The three candidates for House District 64 in southern Gallatin County have never before held public office and are each looking to bring a new perspective to the seat, which has been held by Republican Rep. Kerry White for eight years.
Republican Jane Gillette, 49, is a health care and scientific consultant and dentist. She runs Sprout Oral Health Care, where she provides dental care to kids across Montana. She previously worked for Community Health Partners and owned Mint Dental Studio.
Democrat Brian Popiel, 45, runs a construction business with several projects in southern Gallatin County and has served as the president and government affairs coordinator for the Southwest Montana Building Industry Association.
Libertarian Doug Campbell, 57, works as the director of information technology for MP2 Energy, a subsidiary of Shell Energy North America. He is an active member of the St. James Episcopal Church and the Bozeman Masonic Lodge.
In a recent interview, Gillette described her platform as centered on “responsible and accountable government that is both lean and meets the needs of the people.” When asked to provide specifics on the policies she would support, she said she plans to look at every proposal and assess its merits.
She did say she would look to reduce some government programs that could be better run by private businesses.
“I would hesitate to say right now that there are areas of our state government that I would want to get rid of entirely…,” she said. “Do I think there are opportunities for spending improvement? Absolutely. … Do I think that it’s going to be a complete game-changer and that you can cut spending without cutting services? You can’t.”
She also said she is against new taxes.
Using her background in health care, she said she would focus on creating incentives for quality in both private and public insurance plans and would like to determine if there are other state Medicaid waivers that Montana could benefit from.
During the 2019 legislative session, Gillette spoke in favor of a bill to renew Medicaid expansion with the addition of work requirements. The bill passed in part because of support from moderate Republicans.
In a recent interview, she said she is concerned that the state has yet to enact the work requirements and that an audit from the Legislative Audit Division found flaws in the state’s process for checking whether Medicaid applicants qualified for the program.
Although White has long represented House District 64, the Gallatin County Democrats have their sights on flipping the district.
“Democrats are the voice of centrism and moderation,” Popiel said. “This is a good chance to express that and press for policies that a rapidly changing, rapidly diversifying district really needs.”
If elected, Popiel vowed to protect and build upon Medicaid expansion to improve Montanans’ access to affordable health care.
He would also like to work with other state lawmakers and local governments to review the state’s building regulations to find ways to encourage the construction of affordable housing.
He supports a local option sales tax particularly because Big Sky and West Yellowstone, which are in House District 64, have been able to use their sales taxes to improve infrastructure and address the lack of affordable housing. Other towns in the district, like Gallatin Gateway and Four Corners, might be able to use a sales tax to offset property taxes, which have been increasing rapidly over the last several years, Popiel said.
For Popiel, the environment is a top priority. In Helena, he said he would work to promote green building, renewable energy and environmental protections.
Campbell, the Libertarian, looks at the race differently than Gillette and Popiel.
“I think that the two-party system is absolutely wrecking our choices of having an ideal democracy so no party could have a majority and bully the other parties,” he said. “I’m not aligned ideologically. I’m more pragmatic.”
Campbell, who described himself as a fiscal conservative and free-market advocate, ran as a Green Party candidate for U.S. House in 2017 and 2018.
He aims to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot and to reduce out-of-state money in the state’s elections. If elected, he said he would propose the state implement rank-choice voting, which could limit the influence of the two main political parties.