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Billings West High Students Welcome Congressional Candidate Kathleen Williams

Jackie Yamanaka

Five Democrats are vying to take on Freshman Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte on the November general election ballot, but first they must advance through the Democratic primary in June.

One of those Democrats is Kathleen William. She visited recently with students, some of whom are voters, at Billings West High School.

“So thank you all for coming,” said student Allison Johnson greeting the dozen students who settled into their chairs. Some started eating as part of this “Lunch and Learn"  sponsored by the Democratic Club. “This is congressional candidate Kathleen Williams. She is running for (U.S. Rep. Greg) Gianforte’s seat,” said Johnson turning to Kathleen Williams. “Thank you for coming.”

“Thank you for the invitation,” said Williams. “It’s great to be back in high school.”

Williams told the group she would talk about her background, why she’s running for the U.S. House, and that she had some questions for the high school students.

The former three-term legislator from Bozeman is also the associate director at the Western Landowner Alliance working on water and policy issues. She said that experience of working across the aisle and with urban and rural interests shows she can find win-win solutions in Congress, “That sort of civil dialogue, process, integrity, statesmanship, making Congress work again for all of us and to serve us.”

Then she asked the dozen students what kind of world they would like to see.

“I would like to see more movement towards equality for women as in parental leave,” said one young woman.

A young man added, “Maybe if we could acknowledge that there are problems then from then on we can just work to sort of fix ‘em.”

“I wish more people would get involved,” said a young woman. “Take things seriously instead of joking about it like on social media or with their friends and family. Do something about it.”

“Well you guys are doing something about it by being here and learning about a candidate,” responded Williams.

Then she asked who was eligible to vote. Only 2 of the students in the room raised their hands. They added they voted in Billings mayoral election.

Allison Johnson, the group’s president, founded the group at the start of the year even though she said she is too young to vote in the 2018 election.

Credit Jackie Yamanaka
Allison Johnson addresses the crowd gathered at the 2018 Women's March in Billings as co-organizer, state Senator Jen Gross of Billings looks on.

“I believe in human rights,” Johnson says. “I would like to see changes for improving what we’re doing with global warming. And I’d like to see less of a wealth disparity in our country.” She recently was one of the invited speakers at the Women’s March in Billings.

When asked if she is backing any particular Congressional candidate, at this point, Johnson says “No.” Adding she’d like to see the candidates, and as a 16 year old she is too young to vote, but is interested in politics.

This “lunch and learn” sponsored by the BWHS Democratic Club was held in English teacher Steve Maccartney’s classroom. He’s also the faculty sponsor of the club. Maccartney says all students, regardless of political party persuasion, are welcome to attend.

“Our president, Allison Johnson, has made it pretty clear to people that have come to meetings that she’s open to anybody coming to the club to have dialogue and discussion and to be more about political activism,” says Maccartney. “And it’s called the Democratic club because that’s what she wanted to call it. There isn’t currently a Republican club but there is no reason why there couldn’t be or any reason why somebody affiliated with that side of the aisle couldn’t be affiliated with our club too.”

Democratic U.S. House Candidate Kathleen Williams’ campaign schedule in Billings also included a visit to the Charter Ranch, attend a YWCA Reception, and a meet and greet at a local brewery.

Williams, Billings attorney John Heenan, former Billings legislator Lynda Moss, and former Bitter Root Land Trust Executive Director Grant Kier have all officially filed for the June primary ballot as of  February 19, 2018. Attorney Jared Pettinatohas declared his candidacy but has not yet paid his filing fee. The deadline to file is March 12, 2018.

Editor's note:  This is part of an occasional series as the 2018 candidates make their schedules known to YPR.