Heenan energizes Democratic base in RL

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

John Heenan, the first Democrat who has filed as a candidate for U.S. Representative from Montana, gave a rousing speech to a large turnout on Thursday, Oct. 5 at Red Lodge Pizza Co.
He will compete in the Democratic primary in May, 2018.
Greg Gianforte was elected last year to the remainder of former U.S. Rep, Ryan Zinke’s, term. The next election is in November, 2018.
Heenan is 40, with clear blue eyes and strong determination. He began, “So many places in Montana have been neglected by both parties.”
He has a vision for Montana. “These are the issues I care about and all Montanans care about. Making sure kids have a great education; if you work hard you get a living wage and if you get sick-you should not be facing bankruptcy.”
“Kids should not be saddled by long student debt and should be able to stay and contribute to Montana’s economy.”
More funding for public education is needed, not less. “It’s an investment our parents made in us and one we should do for our children.” He supports smart investments like infrastructure, “roads and bridges with good wages and jobs.”
Heenan is a Consumer Protection attorney in his own Billings firm (and owns a Billings restaurant, Local Kitchen and Bar). For the last 12 years he has helped “the powerless against the powerful.”
“My clients are the widow who the insurance company refuses to pay her husband’s death benefits…the man who has paid off his mortgage and still gets foreclosed upon by his bank. They refused to give him his house back!” He found Montana juries “furious” at such treatment.
Heenan said, “I’ve never been in or run for office,” but “I watched everything unfold” regarding U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte’s assault on reporter Ben Jacobs the day before his election. “He used it as a fundraising opportunity! No one’s above the law. He did nothing to say it was wrong then; it was inappropriate.”
He decided to run. “You don’t get to have an opinion if not prepared to do something.” It is a responsibility he feels keenly. Heenan has four children with his wife, Meagan, a former preschool teacher.
He asks, “How can any politician be on the side of less people having access to health care? That’s where Gianforte is.” It should be a nonpartisan issue.
“It’s inefficient,” said Heenan, “to have 25 cents of every health care dollar go to insurance companies or administration that has to deal with them.”
“Defunding public education is inefficient; you end up supporting the person later in welfare.”
Gianforte brings the same old “cronyism, a billionaire among billionaires”, a small band of the wealthy and powerful getting their way over Montanans. “He lies to us repeatedly. He publicly said he wasn’t sure of a position on ACA (the Affordable Care Act) but was overheard telling lobbyists he was pleased that ACA was being repealed. He said he would bring jobs. He’s created zero jobs.”
“It all starts with reversing Citizens United,” he said. “Getting Big Money out of politics.”
Heenen’s passion is fighting corruption from Big Money coming into Montana and Washington, D.C.
About five years ago, a raid on a house revealed files linking a group called “Right to Work” (funded by Koch Brothers) with Montana politicians.
“The Montana Commission of Political Practices received a complaint and investigated,” said Heenan. “It found politicians and legislators who essentially pledged that if this Right to Work group runs the campaign and gets them elected, once in office, they would carry water for the Koch Brothers backed entities.”
Right to Work set up offices in Livingston. “They acted just like a (unofficial) campaign, spending on opposition research, direct mailings, and making lists attacking moderate Republicans.”
Taking campaign law violators to trial was not easy. “The legislature defunded the Office of Political Practices so they couldn’t prosecute!”
That’s when Heenan and law partner, Gene Jarussi, volunteered for free. The State deputized them as Special Attorney Generals. They took cases to trial.
Their first conviction from a violation of Montana finance laws (first in 75 years) was Montana Representative Art Wittich.
On April 1, 2016, The Great Falls Tribune reported, “A jury found a Montana lawmaker coordinated with and received services from conservative corporate groups in violation of state campaign laws, a ruling that could lead to his removal from office.
Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, took $19,599 worth in-kind contributions that he didn’t disclose from organizations affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee during his 2010 campaign, the jury found.” He received “consulting, direct mail, voter data, opposition research and attack ads against his opponent.”
Heenan concluded, “I’ve seen the corporate playbook for the takeover of our democracy.”
He added, “Wittich was the attorney for Gianforte when he sued the State of Montana (in 2009) to keep us off his property (to prevent public access).
Heenan said it’s the wealthy seeking more wealth. “The Montana press needs to look at this hard. “Why is someone spending millions on a campaign for a job that pays $174,000?”
Heenan claims Gianforte seeks tax cuts for the wealthy: “He is pushing tax cuts over the backs of Montanans, their own kids and grandkids. These decisions help him. One of his first votes was to protect Wells Fargo and Equifax. I can’t imagine any Montanan saying, ‘Wells Fargo should be protected when it cheats people.’ He wants to repeal the Estate Tax-that saves his family potentially millions of dollars.” He supports a bill to prevent winning plaintiffs from receiving attorney’s fees.
Heenan said, “I want to overturn Citizens United. In 2012, over 70 percent of Montanans voted saying corporations are not people. Gianforte has shown us he is not following the will of the people. That’s my first order of business: to propose legislation.”
He said, “It’s the old Copper Kings again.” The MT Copper Kings bought political power, and one bought his way to the Senate. They crushed unions and pushed business tax breaks, closing mines on starving employees.
“Corruption that acquires power never gives it up willingly. It has to happen from the outside.” Heenan hopes to debate Gianforte “in every town. Montanans deserve that-to be listened to. Be forthright about what they believe.”
He is “the perfect foil” for his opponent. “I’ve had a successful practice since 2003 and own a Billings small business.” He was a school bus driver and a truck driver. “I’ve had the first mortgage, the second, car payments, four kids. I worked hard, won cases and stood up to these groups. Speaking truth to power,” he said. “Truth to power,” he repeated.
“Montanans are trying to work hard and they get dinged every time: have big medical bills and your wages can be garnished or you can go bankrupt. Buy a car or try to get a credit card-exorbitant interest rates.” He said, “Banks lie to you to get a mortgage you can’t afford and you struggle to make payments because it’s bait and switch.” Montanans “get taken advantage of by banks or insurance companies. It’s about fundamental fairness.”
Heenan refuses money from corporations and corporate PACs and is endorsed by JusticeDemocrats.com. “We’re 100 percent grassroots powered.” He’s met regular people, nationwide, standing up and getting involved. He marveled, “A momentum has started.”


Upcoming Events

  • Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 6:30pm
    The Montana Metal Rockfest will feature Zen, Kicking Karma, and Mr. Big with Trixter, July 18-20 at Boyd’s Garage on 7th Street, Red Lodge. The gigs will kick off at 6:30 p.m. each night.  There is no cover charge. Vendors will be on site. For tickets and information call (406) 446-1519. 
  • Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, July 19, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Rock Creek Group meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. at Calvary Church, 9 N Villard, Red Lodge.
  • Monday, July 22, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 23, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

Fax: 406-446-2225

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Open: Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.