HELENA — A Whitefish businesswoman and political newcomer in Montana became the fifth Democrat to jump into the race for Montana’s open congressional seat Thursday, saying she can bring an entrepreneur’s perspective to policies that create jobs.
“I think that Congress is where the need is right now for businesspeople who know how to generate jobs and economic development,” Diane Smith said in an interview. “I’ve spent a career being part of companies that created jobs.”
Smith, 52, has never run for political office and moved to Montana in 2002 from the Washington, D.C., area.
She joins four other Democrats vying for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, which is being vacated in 2012 by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. Rehberg is challenging U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in next year’s election.
The other Democrats in the race are state Sen. Kim Gillan of Billings, state Rep. Franke Wilmer of Bozeman, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier and Helena attorney Rob Stutz.
The only Republican in the contest is Bozeman business executive Steve Daines.
Smith said she is in the process of putting together a campaign organization, including fundraising.
“I think running a campaign is a little bit like starting a start-up company,” she said. “You hire good people, put together a talented team and then execute your business plan.”
Smith co-founded Avail-TVN in Kalispell in 2004, a digital-video firm that provides video-on-demand services. She left the company in 2008 when it merged with another firm. It now employs more than 100 people, Smith said.
Smith grew up in northern Virginia and has a bachelor’s degree and law degree from George Mason University in Washington, D.C. Before moving to Montana, she worked in the D.C. area as a senior vice president for Alltel, the wireless telephone company.
Smith works now as a consultant, is a guest lecturer at the University of Montana School of Business, and recently wrote a book, “TheNewRural.com,” about the role of technology in rural development.
She lives in Whitefish with her husband, David Pickeral, and their 17-year-old daughter.
Smith said the federal government if focusing too much on “paperwork and mandates that stop people from being innovative,” and that she’d like to push for policies that would unleash entrepreneurship and small business development.
For example, bank regulations can discourage local lenders from making loans to some higher-risk businesses that could pay off well for the local economy, she said.