HELENA — Mary Caferro is running as a Democrat for Montana’s House District 82, which encompasses central Helena and the Helena Valley. She is running against Republican Alden Tonkay.
Caferro is a direct care worker for individuals who have disabilities and a current legislator in the Helena area, elected to HD 81. Experienced in Helena politics, she was first elected to the Montana Legislature in 2004 to represent House District 80 and held the seat until 2011. She represented Senate District 41 from 2011 to 2019.
In an interview with MTN, Caferro said she wants the next Legislature to address housing, childcare, and mental health services in the state.
Check out MTN’s full interview with Mary Caferro, including verbatim, below.
What is your name, party and seat you are running for?
My name is Representative Mary Caferro and I'm running for House District 82, and I'm a Democrat.
What is your occupation and history in the area?
I work as a direct care worker with people who have disabilities. And I also work at the Democratic Party as the print media coordinator. I have lived in Helena since 1984. I am most proud of my four children that are raised as a single mother struggling. And I'm very proud to say that all four of them now have college degrees and grew up to be very kind people. That's my most important job parenting.
Why did you choose to run for the seat?
I ran for office first in 2004. And the reason I ran for office in 2004, was because I care about people and I love helping people. That's why I ran in the first place. And that's why I'm running again, all of these years later.
What are three key issues you believe need to be addressed by the next session of the Montana Legislature?
Well, my hope is, and this is my hope is that when we get to the legislature, that the legislators will focus on three key issues, plus a lot more. One is housing. Two is childcare. Three is mental health services. And then of course, property tax relief and other issues as they come up. That is, my hope is that there will be a group of legislators working majority which we've had in the past accomplished a great deal, a working majority who go to the legislature for two reasons, one, to solve problems and to represent their constituents. It is my hope that there is not a bunch of shenanigans that go on and distractions that are put forward, like rearranging the judicial system, ideological bills that have nothing to do with the struggles that everyday Montanans are experiencing. And to that end, the Democrats have a plan to invest the nearly 2 billion we will start the session with, we have nearly 2 billion sitting around its taxpayers' money, and we need to invest that money in Montanans to solve some of the problems I already discussed. For example, housing in Montana. Housing has become unaffordable as nearly everybody knows. And we can start with how housing impacts the workforce. So I know of for nurses who are ready to move to Montana to go to work, we have workforce shortages and health care. And what happened is all four nurses could not find housing so they could not come here and work so that the lack of affordable housing, the lack of workforce housing has impacted our businesses and our health care system overall. And I want to tell you a story about what I heard on the doors. On the doors means going door to door hearing from voters as a part of campaigning, and it's one of my most favorite things to do. So it's two sides of the same coin.
First, a woman comes to the door who is in her 80s, a retired nurse, she tells me that for the first time in her life, she is concerned she will be on the streets without a home. And the reason being, her rent is going up 30%. And she already pays $1,000 a month and simply cannot afford it. That is a story that is not uncommon. Someone who has worked their whole life is now on a fixed income and facing being homeless. The other side of the coin, and I am very grateful for the folks in Helena who have worked very hard to increase the supply of affordable housing in the past and continue to do so. So the other side of that coin is I also I didn't meet these folks, for the first time I've known them since I first ran for office. It's a couple. They live in housing that was developed by a collaboration of Helenans that came together as I said, to solve a problem. And I asked them, they live in affordable housing that targets people that are on fixed income, low income. I asked them how they're doing. And you know, the first thing they said, they said, We are so happy still where we live, and they are going to have to cart us out of here. We have safe housing, we're secure, and it's affordable. Those are two different situations we can solve that problem. We can solve the problem of housing, we can increase the supply by investing in rentals and homeownership and that's one of the key pieces and one of the key problems, but one of the key pieces of the Democrat plan. Second is childcare. We have huge childcare shortages. As a matter of fact, businesses reported that 30% of businesses reported that the lack of childcare is stopping them from growing their business. I've also heard on the doors from people who not only are not business owners who are not only not able to grow their business because of lack of childcare, but they've had to reduce their businesses, their business. And so what we have is child care affects all all across the board businesses, and it is a main contributor to workforce shortages. So here's the deal. The second part of our plan invests in childcare, startup loans, and supports for childcare businesses that already exist. What I'll say is that childcare is the cornerstone of our economy. But not only that, it is important and most important to children that they have a place to go, where there's quality childcare, and they are safe, and then provide security for the workforce to appearance. So the second piece of the plan is, is childcare to invest some of that $2 billion in housing and childcare and And last one, I'll say, again, Helenans have worked very hard to solve the problem of mental illness and suicide. We currently have the crisis center, Journey Home sitting empty. We currently have school-based services that have had to be reduced for children who have disabilities, specifically targeting children who have disabilities, and need that extra support to be successful in school. We have in Montana, a veteran suicide rate that is twice the national average. These are very serious problems. And that's the third piece of our plan that invests in a problem and tries to solve it. What we need to do is invest in workforce, as I said earlier, invest in providers to make sure that we can do better by our people better by our veterans, and keep people in their community safe. Again, I want to point to something I'm grateful for just like housing development, affordable housing development in Helena. I'm very grateful to the public school system in Helena. Why, because the services and the supports for children who have disabilities, known as CSCT, was almost eliminated in the last session, and a lot of hoops and red tape were put up. But the school district in Helena said, we're going to figure this out, even though it was a risk a huge financial risk. The school district in Helena said we are going to figure this out, we are going to continue to provide those essential services so that all children can succeed and learn.
