This week we are airing conversations with some of the candidates running for Montana governor as the Jun. 2 primary approaches.
Missoula based businesswoman Whitney Williams grew up in Montana and returned to the state with her company williamsworks three years ago. She spoke with YPR New’s Jess Sheldahl earlier in the month about what brought her back to Montana, medicaid expansion, and campaign fundraising.
SHELDAHL: While your parents Pat and Carol Williams have a long history in Montana politics, this is your first campaign for public office. Can you tell us more about your background and what brought you back to the state?
WILLIAMS: I'm a really proud Montanan. I grew up in Helena and then explored the world. I did some really extraordinary work through my company, which is a company I set up almost 20 years ago that works alongside Fortune 500 companies and private citizens to tackle really tough problems in communities here at home and across the globe where people are struggling.
And I am really delighted to be running for governor. It is not something I expected I would be doing. But about a year ago, I really started thinking about my state, the state that I love and thought that, "You know, we've got real challenges."
SHELDAHL: I wanted to ask you about your stance on one of the big health care debates in the state in recent years: Medicaid expansion. Do you support Medicaid expansion? And how would you work to improve access to health care for Montanans as governor?
WILLIAMS: We certainly need to continue that. There is a sunset provision in Medicaid expansion in 2025. And I believe that we need to move with urgency to start negotiating to make sure that there is no sunset. You know and further, I think we need to do more. I think we need to do everything we can to support, you know, hospitals, including our rural hospitals.
And in terms of the health care space, we have been very focused on looking at every pathway to making sure that we bring down the high cost of prescription drugs. And that's a big part of why I'm in this race. I think we can negotiate drug prices. I think we can make sure that we work with other states who are coming up with innovations around how they're going to bring the cost of prescriptions down. I think we can look at reimportation and I think we should look at price transparency. And ultimately, if we've got to take him to court for price gouging, we should take big pharma to court.
SHELDAHL: The Trump and Bullock administrations have both put forward efforts to combat the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people. How would your administration take up this issue?
WILLIAMS: You know, I have worked on these issues around sex trafficking of girls in the United States over the years, bringing technology companies and law enforcement together with nonprofits to develop actual tools that are at work now in Montana to make sure that we can find those those kids and people faster. And I think that there are ways that we can collaborate more with law enforcement, technology companies at the state level.
SHELDAHL: When you announced your candidacy last October, your high fundraising numbers gave your campaign great momentum going into the race. Since then, some have criticized the amount of donations coming from out of state donors. How do you respond to this critique?
WILLIAMS: We're really proud that over 60 percent of our contributions are, in fact, from Montanans. And also, we're really proud of the contributions that have come in from across the country, from job creators, trading partners, people who I know and people who believe I will make a great executive. So we're proudly taking contributions from people all across the country and the reality is we expect to be running against the single wealthiest member of the United States Congress. And so we're not going to disarm against someone who can self-fund and as we see is self-funding now.
SHELDAHL: What would you say to some people who look at your connections with Hillary Clinton and other high profile progressive Democrats as somewhat un-Montanan?
WILLIAMS: I had the remarkable opportunity to work in the administration in the '90s that many of your listeners will remember used to balance budgets and pay down the federal debt, something that seems so far away from where we are today. I'm really proud of that work. I wouldn't change it for anything. And I'm delighted to bring friends and relationships into this state in any way we can to help me move Montana into the future.
SHELDAHL: You've consistently cast yourself as a candidate who can provide a fresh perspective to Montana politics. What makes you different from your competitors?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, well, I mean, centrally, I'm a business person. I am someone who's, you know, created jobs. I think having a business minded approach and someone who cares deeply about people, particularly people who are struggling and is willing to sort of roll up her sleeves as governor to do what I do in my business. Which is make sure that we put people first, make sure that we problem solve around any issue that comes our way and that we move with urgency to do it. And I think in this case, in the primary, there's a there's a big difference between someone who's sort of a new generation of leader and my friend Mike, who's been on ballots in Montana for four decades.