In Montana’s U.S. House race, Libertarian Swanson zeroes in on federal deficit

Posted at 4:41 PM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-28 13:50:52-04

This story is the third in a three-part series on candidates for Montana’s U.S. House seat

BILLINGS – Libertarian Elinor Swanson says the ballooning federal debt is what got her into the race for Montana’s only U.S. House seat – and she’s promising an immediate, personal gesture to start paying it down, if she gets elected.

Swanson is pledging to refuse $75,000 of a House member’s annual salary “as a donation to America to help pay down the federal debt,” which is about $75,000 for each and every American.

“It drives me crazy; neither party is actually fiscally responsible,” the Billings attorney told MTN News in a recent interview. “We’re going to be paying for the debt, one way or another, either in one, big crash, or slow and steady. So I would prefer the slow and steady.”

Yet Swanson, of course, is a decided long shot to actually win the election. In statewide races that have a Republican and Democratic candidate, Libertarians usually poll in the single digits.

In this race, she’s competing against Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte and Democrat Kathleen Williams.

When asked if she’s really just a spoiler, who, at most, could end up influencing the outcome in a close contest, Swanson said she’s the “only alternative” to politics as usual.

“Either you have two candidates who will not uphold the Constitution, or you have a candidate like me, that is actually committed to upholding individual liberties and the Constitution,” she said.

Swanson also isn’t sitting on her hands when it comes to campaigning. She has a campaign website and, earlier this month, embarked a statewide tour, with stops in 20-some cities and towns over a month.

Swanson, 36, said she’s been a Libertarian since law school in Portland, Oregon, but hasn’t run for office until now.

She grew up primarily in Anchorage, Alaska, and went to college in California and Colorado, where she was in medical school before deciding to change course and study law at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

Swanson and her husband, Dan, have four children. The family moved three years ago to Billings, where Swanson has a private law practice.

Swanson calls herself a “moderate Libertarian,” who believes in gradual change toward a less intrusive, more fiscally responsible government.

“I identify as a fiscally responsible Democrat, or a liberty-minded Republican – the label doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as my goals and values,” she said.

She said she supports a non-interventionist foreign policy and fewer regulations on business – but that addressing the federal deficit is her main focus.

Swanson said the GOP tax-cut bill of 2017 is a prime example of bad fiscal policy, that will greatly increase the debt.

“I don’t think we really had tax cuts; we had a tax deferral, that we’re going to be paying for one way or another,” she said. “Like however much you stimulate the economy, you have growth of 4 percent, instead of 1 percent or 2 percent, that doesn’t make up for almost $1 trillion a year annual deficit.”

If the country faces another crisis, such as an economic recession or global war, it may need to borrow money – and that becomes harder and harder to do, if the deficit isn’t addressed, she said.

Swanson said a reasonable solution would be to return to the spending and income levels of the final term of President Bill Clinton, when the budget balanced: “I mean, we weren’t suffering too much then, and we actually managed to balance the budget.”