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When Democratic congressional candidate Kathleen Williams took the microphone at the start of a Tuesday afternoon fundraiser at the Butte Country Club, she noted that the “word ‘politician’ makes my skin crawl.”

But appearing at the lunchtime event hosted by the Butte-Silver Bow Burros Club, a local Democratic organization, Williams overcame those apparent reservations and made her pitch for votes, support and advocacy from her audience.

She also implored those in attendance to reach out to people who don’t agree with them politically and make their own appeals for her candidacy.

“There a lot of people in the middle (politically),” Williams said. “There’s a lot of people that vote for the person.”

Williams the person, she reminded attendees, is the daughter of a World War II veteran and a 24-year Montana resident who spent a 34-year career working on natural resources issues. Williams said she entered politics somewhat reluctantly, while her husband was on assignment in Iraq with the US Department of Agriculture. Home alone in Bozeman, Williams said she found herself watching “too many 'Law & Order' reruns” when she first decided to run for office, aiming “to return some function and dignity and statesmanship” to the Legislature.

In 2011, she was elected to the Montana House of Representatives. She was re-elected in 2013 and 2015.

Williams said her motivation to run for the seat currently occupied by Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte was similar, though the stakes are now higher, she said. Arguing that dysfunction in Washington is “getting dangerous,” she said her goal if elected would be to “turn that institution (Congress) around.”

After outlining a broad agenda of fixing healthcare, fostering opportunity, protecting our environment and outdoor heritage, restoring civil dialogue and rebuilding our place in the world, Williams gave an optimistic accounting of her odds of winning the seat.

“There’s a lot of good breezes at my back, but it’s going to be competitive,” Williams said.

Then she took questions from the audience about everything from Wilderness Study Areas to the Second Amendment to the future of Social Security to campaign strategy.

As Williams talked, Debbie Bishop sat in the back, in what she called the fundraiser’s “cheap seats.”  While nearly everyone else paid $15 for lunch, Bishop, who recently retired after decades working for the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder, skipped the meal. She was focused not on lunch but on the poverty, “substandard” housing and other inequities she’d seen while driving around Butte Tuesday morning.

“You have to be pretty blind not to see there’s a lot of hurting people,” Bishop said.

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And Bishop seemed optimistic that Williams might be able to improve things.

After Williams spoke, Al Luebeck, who serves on the board of Butte’s Skyline Sportsmen Association, said his own concerns in Montana’s House race are about the fate of public lands. Arguing that public lands are something Montanans “all care about,” Luebeck said he believed Williams would help protect them.

“She’s the real thing,” Luebeck said.  

As for Williams, when the fundraiser was over, she was planning to head back to Bozeman, where she lives, to host her longtime book club.

Asked what they were reading, Williams admitted she didn’t know.

“That’s how busy I am,” she said.

When asked whether Gianforte has plans to visit Butte ahead of the November election, a spokesperson said via email that “Greg will continue meeting with Montanans throughout the state, including in Butte and Silver Bow County.” The spokesperson did not provide dates for such meetings.

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