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Where Does Franke Wilmer Stand on Keystone XL?

It’s been a week since the Democratic Congressional candidate forum in Butte, but one issue from the event has been nagging at my mind since I left: where does Franke Wilmer stand on the issue of Keystone XL? I e-mailed her campaign last week and haven’t heard back. If someone wants to clarify her position, I’d be happy to post the answer.

At the Butte forum, she told the crowd that she would vote for the pipeline and then work to amend it. She said:

On the XL, Montanans say repeatedly when asked that they want us to develop our resources and protect the environment, and I’m really kind of exasperated with it being presented as a false choice between the two.  I would probably vote for and it then fight like hell to amend it to reflect those values.  It’s complicated because it’s the only complete proposal.”

That’s a different position than Ms. Wilmer has taken on the issue before, when she seemed to signal opposition to Keystone. At the Bozeman candidate forum on February 12, she said that she would only vote for the proposal if it guaranteed jobs and environmental protection:

Franke Wilmer, a member of the Montana House, said unless the pipeline would assure more jobs economic benefit she wouldn’t support it.

“If this would guarantee more jobs, cleaner environment and lower dependence on foreign oil I would support, but they haven’t done that yet,” she said.

At one forum, in a town less dependent on resource extraction for its economic base, Ms.Wilmer suggested opposition and further study. In Butte, with a very different economic base, she suggested support, to be followed by an effort to amend.

According to Matt Gouras with the Associated Press, Ms. Wilmer earlier seemed opposed to Keystone:

Wilmer, a political science professor at MSU, is touting foreign relations experience developed overseas during her educational career — along with a bootstrapping personal biography of moving from blue collar jobs to an advanced degree.

And she is perhaps appealing to environmentalists helpful to a Democratic primary by promising to be a rare Montana politician — from either party — who opposes the Keystone XL as currently proposed.

When candidates in this primary are essentially dividing themselves into the moderate and progressive camps, it’s important to find out exactly where each stands on issues like Keystone XL in Montana. Three different positions on one issue from one candidate certainly don’t help provide the clarity voters need to make their decisions.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Excellent – unforgiving scrutiny! I hope that you are not focusing on her because of her progressive inclinations, and that you will also beam in on Tester, Gillan, Smith, Strohmaier, Stutz and Ward.

    Gillan and Smith especially, are Blue Dogs and need intense vetting, as they would be as comfortable in the other party.

  • Don, just so you know: I agree with damned near everything you write so commenting here only because your blog has been disproportionately fouled lately by the Tokarskis and Moores.

    It would be political suicide for Prof. Wilmer to renounce KXL out-of-hand. Even I could be convinced to support it if TransCanada were to post a bond that hires rapid-response HAZMAT teams and indemnifies all the stakeholders.

    • I think you’re right. It certainly struck me as odd that her position has seemed to evolve over time. Perhaps that’s all there is to it.

      Either way, I’d like to know where she is on the issue today. 🙂

  • I agree with Larry. You will never win a general election in Montana while opposing Keystone. Right off the bat, you divide the party while getting zero votes from either Republicans or Independents.

  • And where, pray tell, are the others? Only one is scrutinized here, oddly.

    I oppose that pipeline, as the jobs and all of that are nothing but’s just a way to market Canadian crude without regard to anything in between tar sands and refineries. If Wilmer is hyping it to get elected, then mahmet is right. She’s just another Democrat.

        • Hi Larry,

          I want a Congress that puts people first. I want a Representative who stands up to special interests and who stands up for our Constitution, including the values expressed by the people of Montana in our state Constitution. When the people speak — through the Constitution, initiatives, etc. — I listen. I believe this is how representative government should work — of the people, by the people, and for the people.

          Having worked with government at the local, state, national, and international levels, having grown up in Montana, having a background in the private sector, and having never previously sought a partisan office, I am running a campaign that demonstrates that I put people first. It is what I want; it is what Montanans want; it is what our country needs.

