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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jason Stuart photo

Congressional candidate makes stop in Glendive

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Congressional candidates are already lining up for the November 2018 midterm election, and one of the early entrants to the campaign made a stop in Glendive earlier this week to begin the task of trying to win voter support.

John Heenan, a Billings attorney who specializes in consumer protection and advocacy, was one of the first to throw his hat into the ring for the chance to take on incumbent Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte in next November’s midterm election. Heenan, who has never held political office before, is running as a Democrat, where he will compete in an already crowded primary field against four other Democrats seeking to take on Gianforte.

Heenan said his goal in running is to represent a segment of American society he said that both parties seem to have forgotten about.

“I’m running as a farmer and labor FDR Democrat,” Heenan said. “There’s been a war against the middle class for decades now, and I don’t see who the advocate is for the middle class anymore, and that’s why I’m running.”

He added that he was spurred to enter the race both because he was deeply disturbed by Gianforte’s assault on a reporter just prior to the May special congressional election and because he feels that too many politicians are only interested in looking out for their own interests rather than the interests of their constituents.

“I was deeply troubled by the special election. The assault on the reporter was strange and troubling to me and I think all Montanans,” Heenan said. “What I do for my job is stand up for people against bullies, and I saw a lot of behavior (from Gianforte) I didn’t like. I’m not a politician and frankly never wanted to be a politician, but I see a lot wrong with our government in the hands of these career politicians and these people who seem to be in it for themselves instead of looking out for us.”

Heenan quickly pointed to what he described as an example of that in Washington this week, as Congress voted to eliminate a federal rule which prevents major corporations from requiring wronged customers to enter into a forced arbitration agreement and waiving their right to sue the company. Both Gianforte and Montana  Sen. Steve Daines, also a Republican, voted for the measure to kill the rule.

Given his background of consumer advocacy, Heenan said he took personal affront to Gianforte and Daines’ vote to eliminate that rule, noting that some 367,000 Montanans had their identities hacked as a result of the Equifax data breach, not to mention those affected by the recent Wells Fargo scandal.

“And yet today we hear about Gianforte and Daines voting against those 367,000 Montanans (affected by the Equifax breach) and in favor of big companies like Equifax and Wells Fargo to deny people their legal recourse,” Heenan said. “There can’t be a single person in Montana who said, ‘Please Mr. Gianforte, can you protect Euifax and Wells Fargo,’ and yet this is the kind of things he’s doing. Those are my clients. I’ve spent my whole career being on the side of people who are getting ripped off.”

Heenan said the votes by Gianforte and Daines this week on that consumer protection rule are symptomatic of what he sees as the biggest issue in American politics today — the power and influence wielded by major corporations and “dark money” groups over politicians, which he said has increased drastically since the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which decided that corporations should be treated the same as individuals when it comes to donating to political campaigns.

“I think the biggest issue is all this dark money in politics that comes from this terrible Citizens United decision, and Gianforte hasn’t done anything to tackle that outsized influence of corporations,” Heenan said.

He added that he has personally “seen the playbook” for how corporations and dark money groups work to influence politicians with their money, having worked as a special deputy attorney general on the successful prosecution of former Montana legislator Art Wittich, who was convicted of violating Montana’s far more strict campaign finance laws for taking money from a dark money group.

“When we sit back and we wonder why government doesn’t work for us, I’ve seen it. It’s because it doesn’t work for us, it works for these big corporations and dark money groups,” Heenan said. “I think we’re back to the age of the Copper Kings, where a handful of very rich people are able to buy power and make sure it works for them and not for us.”

Heenan also provided some thoughts on a few other major issues.

On healthcare, Heenan said he thinks the nation’s current healthcare regime is “a very inefficient system,” again making an argument that insurance companies and big pharmaceutical companies are more interested in turning a maximum profit than they are in providing healthcare. Heenan said he’s represented dozens of people who had to declare bankruptcy due to sky-high medical bills, adding that “we shouldn’t be doing this to people” and arguing that moving to a single-payer healthcare system would not only ensure healthcare and financial security for the whole nation, but also save taxpayers a lot of money in the end.

“I’ve come out in support of a Medicare for all single-payer system. It would save taxpayers $17 trillion over 10 years,” he said.

Heenan also spoke out in defense of public lands, saying that the push from some circles to sell off Montana and the nation’s federal public lands “makes me shudder.”

“It’s right there in the Republican party platform to privatize public lands, and how these guys with a straight face can say they support our public lands is crazy to me,” he said. “As Montana’s representative, I will fight tooth and nail these efforts by billionaires to buy our public lands and fence us out. The overwhelming majority of Montanans share my view that they want to be able to hunt on public lands, they want to be able to fish on public lands and recreate and do all the things we do. Our public lands are the treasure of Montana.”

Heenan said his goal in all things would be to represent the interests of Montana’s middle class, working class people, not the interests of the wealthy or big corporations.

“I’m basically running a campaign for the people and being an advocate for working Montanans,” he said.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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