t understand the role of the legislative branch and has been hypocritical for promoting a balanced budget while also voting to add trillions of dollars to the national deficit through corporate tax breaks.

Before heading down the Bitterroot Valley, Kathleen Williams addressed members of the Missoula Senior Forum, where she detailed her congressional agenda and promoted her experience building bipartisan coalitions in the Montana Legislature.

“The way you change an institution is you lead by example,” she said. “I was in the minority all three terms in the Legislature, and to get things done – and in my personal approach – I worked with whoever I needed to get things done.”

Williams, who emerged from a strong field of Democrats in the summer primary, has crossed the state in an effort to unseat freshman Rep. Greg Gianforte. Gianforte was also invited to the forum, though his campaign didn’t respond to the invitation.

Among her concerns, Williams said Gianforte has been unwilling to meet face to face with his constituents during his first term in office. After a series of debates, she also was struck by what she bills as Gianforte’s lack of understanding on Congress’ role in government.

“To hear him only talk about advancing the president’s agenda made me realize how scary this is, because he doesn’t really know what his role is as a member of Congress,” Williams said. “It isn’t to advance a presidents agenda. It’s to work with the president, yes, but Congress is its own independent, legislative body. It’s purpose is craft legislation, craft budgets, provide oversight of the executive branch, and to be that third branch of government that helps with the checks and balances.”

Williams disputed Gianforte’s recent attack ads placing her “in this very leftist, extreme liberal box.” She said she would not vote to keep Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as the House minority leader. Rather, she would lobby for new party leadership.

As it stands, she said, Congress is broken.

“I won’t be voting for Nancy Pelosi in order to craft new leadership on both sides and actually work together,” Williams said. “Congress really is about as close to broken as I can imagine it. Our institutions can fail faster than we can ever imagine in America. History has shown that across the world.”

Williams’ outlined her agenda, including her push to foster opportunity though education, growing businesses and building a diversified economy. That includes opportunities for Montana’s youth and a secure retirement for the state’s older residents.

Her platform also looks to the state’s outdoor heritage, including access to public lands, clean water and solutions to climate change. Restoring civility to Congress makes her list, as does finding a fix for health care.

The later was the first issue she named.

“There are people on the individual market paying $2,000 a month with a $10,000 deductible, and that’s before any kind of medical service or any reimbursement,” she said. “That’s strangling people. It’s a patchwork and it’s not serving us well or our country well. We pay more and get less out of our system than any other developed country in the world.”

Williams labeled Gianforte as a hypocrite for introducing a bill nearly two years ago saying Congress wouldn’t get paid if it didn’t pass a balanced budget. Three months after introducing that bill, she said, he voted for tax cuts that added $1.9 trillion to the deficit.

“Then, two weeks later, I get a mailer from him talking about a balanced budget again,” Williams said. “At a minimum, we should have legislators that are confident enough to be consistent on an issue and not hypocritical.”

Williams said recent polling on the race has been mixed.

“The AARP poll, which is the most recent public poll, showed me within 1 point,” she said. “We’re just continuing to work hard. Any poll that’s positive, I’ll believe, and any poll that isn’t, we’ll just assume it was out there at the wrong time.”