          Our system is not broken, but it is corrupted. We still get exactly the government that we elect. If you agree with my message, I appreciate you spreading the word now, before the primary, so that there is a clear contrast with the Republican approach for the general election. Remember: money does not win elections, votes do. Ask Conrad Burns. Together we will make a difference.

          Perhaps you can join me at an event?

          Best regards,
          Rob Stutz

      • Rob, I got a question. At your site you state that you don’t support the Alberta leg of the pipeline. You also state “You can’t fish on an oil slick in the Yellowstone River.”

        Are we to assume that Bakken oil is unable to pollute waterways and Canadian oil is?

  • It doesn’t surprise me that Franke’s (or any other candidate’s) position/stance on an issue would evolve over time. As more information about an issue/project becomes available, it would make sense. I am torn myself over this project. Half the problem is wading through the mountains of misinformation to find the nuggets of “truth” behind them and then working to intellegently represent your constituancy. Fact is, the majority of people in Montana want the pipeline. Regardless of how the representative themselves feel about it, the job is to represent the people you are elected by.

    Now as a representative, you have the option to try to mitigate some of the downsides to even a highly supported project like this one. Even if Franke (or any other candidate) has issues with the project, they would be in a position to put in place some laws/rules/regulations to minimize the potential downsides. What a candidate would NOT want to do is go on a crusade against a project that is supported by a majority of constituants – even if those constituants don’t have all the information (or in this case, a glut of misinformation).

    As far as her current stance, I can certainly try to ask her when I see here on Friday.

  • OK.. As promised, I did talk to Franke Wilmer about Keystone and after doing so, I think that the post you wrote itself is part of the problem.

    If I understood her correctly, the question itself (and the characterizations afterward) are somewhat unfair. Her responce to me made a lot of sense.

    Even if elected, Franke would not be able to vote on Keystone because the vote has already occured. If she had been in a position to vote for Keystone, she would have voted for it if three conditions were met. You even list the three conditions in your post. The “three positions” you are having a problem with are actually the same position restated three different ways. Yes, she would want to amend the proposal, Yes, she would support it if the three conditions (amendments) are met, and NO, she would NOT support it as written. You have simply posted the same thing three different ways.

    I do not see a “change” in her position, simply three different ways to report the same thing.

    • My take on the entire evening is written and posted here –

      I want to state up front that it will be somewhat difficult deciding who to support in both the US House race and the Attorney General race. I have a buttload of research to do before I can even narrow it down much. There was one candidate for the US house race that lost me but the other candidates that spoke were interesting. I am currently leaning toward two of the candidates but I won’t say more until I do more research.

    • I feel like that’s a more generous interpretation than I am willing to give. I would probably vote for it is quite a bit different from opposing it until conditions are met.

      My sense that night in Butte was that her answer changed. That certainly doesn’t mean I won’t support Ms. Wilmer. I am undecided at this point, too. I would, though, like to see a more clear position on this issue.

      • In my opinion, it is a semantic argument at best. She was fairly straight forward last night and I get no sense that it is a change from (at the very least) the last two statements you posted. I get the distinction you are trying to make, but I just don’t see it. More importantly, it is a moot arguments as that is a vote that has already been taken.

        What is important to me is that she made it clear that resource utilization in Montana SHOULD be on the table and if it can be done with some clear expectations of responcibility and accountability, it could both much needed jobs and much needed revenue. I don’t see this as a bad thing and I was impressed with her cander when I was talking to her in person. She and Diane Smith both impressed me a LOT last night.

    • President Obama’s original decision to not sign off on the pipeline was to ensure that the environmental studies could be completed prior to construction. If those studies were not completed, it was likely that the pipeline project would be held up in court for years (if not outright killing it). We will see what happens when they go forward. Montana has a long history of projects stopped in court on environmental grounds and it remains to be seen how a International/Federal Project like this fares. Approval of Keystone will happen (too many voters want it whether they understand the real issues with it or not) and it is likely to end up in court.

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