HELENA — Jill Cohenour is running as a Democrat for Montana’s House District 84 which encompasses East Helena and southeastern Helena. She is running against Republican Kaitlyn Ruch.
An experienced legislator, Cohenour most recently represented Senate District 42 and served as minority leader in the state Senate. An East Helena area resident, she has worked as a chemist at the Montana State Environmental Lab for three decades.
Cohenour says the top issues she’d like the Montana Legislature to address are property taxes, education and stable child care.
Check out MTN's full interview, including verbatim, with Jill Cohenour below.
What is your name, party and seat you are running for?
Hi, I'm Jill Cohenour, C-O-H-E-N-O-U-R, and I'm a Democrat running for House District 84.
What is your occupation and history in the area?
So I'm a chemist at the Montana State Environmental Lab, a public employee, already 30 years in that job. And so I've lived in this area for, I would say, 28 years. So I'm definitely a part of the local community.
Why did you choose to run for this seat?
Well, as you know, I'm the Minority Leader in the Senate. And I've done eight years in the House already and eight years in the Senate. And you can do eight years in any 16 years for either house. So I want to go back to the House and use my experience to help make good policy for Montanans.
What are three key issues you need you believe need to be addressed by the next Montana legislature?
Oh, I definitely think that property taxes are an issue for most Montanans, I hear about that, at the doors almost all the time. People are very concerned about what their property taxes are. And I think we can do a good job, there's a lot of money available to actually put some money into a program that will help those that need it the most. What I'm hoping for is the circuit breaker, that will actually help the lowest-income folks, both homeowners and renters, which is something that we need to address.
Secondarily, I think our, we need to make sure we have an educated workforce. So education is a top priority for me, we don't have enough teachers in the classrooms, especially in our rural areas. So we need to get that teacher pay up so that we can get folks that can educate our kids across the state of Montana. Well, with that educated workforce, the next thing we need is some stable childcare, and some affordable and accessible housing.
Those two things and the next high priority on my list, because I think that's what Montanans are most concerned about is having stable childcare so that they can go to work and know that their kids are safe.
State leaders have indicated there will likely be over a billion dollar surplus possible for the state budget, where do you think that money should go?
Well, I talked about education, I think that we need to get that teacher pay up across the state, one of the things we could do is start a statewide health insurance pool that could take all of the teachers in the state of Montana and put them into the same pool, which will save money both for the state for those local governments and educational folks. And for the teachers themselves. If we can help them, then we can hire and we can get folks out on the ground. So there's one good investment. Secondarily, I think we have to address property taxes. So we can start programs that will help the most needy in the state of Montana, and those that need it the most. So I think that's another place that we need to invest. And third, I think we have to deal with childcare issues and affordable housing. One of the things that we could do as a state is start an affordable housing trust fund, that would allow for us to pull down additional federal funds, that would get some of these affordable housing projects off the ground in the state of Montana. There's 9% money and 4% money that's available at the federal level. A lot of folks that are developing affordable housing are using the 9% money, they can make that pencil out. So if we can take the 4% of money and add 5% state money to that, then we'd have a lot more money that we could put on the ground and communities across the state of Montana.
Since 2020, elections and how we operate elections have become a political talking point and a political conversation. What are your thoughts on the state of elections here in Montana?
I think that our local elections, folks do a great job. They are committed to the work that they do. They're committed to having a free and fair election for all Montanans. So if we have any issues that they want to bring forward, I think that's where we need to start is reaching out to those local folks that put elections on every single year and several times a year. And they are the most intelligent experienced folks on that if they bring issues to us that we need to deal with in the legislature. That's where it should come from. It shouldn't be top-down, telling them what they need to do. But I think we have free and fair elections in the state of Montana that's been shown over the years. There's not fraud, there's not any of the things that people have been saying or going on. It's really those local folks putting on a great election for those of us that run.
Is there anything else you want to say that we haven't covered so far?
I think I pretty much got through it all. I just want to thank the voters. I think the voters in our district are smart, they're savvy, they're experienced and I hope that they'll reach out to me if they have questions and I hope that they'll vote for me.