HELENA – Attorney John Heenan of Billings says he’s made a career out of representing the little guy against big banks, insurers, and other corporate bad actors – and now he wants to do the same for all of Montana.
“My only agenda is to do exactly as I do as a consumer-protection lawyer, and take exactly the same sides, ethic, efforts on behalf of all Montanans … in a system where I just truly feel like there is no one there that really has people’s backs,” he told MTN News this week.
Heenan, 40, is one of three Democrats vying for the party’s nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican and Montana’s only congressman, in 2018.
He was the first Democrat in the race, announcing in early August. Former land-trust director Grant Kier of Missoula joined the fray a month later and on Thursday, state Rep. Tom Woods of Bozeman joined the scrum. A Democrat hasn’t won the seat since 1994.
Heenan, who’s never run for political office, said he’s putting plenty of miles on his car as he travels the state to meet people, talk to reporters and get his name out there.
When asked why he’s a Democrat, Heenan says he’s a “Montanan first,” and that he’s running on a platform of standing up for working Montanans, regardless of their political persuasion.
“I look at what’s going on in Congress, and I don’t see a lot of people there that are legitimately worrying first and foremost about working Americans,” he says.
Yet when it comes to most issues, Heenan strikes a Populist tone, saying policies need to stop favoring the wealthy and help people earn a decent living, such as providing affordable health care and education.
He denounces the Trump tax-cut plan for increasing the federal deficit “so we can add more money for people who are already billionaires;” he favors a Medicare-for-all health system, with taxpayer-financed coverage for everyone; he says big banks still need consumer-oriented regulation; he wants to overturn Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate money to be spent on campaigns.
Heenan grew up in the Philadelphia area and came to Montana as a teen-ager to attend the University of Montana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a law degree. He and his wife, Meagen, live in Billings with their four children.
Heenan’s law firm has won some substantial judgments in high-profile cases, including a $2 million award in 2015 for a Billings couple whose house was mistakenly foreclosed upon and sold by a division of Deutsche Bank.
It also won a $2.7 million verdict against GEICO Insurance in 2014, for a Billings woman denied insurance payments after her husband was killed in a vehicle accident.
Heenan says he understands the call for less red tape for small businesses, but that he opposes moves by Republicans to peel away regulations on big banks or other rules that protect consumers and the environment.
“I cringe that we’re now told that we need to deregulate these banks and they’ll just do the right thing on their own,” he says. “I know that to be false.”
Heenan says he plans to win the race by talking about issues and where he stands on those issues, to give people a clear choice between himself and Gianforte – should he win the nomination in the June 2018 primary election.