Helena almost always seems to provide one closely-watched Democratic primary for the Legislature, and 2020 is no exception. The race for House District 79 between incumbent Rob Farris-Olsen and challenger Ed Coleman provides some interesting contrast between two candidates who both hope to bring progressive values and good bipartisan work to the Montana Legislature.
We interviewed both this week and hope you’ll take a moment to listen.
Farris-Olsen, who wants to return to the Legislature to continue the work to protect Montana consumers he began in the 2019 session, cites a formative experience in Helena Public Schools as the motivation for his professional work and public service career:
My motivation for getting into politics started with debate. My first debate coach, Gretchen Edelen in seventh grade, had us debate in our class euthanasia. And so that debate kind of got me into the mindset of making policy changes for the better. In that [and debate in high school and college] we always added we always talk about in those debates about how can we change the world to make it a better place or to stop something bad from happening. In a debate, though, you’re just talking about it. And so once that kind of period in my life was over, I thought I needed to take concrete actions to try and make Montana an even better place. And that’s really what got me into it through the city and now through the Legislature.
If he returns to the Legislature, Farris-Olsen plans to prioritize consumer protections like measures to prevent debt collectors from seizing assistance like the stimulus relief funds and Earned Income Tax Credit, to protect student loan borrowers, and to ensure that mortgage lenders do not exploit homeowners.
Asked about work he was proudest of in the 2019 session, Farris-Olsen noted his work to get corporate actors to pay their fair share of invasive aquatic species prevention and his work with Representative Shane Morigeau to extend the statute of limitations on sex crimes.
Coleman cites 20 years of experience working with the Legislature to get things done:
I’ve been up at the Legislature for 20 years. The first time, a lot of it was at a personal level, the last ten at a professional level where I have been able to work with people on both sides of the aisle, bring stakeholders together, get consensus, find common ground and really build from that in order to get legislation passed. I think what we need these days is to work together and to identify areas that we all agree need improvement and build from there.
Asked for his priorities if elected, Coleman notes that he wants to do what Helena-area legislators have done, to listen to and respond to his constituents. He cites the need to work across party lines to develop a budget and protect mental health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.