A word with Kim Gillan, MT candidate for U.S. House
This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the Montana candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives
By Taylor Anderson
Explorebigsky.com Assistant Editor
Sen. Kim Gillan, D-Billings was first elected to the Montana House in 1996. She’s been elected six times and served four terms in the Montana House and two in the Senate. She’s running for U.S. House of Representatives.
TA I think the best way to get a look at what you stand for is to look at some of the bills you sponsored from the last session. It looks like many of your drafts focused on the treatment and efficiency of health care employees in Montana. How and why did that come about?
KG While last year’s bills are important, look at what I’ve done over the last eight years. The first are things that affect economic development particularly small businesses and employees or job creation. In 2009 I was able to pass a work force training program for small businesses.
In 2011, I put in a resolution to look at the health care work force needs. While I’ve worked in health care, these last couple sessions I’ve worked in economic development and job creation.
TA You’ve hit on some hot topics as of late especially in national politics. Obviously if there was a set answer we wouldn’t be having the debate, but when you say job creation and economic development, how were you able actually do it?
KG One thing is looking at Montana’s tax policies and pushing bills that made sure we had fair and balanced tax policies for both small business and individuals, not just corporate. I have carried a business equipment targeted tax break, which focuses primarily on small businesses.
I believe in targeted, very specific tax incentives, let’s say for wind power or whatever. The bulk of taxpayers in Montana are individuals, employees, and wage and salary earners. [We need] to make sure tax policy doesn’t put burden on any group of individuals.
TA You’ve hit on another term we’ve been hearing a lot lately, especially in Montana politics, ‘fair and balanced.’ Explain how you get a fair and balanced tax plan.
KG I’m always looking at whether there is equal treatment of all taxpayers, which is in the Montana Constitution. Making sure when we give one person a tax break that we don’t shift it onto another tax group. If you give a break to a larger business that’s great, but to make up the difference you don’t want to shift the burden onto homeowners.
TA The U.S. House needs help solving tax issues right now. If elected, how would your stance on tax issues benefit the national economy?
KG There are a lot of changes proposed to the federal tax system. My perspective and understanding of Montana tax policy would be helpful, because I know the value of closing tax loopholes-- [and] there are some loopholes in the national policy. Making sure when we use tax incentives, they really target the industry group that needs them, that they don’t unfairly shift the burden onto other folks.
My understanding of tax policy will give me a good perspective. My work on trying to formulate state policy will help me with looking at federal tax proposals and how they’ll affect working families.
In our legislature we had to find common ground. I hope in the U.S. House we can find common ground where we find deficit reduction, increased revenues and increased economic activities, making sure we get rid of waste in the system, and closing tax loopholes.
TA Politicians in Washington are pretty polarized right now, to the point that there is a 9 percent approval rating of Congress. Some say the only way to fix the gridlock is to recycle the politicians during the 2012 elections. Faced with this polarization, how would you go about getting cooperation?
KG Part of it is my attitude and track record and [ability] to find a way to get people to work together. I’ve carried and passed two insurance mandates. I organized a coalition and got insurance mandates for diabetes and autism. That’s one of the skills and perspectives I bring.
In the last legislative session the House was gridlocked … [in] the session, [and] I was in charge as the whip. We knew we had to tackle issues, we figured out the four or five things we needed to do and [that] we might be able to get those done. I’ve had practical experience breaking through gridlock and getting things done.
TA One big issue, especially during this last session in Montana, is the cost of higher education. I don’t think anyone is going to line up against someone that says they are against raising costs of college, yet tuition has consistently risen in the past five years. Why?
KG This is the reason I first went to the legislation was K-12 schools. For me, education is a personal value. I also consider it key to the economy. I’m troubled that we are making affordability and access to higher education restricted.
When Congressman Rehberg said Pell grants were the equivalent of corporate welfare, that was shocking to me, because hardworking Montana families are struggling to go to college. The average debt for students leaving Montana universities is $21,000.
If the cost of public education is skyrocketing, I’ll go back to make sure that student loans and Pell grants are still available for the folks who need them to go to school. Our nation and Montana’s economic future depends on having a well-educated workforce.
TA Montana politicians in Washington carry a certain clout and have an ability to get things done. If elected, how would you work to follow the guidelines set by your predecessors?
KG In the U.S. House I’ll bring a Montana common sense. I don’t want to copy Jon [Tester] and say I’m gonna ‘Git-er done’. We need to deliver results, and that’s going to be my focus, using the skills and tools that I’ve developed in Montana Legislature.
If I’m going to be one voice in U.S. House I’m gonna be sure it’s clear and strong. That’s my track record in legislature. Find common ground. I’m going to champion Montana’s needs and concerns.
TA You’ve listed on your website that you are interested in energy development, but you have listed oil, gas, wind, other renewables. Does this reflect an ideal held that you understand there are jobs in both traditional and renewable energies?
KG Montana is blessed with energy resources. We need to develop those, particularly in the area of renewables. Bozeman just got a 67 million grant to develop clean coal tech. The wave of the future is to build upon Montana’s renewable resources. Not at the expense of traditional. We have coal resources, [and] we need to develop those in an environmentally responsible fashion.
I’m committed to advocating for expansion of Montana’s renewable energy base. In the short term there is no immediate substitute to get off of oil and coal. We’re an energy jobs state. In Washington the fed tax credits are up, and if I were there I would support those.
TA You’re from California originally. How’d your pinpoint end up on Montana?
KG I moved here in 1992 because I had traveled here on business. I had visited Montana and wanted to come here and raise my family. My two kids went all through school here. I was attracted to the family friendly values of Montana. [I] got involved in community activities and worked on Native American issues. I was raised in the Bay Area. I’m always asked, ‘How did you get to Montana?’ I always say, ‘I drove.’