If you talk with Kathleen Williams for any time at all, two things become almost immediately clear: she has a passion for putting policy ahead of partisanship and she’s committed to the idea that representing the state of Montana means listening to people from all corners of the state with “authenticity, open ears, and open arms.”
The former explains the whitepapers and policy focus at the center of her campaign and the latter explains the almost 80,000 miles she’s put on her camper and car campaigning over the past two years.
In her second bid for Congress (after coming closer in the 2018 election than any Democrat has come to winning the seat in two decades), Williams is following the same broad plan that got her close to unseating Gianforte: appealing to Montanans by promising to be an “independent, honest, hard worker who will be responsive to all of Montana.”
In an interview with the Montana Post on Thursday, she discussed her commitment to restoring the power of Congress and using good policy to overcome the toxic partisan divide that characterizes so much of the debate in Washington and across the country today.
Asked about how her experience in the Legislature would serve her in Washington, Williams noted that she earned a reputation for “working with people of all political views and to get things done, putting the partisanship aside and working on good ideas.”
She pointed to two bills she was that demonstrated her willingness to work across the aisle, noting that each bill took four years of patient work to pass. One, House Bill 478, passed in 2015, reduced the regulatory hoops for entrepreneurs who wanted to get food trucks, farm stands, and small-scale food producers off the ground, a measure that Williams told the Post “created over 200 new businesses and over 3000 new Montana products in just three years.”
In 2013, the Legislature passed her bill that prohibited insurance companies from denying routine cancer care when a patient is participating in a clinical trial. That bill passed in 2013, says Williams, because she passed a bill in 2011 that “set up a task force made up of patients and providers and insurers to basically educate the insurers” that it wouldn’t cost them more money.
That approach is what Williams promises to bring to Washington, where she says Congress has abandoned its role to set trade, regulatory, and military policy:
Congress has abdicated its authority in so many ways, and then they are so divided that they can’t take on issues that need to be solved, whether it’s healthcare, immigration or the War Powers authority. And so we need people out there that can break through that partisanship and find ways to move things forward.
We need to rebuild the institution of Congress. I tell people, especially firefighters, about the fact that I feel like I’m trying to run into a burning building for survivors. And then after that, figure out how much structural integrity is left and then how we rebuild.
When it comes to specific policy questions, Williams hews a pragmatic line, noting that Washington is likely to continue to experience divided government. Citing her experience as a caregiver and legislator, Williams argues that a first step toward improving healthcare access for the whole country is to allow those 55 and over to opt-in to Medicare:
Everyone deserves the opportunity for affordable, accessible healthcare and no matter where you live, or who you are, or your income.
Most of the proposals that I’ve made in this race and the last one assume that we’re still going to have a divided politics in Washington. And so I’ve chosen things that I am confident that I can get through. Allowing people 55 and older to buy into Medicare and then using that as sort of the ignition towards improving the entire system as a whole.
Asked about making college more affordable, Williams said that we need to ensure that people with significant debt must be allowed to refinance their loans and make two-year and technical schools more affordable. She called for partnerships between schools and employers to match educational needs to workplace needs:
And then the apprenticeship programs: there are incredible job opportunities and shortages of people, and a lot of sectors that we need to make sure we have the workforce in the future available. Our businesses and our education community should be doing workforce assessments and tailoring the opportunities for what we want and need in our economy.
Williams was also critical of the 2017 tax bill, which she called a “revenue giveaway” that has contributed to trillion-dollar deficits:
Having been the Chair of the Montana House taxation committee in 2015, and a member of it for three terms, I have some background in tax policy. And the first rule when you’re changing tax policy is that it should be revenue-neutral. Now we’re seeing the one trillion deficit that was predicted, so we need to fix the policy and make it more equitable.
Noting that a Certified Public Account recently told her that following the passage of the Trump tax cut, “we’re now back in the 1980s where you could avoid paying any taxes if you had a good accountant,” Williams offered that “a little fiscal responsibility would go a long way” in Washington.
In addition to noting that she would continue to hold public, pre-announced meetings with anyone who wants to talk with her, Williams argued that Montana Democrats can win voters anywhere in the state by showing up, listening, and getting the work done:
I think we have to not assume that we don’t have broad support. Senator Tester was reelected, we’ve had a Democratic governor for 16 years, and I got the closest in over 20 years [in 2018].
I think Montanans vote for the person. They want someone who reflects their values and who talks about the things that are important to them. So I try and not be very partisan. I try and go out and campaign as Kathleen Williams, who wants to be your representative, show up and listen, and bring home solutions.
The Montana way.