HELENA — Mary Ann Dunwell is running as a Democrat for Senate District 42 which encompasses eastern Helena and East Helena. She’s running against Republican Matt Olsen.
Dunwell is an experienced legislator who represented House District 84 since 2015. She is also a retired state employee.
In an interview with MTN, Dunwell said her priorities if elected will be to work to address the housing crisis, the economy and work on bipartisan solutions.
Check out MTN’s full interview with Mary Ann Dunwell, including verbatim, below.
What is your name, party and seat you are running for?
My name is Mary Ann Dunwell. I am a Democrat. I am running for Senate District 42, which is the eastern part of the city of Helena. And a little bit north into the valley and East Helena, and into the East Valley. And the Far East Valley, North East Valley to some of it.
What is your occupation in history in the area?
Well, John, my occupation currently is state legislator. I've held this seat for eight years, representing House District 84. The similar area which I just told you about Helena, and East Helena, and I, there's still so much to do, which is why I'm running for the open Senate seat.
That goes to my next question of why did you choose to run for this seat?
For the senate district 42 seat, well, in my eight years of service in the Montana House of Representatives, we've accomplished a lot. We got Medicaid expansion passed, we got child sex abuse prosecution passed, we got our Helena and East Helena’s beautiful Heritage Center passed. And we can see evidence of that being built right now, and that will benefit all of Montana. There's still so much to do. I just came from a hometown Helena meeting and the focus was affordable housing. It is an emergency. It is a housing crisis right now, is what some of the panelists described. housing costs have gone up 40%. I'm sure people know that. rentals have gone up 35%. Wages have not gone up. I mean, nearly as much, perhaps. Two, three. I know state workers haven't even gotten a raise yet. So I am running to address the housing crisis. I'm learning to work together. You noticed I said we not one individual legislator gets anything done on their own. We have to work together, which is what I pride myself at doing working across the aisle. And I'm learning to improve people's lives. And to make sure, bottom line, we have an economy in Montana that works for each and every one of us. All Montana, it's not just special interests.
You touched on my next question. You mentioned housing already, what are two other key issues you believe needs to be addressed by the legislature in the coming session?
I don't know if I can boil it down to two key issues. Let me try. You know, one overriding issue is the ability to work together. We know we've got some extreme views. The thing is, we're all Montanans, we can find common ground as human beings. I do believe that Montana has done that in the past and we can get back to that. So civility and respect. And working together, I think is my one overwhelming goal because we can't get anything done without that. We need to work together and do good public policy to improve Montanans lives. The second thing our Montana constitution needs protecting we our Montana constitution assures us of so many rights, a right to privacy, our right to make our own health and medical decisions, our right
to vote on these candidates who choose our policies for Montana's future, our right to a clean and healthful environment and public lands.
So And along those lines, we have a right to a quality of life that the Montana constitution assures and equal opportunity. So housing fits right in that so many people in Helena It shocks me are without a roof over their head. That's not okay. You know, my sister passed away recently have Pancreatic cancer out of the blue. Yes, I'm grieving what it has done is amplify my resolve to help hardworking Montana families, make sure folks get a living wage, with good benefits with paid sick and family leave. Affordable housing, affordable child care and health care and mental health care. And an ability to go recreate on our public lands, whether you're hunt, fish, hike camp, whatever you do. We own those public lands we need to preserve them.
State leaders have indicated that there is likely more than a billion dollars in surplus possible for the state budget, where do you believe that money should go?
I believe we need to use that $1.7 billion wisely. Let's not continue to give tax breaks to wealthy out of state corporations, or out of state workers. I said on the house Tax Committee for all four sessions that I've been on, and I see the policies that actually hurt everyday Montanans. That money should go to income tax rebates for folks to help. defray increasing property taxes, it should go to property tax mitigation. So you don't pay any more in property taxes than your income can afford. This especially helps fixed income folks who I talked to all the time on the doors, I'm being priced out of my home because of rising property taxes. I think it should go to shore up our mental health programs. Our mental health system is in shambles. We've been working on it ever since I've been in the legislature. And before that, we need a continuum of services. We need to pay people who work as direct care providers more. They're living, they're leaving, they're leaving for a higher pay at fast food restaurants. These are folks who care for the folks who we can't care for. So we absolutely need Medicaid rate increases for providers who so direct care workers can be paid more. I believe some of that revenue balance must go to our state employees. They haven't had a raise. A lot of local governments have given their employees an inflationary adjustment. Montana has not that's okay. state worker. That's not okay. State workers are what makes our communities thrive. It's what community looks like. And I I think it should go to another one of my priorities to addressing the housing crisis. We need low income state tax credits for folks trying to get into homes trying to get into apartments because they can't afford them right now. With a 40% housing rate increase and a 35% rental increase. We need to help folks get roofs over their heads. We need to give increase the current tax credit we have for developers to build affordable housing. You know, 300,000 is not affordable for a lot of our Helena community. We must not consider 300,000 affordable the money will end up going back to taxpayers in amenities that serve taxpayers.
There's been a lot of discussion about elections in recent years, both nationally and here in Montana. What are your thoughts on the state of elections here in Montana?
My thoughts on the state of elections here in Montana, I think they work like a charm. There is a system and I've witnessed it at the county elections office. There is a system of checks To imbalances, double check, triple check, quadruple checks, with the mail-in ballots, coordinating the signatures with the ballot. And the envelope. Board of Elections, the elections office has invited legislators to witness the process from throughout the election season, which I have done a couple of times. Those machines are so secure. They're not connected to the internet. I saw with my own eyes, we have the best election system ever. And the best elections workers ever the best elections, temporary workers who work just during election season. And so a shout out to our elections office and the way they handle our ability to cast our vote are fundamental rights in a democracy.
Is there anything else you want to say that we haven't covered so far?
Thank you, John, thank you for the opportunity to speak to folks. I want to thank Helenans and East Helenans for the confidence they've had in my ability to lead and serve and use my judgment to make public policy decisions. You know, I tell folks as I talk to them on the doors, I've talked to 1000s of people now since well, in my eight years, and a lot since January, when I've been out knocking doors. And what I tell folks, you know, I don't care what your political stripe is, we're all Montanans, and, you know, nobody's going to agree on everything. We're gonna agree on some things, though. You know, and a lot of times, it's the things we really care about the kitchen table things, good schools, good jobs, good pay. good pay, so folks don't have to work two or three jobs so they can enjoy their families. You know, like I said, my sister's passing has really underscored my resolve to help hardworking Montana in kitchen table issues. So we have an economy that works for everyone.