HELENA — Democratic U.S. House candidate John Lewis said he is someone focused on finding solutions and is willing to work with people from both sides to get the job done.
“I have experience helping people from all over the state,” Lewis said. “It’s not about running against someone. I’m a young dad with two young children, ages 8 and 6. I’m concerned about our children’s future. I think I bring that unique perspective.”
Lewis, 36, worked on the staff of former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for 12 years, including as his state director from 2010 until August 2013.
He and former Public Service Commissioner John Driscoll, also of Helena, are running for the Democratic nomination for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, which is open because its current occupant, Republican Steve Daines, is running for the U.S. Senate.
Lewis and Driscoll, who square off in the June 3 primary, are trying to become the first Democrat to win the seat since 1994. Five Republicans also are in the race, as is one Libertarian.
If elected, Lewis said he would like to serve on the House Education and Workforce Committee to help reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education acts for the first time in 13 years.
“The world has changed dramatically in 13 years,” he said.
Lewis said he also would fight to get on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee because the current highway funding bill is responsible for 13,000 jobs in Montana.
Another top priority for Lewis would be to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees broadband.
“Less than 10 percent of communities in Indian Country nationally have access to broadband, while 70 percent of non-Indian areas have broadband,” he said. “It seems to me that we need to bridge that digital group.”
As for the federal budget, Lewis said members of Congress shouldn’t receive a pay raise until they balance the budget.
Families, communities, small businesses and local governments all balance their budgets, he said, and there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t as well, provided it isn’t on the backs of working families and the elderly.
Lewis called for a budget that cuts wasteful spending.
The federal government owns 80,000 unused buildings that should be sold, Lewis said, and he questioned the government’s need for a fleet of 600,000 vehicles. He also said Congress should close some military bases in Europe.
Yet he criticized the budget-cutting plan from Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan that passed the House last week, saying it changes Medicare to a voucher system.
It also would put “a big target on rural America” by eliminating Saturday mail delivery and phasing out Essential Air Service subsidies, he said.
Here is where Lewis stands on some other issues:
— Social Security and Medicare: If elected, Lewis said one of his top priorities is to find ways to make Social Security and Medicare solvent in the future because so many Montanans rely on the two programs. He said he doesn’t have specific proposals yet, but called for rooting out Medicare fraud and waste.
— Federal tax reform: Lewis said Congress needs to simplify the tax code, which contains hundreds of deductions, exemptions and benefits.
“We need to have a discussion about what works, what doesn’t, what’s useful and simplify the code,” he said.
— Health care: Lewis called for improving the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” instead of repealing the 2010 law overhauling health care.
“The rollout was disappointing, but thousands of Montanans are benefiting from this,” he said. “Instead of going back to that time when women were charged more than men (for health insurance) and kids could be kicked off, let’s find a way to improve it.”
— Keystone XL Pipeline. Lewis favors construction of the pipeline, but wants guarantees the project will be built and operated using American workers and using the best American procedures.
He also wants an emergency-response plan in place in case of an oil spill from the pipeline. Lewis called for landowner protection so farmers and ranchers don’t lose the value of their property when the pipeline is built.
— Minimum wage. Lewis said he supports President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the current rate of $7.25.
“In Montana, women make 69 cents for every $1 a man makes,” he said. “Nationally, it’s 76-77 cents. Two-thirds of all people on the minimum wage are women. It’s time to raise the minimum wage.”
— Campaign finance. Lewis said he supports a federal constitutional amendment that would overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.
“I think most Montanans would agree there is too much money in politics,” Lewis said.
— Immigration. Lewis said Congress needs to take steps to strengthen the U.S. southern border because of the estimated 11 million undocumented workers here.
“This is an issue that will take leadership and tough decisions from both sides to solve it and fix our immigration system without hurting, for instance, the children of those that are here illegally, punishing them.”
Coming next week: Stories on the five Republican candidates for the U.S. House will run from April 21-25.