The Billings Outpost

Gillan says she’ll put people first

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

“Who’s Kim Gillan?” people ask. She’s the Democratic candidate for Montana’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ms. Gillan has already served Montanans for 16 years in the state Legislature, first as a representative, and then as a senator.

But who is Kim Gillan, really? Like all women, she has many roles. Daughter of hardworking immigrants who made it through the Great Depression. Sister, the third daughter in an all-girl family. College graduate with a master’s degree in regional planning from Cornell. Small business for over 16 years. Work force development consultant at Montana State University Billings. And most important to her, she’s the single mom of “two great kids,” Claire and Henry, now adults.

It was her fund-raising work with the Alkali Creek Elementary PTA that eventually connected her to politics.

“We were doing all kinds of fund raisers to buy extra equipment,” she said. “I decided to run for the state Legislature as an advocate for adequate and sustainable schools.”

That decision was the springboard to eight terms in the Montana Legislature, first in the House, then in the Senate.

In her years in Helena, Ms. Gillan said, she worked for all Montanans, not just her constituents.

Her proudest achievement: a bill requiring health insurance companies to cover those with diabetes and autism. It all started with a request for help from the parents and grandparents of autistic children to get their kids covered. The large national insurance companies, “the biggies,” responded that the lack of coverage was just “a coding problem.”

No code in the system for autism? A convenient loophole. Sen. Gillan went to work.

“I try to put people before politics and win with info,” she said. “We got support from both Democrats and Republicans. And it wasn’t a case of no insurance. These people had insurance. One single working mom with health insurance was ready to quit her job to get help for her autistic daughter. That resonated with hardworking Montanans. You should get what you pay for.”

It took five hearings and all of the 2009 session to get the law passed. “Afterwards, the same insurance companies that fought us tooth and nail congratulated us and said we’d ended up with a good bill.”

Sen. Gillan, a former entrepreneur herself, has several ideas to promote Montana small businesses. First on her list is access to capital. Unless you have a rich father, you need start-up money.

After that, she would advocate for fair tax treatment. The first year is the most critical. Accelerating depreciation of equipment at the beginning of a company’s life would lower the tax burden.

Another boost would be an export option. “I also think that we need to go over the Small Business Administration and keep those parts that work and get rid of those that don’t.”

“We also need to protect the Big Sky Economic Development Corp.,” she said. Most services are free and include business plan consulting, financial analysis, marketing, selling goods and much more. She would also like to see more work force development initiatives. They should be time-limited and targeted to train workers to fit jobs that are actually available.

“I also have a solid track record as an advocate for women and families. I worked for the CHIP and also for all-day kindergarten.”

Right now, in Montana, 21.4 percent of Montana’s children live in poverty. Even with the worst recession since the 1930s, 75 percent of their parents work.

“I want to be a voice at the table for everyone,” Ms. Gillan said.

Kim Gillan also advocates for women’s rights and women’s health issues. “I support fair play with equal pay, and the Fair Pay Act.” (The Fair Pay Act amended the Equal Rights Law of 1964 and was signed into law on Jan. 29, 2009, the first law signed by President Obama after he took office.) She also supports women’s health care. “There’s a lot more to women’s health care needs than the abortion issue,” she said. The list includes mammograms for low income women, yearly checkups, and access to contraceptives.

Sixty years old herself, Kim Gillan also focuses on Montana seniors. “I am the only candidate in the race that will protect and strengthen Medicare. You paid into Medicare, you deserve to get what you paid for. Medicare is also critically important to our rural hospitals.”

Ms. Gillan opposes the Paul Ryan private voucher plan. “If we do that, we are going to shift the burden on to senior citizens while continuing to reward large corporations who ship our jobs overseas.”

Montana hasn’t had a woman in Congress since Jeanette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She was also the person who voted against U.S. entry into both World War I and World War II. She was not totally alone in 1917, but her lone vote after the attack on Pearl Harbor was political suicide.

“Why did you do it?” her friends asked. “Someone had to,” she replied.

“I admire her integrity,” said Sen. Gillan. “I don’t just want a seat at the table; I want a voice at the table.” And like Jeanette Rankin, there are lines she won’t cross. “I can stand up to Democrats as well as Republicans if I need to. I’m not for sale.”

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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