An attorney from Billings Monday became the first Democrat to announce he’ll challenge Montana’s newest member of Congress, Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, in 2018.
John Heenan told MTN News that he felt compelled to run because Montana needs someone to stand up for average Montanans and against policies that aid the wealthy and powerful.
“What I feel … is that Washington insiders’ solution to everything is to throw more money at themselves and tell us it will trickle down,” he said. “And those trickle-down policies are proven (to be) patently false; they don’t work. The only people that they benefit are the wealthiest among us.”
Gianforte, 56, won a May 25 special election to fill the seat formerly held by Republican Ryan Zinke, who resigned in March after becoming President Donald Trump’s U.S. Interior secretary.
Heenan, 40, is a partner in the Billings law firm of Bishop, Heenan & Davis, which specializes in personal-injury and consumer cases.
Heenan also was part of the legal team that helped state Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl prosecute former state Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman in a high-profile campaign finance case last year.
In that case, a Helena District Court jury found that Wittich, a Republican, violated campaign laws by accepting unreported donations from several affiliated conservative groups in a 2010 state Senate race. Wittich was later ordered to pay $84,000 in fines and court costs.
Wittich has appealed the civil verdict to the Montana Supreme Court.
Gianforte, a Bozeman businessman and co-founder of a successful software-development firm, has said he intends to run for re-election next year.
Heenan has never run for political office before. He grew up in a suburb north of Philadelphia, came to Montana in 1996 to attend the University of Montana, earned a law degree from UM in 2003, and has been practicing law here ever since.
According to the law firm’s website, Heenan and his partners won a pair of $2 million-plus verdicts in the past three years, one against a bank that improperly foreclosed on a Billings couple’s house and another against an insurance company that refused to pay a claim to a woman whose husband was killed in a car accident.
Heenan said he wants to cut taxes for the middle class, rather than wealthy taxpayers, and favors a “Medicare for all” health-care system, where taxpayer-supported insurance covers all citizens.
“I’ve done a number of medical bankruptcies for people here in Billings … and it just makes no sense to me that we have a system set up where people just cannot protect themselves if there is a medical emergency,” he said.
Heenan said he opposes recent Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare" -- and criticized Gianforte for being supportive of those efforts, which Heenan said would take health coverage away from millions of Americans.
Gianforte said earlier this year he would have opposed the repeal bill that passed the House, but told lobbyists he was "thankful" it had come forward and has called for the ACA's repeal.
Heenan acknowledged that he is a political unknown, but said he plans to take a leave of absence from his job and travel the state to meet Montanans and “learn from them what’s important in their lives.”
A Democrat hasn’t held the Montana U.S. House seat since 1996.