I also want to thank the state workers who work very hard to collaborate with the school districts and families and teachers to make sure that children in Helena have the services they need. So those are three of the key pieces of the Democrat plan. Again, we have $2 billion sitting around, we need to invest the hard earned taxpayer money back in Montana. And then last, of course, very important property tax relief.
You already addressed my next question, which is specifically about the surplus, so we'll move on now. The state of elections and election integrity has become a discussion point in politics over the last few election cycles. What are your thoughts on the state of elections here in Montana?
I go back to I grew up I was born and raised in Whitefish, as was my dad, and I grew up in an Italian neighborhood of working-class folks. My grandpa and all of his brothers, my dad and his brothers, my cousins, they all worked on the railroad. They worked as loggers, and they worked at the aluminum plant. That's how I grew up. You know what we did? We volunteered for the election system. I think of the poll workers who worked. Oh, gosh, they started like at six in the morning to set up and they didn't finish till after midnight. Those folks that did that tough work and volunteered or narrowly volunteered. They are they were my aunts, my mom, my cousins, me. Have you looked at who works at the polls? It is nothing but honest people who would have no more any reason to let alone the morals to cheat the system. In Montana, we have a good strong election system.
Is there anything else you want to say or let voters know that we haven't covered so far?
Sure. There's two things. One is that I want to leave people with hope. And this is a real clear example. Helen Ann's have come together have collaborated from all walks of life, to put together systems and supports that are in the best interest of all parts of Montana, that is affordable housing for people on fixed income, low income, workforce, housing, system, crisis system, and mental health system, and child care. Those are three things that are problems. And I've seen Helen ins work very hard to address those issues. So as I said, it's my hope that when we get to the legislature, the same type of collaborative spirit, will happen. I've seen it in the past, the immediate past 2019, there were a group of legislators who rolled up their sleeves and got to work to solve problems and represent the folks back home. And that working majority was made up of Democrats and common-sense Republicans. When we do that, we solve a lot of problems. One really good example is Medicaid expansion. So the health, the uninsured rate in Montana was cut in half 20%, down to 10%. From 2016 to 2020, to 2020. How was that done collaboration to get that passed, recognizing that this would healthcare access to health care is so important for our health care system for our employers. But most importantly, for the people that work every day, that it was a really, really good example of what happens when we roll up our sleeves and get the work done. There are the majority of people at the legislature. They are there for the right reasons. There are a few people that want to distract us from what our folks need. But for the most part, there is a really strong working majority that are, do the work based on relationships and the needs of the folks back home. Then I also wanted to make it clear that I talked about some really high-level issues. What I've done, as I said in the beginning and why I ran was because I care about people and I want to help people. And then my stick has been and will continue to be on the Budget Committee. And I'm very, very, very honored and thankful to be able to be on the subcommittee of Health and Human Services. I believe in really strong good targeted focused job training. And I believe that when individuals who are currently struggling as I did, and as my family did when I was a single parent, and still do in part today, that when we invest in people with good job training and good education and the support they need. When we focus on our senior citizens and our veterans and our children, then we have a better state. That's my stick. And I'm very, very lucky to be there. And I'm honored and grateful that you were willing to take the time to interview us so that voters can get an idea of what we're like. And I am very honored that voters continue. And I hope again in 2022 to send me back to Helena.