HELENA — Laura Smith is a Democrat running for Montana’s House District 79, which encompasses the west side of Helena and Helena Valley. She is running against Republican Keith Pigman.
Smith is a Helena lawyer who previously worked at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Montana. She also recently worked as the deputy director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services under the Bullock administration.
Some of the key issues Smith would like to see addressed by the next Montana Legislature include affordable housing, affordable child care and bipartisan cooperation.
Check out MTN's full interview, including verbatim, with Laura Smith below.
What is your name, party and seat you are running for?
My name is Laura Smith, I'm a member of the Democrat Party, and I'm running for HD 79.
What is your occupation and history in the area?
Yes, thanks for asking. I'm an attorney. I live here in the district with my husband, Mac, who is also an attorney. We've got two kids, two girls, and we live with our very fierce hunting dog Smoochie. I started off as a federal prosecutor here in Montana. So I prosecuted violent crime, drug offenses, fraud, you name it. And I spent some time thinking about the work that I was doing there. And one of the things that really stood out was the amount of abuse that happened to kids, regardless of who was involved in the crime. And so I thought about how I could start impacting the system upstream. And so I had the opportunity to serve as the deputy director of DPHHS, where I really worked on building initiatives that support families, so everything from policies that increase the quality and affordability of child care, to ensuring that we have services available for parents who are struggling with substance abuse disorders. And so that's sort of been the journey of my professional life, which is really focusing on issues that impact kids and families here in Montana.
Why did you choose to run for the legislature?
So I have two reasons. And they are both under four feet tall. They are my daughters. So I am very concerned about the direction that Montana is headed. I'm concerned about their ability to live here to afford housing, the cost of living. I am concerned about their privacy rights under the Montana constitution, I'm concerned about their ability to access public lands, which includes stream access. And so and I don't think I'm alone in that. I think there are many parents and many individuals in our district that I've talked to, that agree that they are concerned about the direction that they're seeing things go, and I feel an obligation, with my experience and my skill set to contribute. And so I decided to run, I've knocked hundreds of doors and talk to all of our neighbors, because representing them and their issues is the most important thing to me.
What are three key issues you believe needs to be addressed by the next Montana legislature?
There are many. So I'll name the top three. I think that the first is affordability, I think that includes affordable housing and affordable childcare, I cannot tell you how many folks from various parties, I've talked to individuals on across the entire spectrum. And affordability is important to people. And that's affordable housing, affordable childcare, and frankly, just the cost of everyday living, I think we've got to take a really hard look at those things. And then I think the last thing is really I'll tell you this, so talking to a lot of our neighbors, and it doesn't matter what letter is behind their name. They want civility, and they want professionalism out of their government and out of their legislators. And that is a priority for me when I was at DPHHS. I advocate in three different legislative sessions, and really worked across the aisle with Republicans and Democrats in a civil and diplomatic way. And we need and I'm not just talking about myself. We need those skills in the legislature. This work is complicated. We've got to prioritize common-sense legislation, and our constituents deserve that out of us.
State leaders have indicated that there is approximately a billion dollar, if not more, surplus possible for the state budget. Where do you think that money should go?
I think there are a few key places I would start with investments in affordable housing. And I would also make investments in property tax relief, recommend making investments in property tax relief, I also think we have an obligation to address two of the key issues that are really facing our state, which are mental health and child care. So there was data that came out in 2020. That indicated that 60% of surveyed businesses said that finding affordable childcare has been a struggle for their employees. So childcare is not just an issue for the families. As we know I have talked about it with friends of mine on the playground every Saturday. It's real. It's not just an issue for families. It's an issue for businesses, when they can't find employees and they can't keep employees due to child care. It impacts our businesses and impacts our economy.
What are your thoughts on the state of elections in Montana?
Probably have two thoughts. The first is based on conversations that I've had with individuals across our district. And that is people are tired of the toxic political environment, and they're tired of extremism. And so one of the things that I bring to this district is a sense of civility and diplomacy. The issues that we're dealing with in Montana, are too important not to focus on I think there's a lot of noise, a lot of noise out there. And so I think we have to focus on what our constituents need. And I've done that it's the reason I've knocked doors, rain or shine, and I'm talking rain or shine. Because our constituents deserve the best out of us as legislators. And then the second thing that I would say is about the state of our elections is there's a lot on the line this election, our values in Montana are on the line. And so I would encourage people who have been discouraged by politics in the past, if you like a candidate, if you believe in what they're saying, I would encourage them to vote.
Is there anything else you want to say that we haven't covered so far, or that you think voters should know?
Yeah, I live in HD 79. I care about our community, I have worked hard to ensure that I am reaching out to folks across the spectrum, not just people who agree to me, agree with me. And I really want to ensure that I'm representing constituents and I'm staying focused on the issues that matter to people in our neighborhoods.