Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins told a crowd of mostly students on Thursday, Sept. 5, that college Democrats and college Republicans must come together to elect politicians that will adequately represent the state of Montana — because those politicians currently aren’t doing so.
Collins, who was elected mayor of Helena in 2017, is running against incumbent Sen. Steve Daines for the Senate seat in 2020. Collins and his wife fled Liberia’s civil war in 1990. After waiting in the refugee vetting process for over 2 ½ years, Collins joined his wife and daughter in Helena, according to the International Rescue Committee. Prior to becoming the Mayor of Helena, Collins worked as a janitor in the Helena public schools.
“I’m a former janitor running against a multi-millionaire,” Collins said about running against Sen. Daines. “But I have two things in my favor. I have passion and I’m very energetic.”
While running for mayor, Collins focused on creating affordable housing opportunities in Helena, fully funding providers of essential services and curving teenage and veteran homelessness. He defeated four-term incumbent mayor James Smith in 2017.
Collins spoke Thursday night of the “astronomical” student debt students leave college with, and how funding public education will be one focus if he gains the Senate seat. Students are unable to make the next steps after college, like purchasing a house, because of those student loans, and that’s unfair, Collins said.
“If this is the land of opportunity, it should be for all,” said Collins. “And students are not having that opportunity.”
Collins also voiced his opinion on the current healthcare debate in the United States. Although he didn’t propose any original plans or ideas, Collins said the Affordable Care Act isn’t taking care of everyone.
“There are so many different healthcare plans out there,” said Collins. “What we’re doing right now is looking at all the plans and finding the best possible one that fits Montana.”
Among his other plans for the Senate, Collins pledged to address climate change and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF.) This fund, with an annual budget of roughly $900 million, is a conservation program that protects recreation areas across the country. Sen. Daines has proposed a bill to permanently fund the LWCF. However, the proposed bill would permanently fund the program at two-thirds of what is needed to support projects across the country, according to the LWCF Coalition.
Collins said tolerance of diversity is important to accomplishing anything among young people, political parties and Montanans. He said he is a different Democrat than Montana has seen because he can bring these groups to the table.
“It’s not about college Democrats or college Republicans, it should be about college Montanans,” said Collins. “In order to adequately represent this state, we have to start crossing the aisle and speaking with one another.”