Heenan hopes to represent Montanans in U.S. House

By: 
KATHLEEN GILLULY
Outlook managing editor
Outlook photo by Kathleen Gilluly. John Heenan, Democratic candidate for Montana’s sole U.S. Congressional seat.

John Heenan, the first Democrat to officially declare his candidacy for Montana’s sole U.S. Congressional seat, comes across as a genuinely nice guy. As a newcomer to politics, he doesn’t give pat answers aimed at pleasing any certain constituency. He offers his opinion from the point-of-view of a father, husband, consumer-protection attorney and small business owner. 

The 40-year-old candidate plans to run his campaign the way he has his career—with integrity.

“When I went into practice, I was committed to doing the right thing for the right reasons,” Heenan said. “I wanted to focus on consumer law, although I initially did do some criminal defense to earn a living.” 

But then came 2009 and the Great Recession. That changed the focus of Heenan’s practice.

 “My work became almost exclusively representing homeowners against big banks,” he said. “The harder the banks pushed back, the more they paid because Montana juries held them accountable.”

Having to fight against the wide-spread corruption that bankrupted many, left others without homes and led to years of economic hardship was the catalyst that led Heenan to enter politics.

“If this [the recession] hadn’t happened, I couldn’t imagine anything that would motivate me to go into politics,” he said. “The people of Montana need someone to stand up for them against corporate bullies. Gianforte displays that same bullying behavior I’m against.”

Heenan’s Republican opponent Greg Gianforte won Montana’s June special election for the seat which had been held by Ryan Zinke, now Secretary of the Interior, a day after he punched and injured a reporter for the Guardian, a national newspaper. He later put out a misleading statement about the incident and fought going through the procedure of being booked. 

On Tuesday, another Democrat, Grant Kier, of Missoula also declared his intention to run. The primary run-off election will be June 5, 2018. Several Republicans will be vying for the seat in addition to Gianforte, who has filed to for reelection.

 

Life

Heenan grew up in Westchester, Pa., but came to Montana as a 19-year-old undergraduate. He continued his education to get his juris doctorate at the University of Montana and hasn’t regretted the decision to stay once.

“I love Montana and would never leave,” he said. “There isn’t a better place to raise a family.” Heenan and his wife Meagen have four children, the oldest attends high school at West High in Billings. His other children are in school at Ben Steele Middle School and Arrowhead Elementary. 

He and his wife are partners in Local Kitchen & Bar, a small restaurant on the west end of Billings.

Heenan said being a Congressman will be a sacrifice, as it should be. Far too many lawmakers go to Washington, D.C. because they see an opportunity to benefit themselves and their very wealthy friends who need it least, Heenan said.

“I’ve promised my wife this won’t be a permanent thing and I love my job. I love my life here,” he said. “But the people of Montana deserve someone who will stand up for them.”

Heenan has been in private practice since 2005, after working for U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull. In 2007, he and his partners formed the law firm of Bishop, Heenan and Davies.

 

Healthcare

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Heenan said. “It should be about providing healthcare for everyone.” He noted that many folks are already in a single-payer system like Medicare and the VA.

 

Infrastructure

“I’m with the President on this,” he said. “It makes sense to put money into infrastructure and provide businesses with work and employees with good jobs.” 

 

Campaign finance

Heenan’s firm has already successfully assisted former Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl in his investigation into the Montana Growth Network and worked on other cases in which large amounts of so-called ‘dark money’ was raised and illegally spent on election activities. 

 

Tax reform  

“We need a progressive tax system,” Heenan said. “The people who are most able should pay the most, yet the wealthiest of the wealthy get tax breaks.” He said wiping out capital gains other breaks to businesses off-shoring jobs would go a long way towards creating a fairer system.

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