HELENA – Democratic U.S. House candidate Grant Kier calls himself a “pragmatic problem-solver” – and says that’s what Montanans want, and aren’t getting, from their current congressman.
“What I’ve seen from our current congressman (Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte) is that he prefers to focus on how to divide us and how to focus on putting us against one another in terms of our problem-solving,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I think we deserve better.”
Kier, 42, a former land-trust director from Missoula, is one of three Democrats already vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Gianforte in 2018.
The others are Billings attorney John Heenan and state Rep. Tom Woods of Bozeman.
None is well-known by Montana voters and they’ve just started their campaigns.
Gianforte, a Bozeman businessman and philanthropist, won the seat just five months ago, in a May 25 special election after the previous congressman, Republican Ryan Zinke, resigned to become U.S. Interior secretary.
Democrats haven’t won the seat since 1994, but feel they may have a good shot at beating Gianforte. Kier and Heenan reported raising more than $500,000 between them during the past two months, while Gianforte had campaign receipts of about $250,000 during the same period.
Kier was born in Kansas, went to high school in Boulder, Colo., and has degrees in geology, philosophy and sociology from the University of Colorado.
Kier said while he’s a Democrat, his professional life has been one of working with people of all walks of life and political persuasions to protect traditional land uses and access to public lands.
He spent the last 10 years as director of the Five Valleys Land Trust, a Missoula group that helps arrange conservation easements, and before that was at the Bitterroot Land Trust in Hamilton.
Kier told MTN News that his work has convinced him that Montanans prefer to work together to solve difficult problems – and would like the same approach from their representatives in Congress.
“What Montanans are really tired of is the hyper-partisan debate,” he said. “And I have proven over the years that as I’ve been in Montana, that I’m respectful of people who have different views than me. I’m capable of building bridges across divides and I’m capable of finding solutions that impact people’s lives every day.”
For example, on health care, Kier said he thinks the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” — should be preserved, because it’s helped many people gain coverage. However, he said it can be improved.
“We should be working across party lines to fix what’s broken in the Affordable Care Act and make sure that we do not interrupt the important care that people are getting right now through the ACA,” he said.
One of those improvements could be increasing the “transparency” of health-care pricing, he said.
Kier also said he doesn’t like the looks of the Republican tax plan, because it would just protect the “ultra-wealthy”; that climate change needs to be addressed, by moving toward more renewable power yet while trying to preserve jobs for those in traditional energy sectors; and that timber management should be based in science and not “political rhetoric.”
He said he was disappointed by Gianforte’s comments during Montana’s summer forest fires, that blamed environmentalists and others for conditions that Gianforte said worsened the fires.
“We’ve got to be responsive to the conditions on the ground and we have to be honest about what’s causing our fires, whether that’s climate and bigger issues, or site-specific issues that can be taken care of with management,” Kier said.