This is the latest profile in what will be a series of pieces highlighting candidates for the Montana Legislature in 2018.
Rob Farris-Olsen is running for a state house district 81 in Helena.
Who is Rob Farris-Olsen
I am a lifelong Helenan who went to Jefferson and Central elementary schools and Helena Middle and High Schools and I still live on the same street I grew up on with my wife, Erin, and son Tupper. I practice law in Helena fighting to protect consumers from big corporations and bullying, including past work to protect Montana homeowners from multinational banks who tried to wrongfully foreclose on their homes.
As a sitting member of Helena’s City Commission I worked to fund critical infrastructure needs, while protecting residents and small businesses, established paid parental leave for city employees, implemented Helena’s climate change recommendations, protected the Smith River, and fought for human rights. I’m extremely proud to serve my community on the commission and I want to answer the call of a new opportunity to do more for the town I love.
What got you involved in politics?
I’ve always wanted to help make Helena and Montana a better place. It’s why I came home every summer while attending college in Washington and why I never hesitated to come home after earning a law degree from the University of Montana. This community is my home and I’ve seen it go through peaks and valleys. I believe Helena is poised to create more jobs, raise another outstanding generation of students, and lead Montana in efforts to promote equality, conservation, and social justice.
Last month Senator Jon Tester gave a speech and called for more people under the age of 35 to run for office in Montana. Words like his are one of the reasons I’m trying to bring new energy to represent Helena. I’m young, but I’m also a city commissioner, consumer law advocate, father, and lifelong Helenan who wants to bring new leadership and a new fight to the capitol.
What do you hope to accomplish at the legislature? What got you involved in politics?
As a legislator, I hope to promote economic opportunity for all Montanans. I’ve done this on the Commission and in my career and will fight for the same at the Legislature. First on the agenda would be ensuring that the Medicaid expansion does not sunset. In my career, I’ve seen how devastating medical bills can be, filing numerous bankruptcies due to medical bills. Alleviating this debt allows individuals to maximize their earning, and increase Montana’s economy. As the UM report noted, Medical Expansion introduces $350 to $400 million of new spending in Montana’s economy; generates 5,000 jobs and $270 million in personal income in each year between 2018 and 2020; it also reduces crime, improves health and lowers debt.
Beyond Medicaid expansion, it is imperative that we focus on protecting Montana’s environment. We need to ensure that our public lands remain public, mines must be sufficiently bonded, and we support the development of alternative energy sources by supporting concepts like net metering, which allows homeowners with solar panels to put energy into the power grid to offset their energy costs. I also hope to work on addressing consumer issues to protect Montanan’s earned income tax credits and other public benefits. Simultaneously, we need to protect our public employees from unnecessary budget cuts and layoffs.
As for who got me involved in politics, it was probably my seventh grade English teacher: Gretchen Edelen. Mrs. Edelen has us debate policy, and from then on I was interested in debate and public policy. My mother also inspired me to get involved, though she doesn’t know it. While I was a kid, going through the Montessori program at Central School, my mom worked tirelessly to promote Montessori throughout the district and increase funding and support for gifted students. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, her efforts showed me the value of standing up for your community and trying to move it forward. I hope to follow in her footsteps and do the same.
 Bureau of Business and Economic Research, University of Montana, The Economic Impact of Medicaid Expansion in Montana, https://mthcf.org/wp-
Who do you look to for inspiration and why?
I don’t think of myself as a politician. I think of myself as a husband, father, and son. It helps that we all live on the same block in Helena. I’m lucky to be able to look every day to my wife, my parents, and my young son for inspiration.
My wife Erin is the executive director of the Montana Watershed Coordination Council and her leadership and work in conservation inspire me to think about the future of our state and community. Both of my parents are former public employees and they each day they remind me how supporting our community makes it stronger.
My son is just two years old, but I want to serve Helena to ensure he receives good schools, a safe community, and learns a respect for all members of our community. I’m proud to grow up in Helena and to now call it home as a professional, I want to create a community that inspires him to make the same decision.
How will you connect with voters in your district?
To start, I live in House District 81. So connecting with “voters” means talking to my neighbors. I’ve made my contact information publicly available, I regularly knock doors to introduce myself, and I’m very active on Facebook. More than a few times I’ve offered to meet over coffee with Helenans who have an opposing viewpoint after a back-and-forth on Facebook.
Too often politicians in Montana’s Capitol have cut deals with lobbyists and special interests to put their priorities ahead of our communities and families. As a city commissioner I’ve worked hard to listen, then act. It’s why I secured paid parental leave for City of Helena employees, protected the rights of all Helenans regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, and fought to expand access to renewable energies.
Anything else you’d like people to know?
I’m proud to have the endorsement of AFSCME. Since both my parents served as public employees it’s an honor to have the support of union members.
I’m also very proud to have received the endorsement of Montana Conservation Voters. Montana values include access to public lands, clean air, and water, which I’m committed to defending. I want to guarantee a beautiful and clean state for my kids to enjoy.
I have dedicated my career to helping make Montana better a better place, whether in my job or through public service. I established the right the for parents to have an attorney when they are faced losing the children; I fought Bank of America to save Montanans’ homes; I am fighting to protect Montana’s vulnerable citizens; I initiated paid parental leave at the City; and I worked to make our City greener. I will continue to fight against corporate interests; I will continue to advocate for environmental protection; and I will work to advance the rights of all Montanans.
I strongly believe we need new energy fighting for Helena in the capitol and it’s why I’m proud to be a candidate in my home, House District 81.