HELENA — State Sen. Kim Gillan, D-Billings, on Tuesday jumped into the race for Montana's open U.S. House seat in 2012, saying she want to take her bipartisan problem-solving leadership skills to Congress to deliver results for Montana.
"Montana only has one voice in the House of Representatives and we need to make sure this voice is clear, responsible and loud for Montana families," Gillan said in an interview. "I have been a practical problem-solver during the Legislature and in the community. I have achieved some real results by working with Democrats and Republicans."
Gillan, 59, has served in the Legislature for 14 years, including stints as House minority leader in 2001 and as Senate minority whip in 2009 and 2011. She works as workforce development and training coordinator at Montana State University Billings, helping devise vocational training for women at the Montana Women's Prison.
Born in California, Gillan is the daughter of a father who was a house painter and a mother who was a book binder. She has lived in Billings since 1992 but previously worked as a consultant to help the Fort Peck Indian Tribe with economic development, along with a number of other tribes nationally.
She becomes the fifth candidate to enter the race for the House seat being vacated by six-term U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who's giving up the House seat in 2012 to challenge U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Besides Gillan, others in the race are Republicans Steve Daines, a Bozeman businessman, and John Abarr of Great Falls, a night auditor for a hotel who once worked as a Ku Klux Klan organizer, and two other Democrats: Rep. Franke Wilmer of Bozeman, a Montana State University professor, and Missoula City Council member Dave Strohmaier, a historian for a consulting firm.
Gillan said U.S. Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Tester are doing a great job, but said, "I think we need another voice like that in House of Representatives who will put forth solutions instead of just saying no."
If elected, Gillan said she will continue to focus on jobs and growing the economy.
"Everyone is concerned about the debt situation," she said. "One sure way to deal with the debt is to get the economy growing faster and creating jobs."
Concerning the federal budget, Gillan said she's always been a fiscally responsible state legislator and would continue to be at the federal level.
"If I see waste, let's go after it," she said. "We need to be smart spenders."
One of her bills that passed required the state motor pool to start purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The candidate said she would fight to protect Social Security and Medicare because Montana has so many seniors, and that percentage is slated to grow by even more.
The Billings lawmaker said she also will advocate for services for military veterans who return home. Montana has one of the highest percentages of all the states of people who join the military, she said.
Gillan said she will fight for small business, which make up nearly all of the companies in Montana. She doesn't believe Washington really understands small business. As a legislator, Gillan said she has been an advocate for these smaller companies and pushed for lower taxes for small business.
Another issue of interest to Gillan is education. She got her start in politics with the PTA in the Billings Heights and helped lead an effort by selling gift wrap and buying computers for students at a school there.
Despite being in the minority in much of her legislative career, Gillan said she has passed a number of significant bills.
It took four tries, but she passed a law implementing a graduated driver's licensing system for young drivers. Another successful bill required blood-alcohol testing of both drivers after wrecks.
"I've always focused my efforts on jobs and making sure we have a fair tax system and we don't just shift the burden on the middle class," Gillan said.
Gillan said she's proud of bills she was able to pass that require health insurance coverage to cover autism and diabetes.