Heather Margolis stresses civic engagement and collaboration in Democratic Primary for Governor

Heather Margolis poses for a photograph recently on Helena’s walking mall.

Helena Democrat Heather Margolis has been running a curious primary campaign for Governor against opponent and front-runner, Attorney General Steve Bullock. Margolis quietly announced her candidacy the weekend before the primary filing deadline. At that point, Bullock was unopposed and state law says without a challenger he would have had to refund any donations to his primary campaign. Now that he is facing Margolis, he gets to keep that primary cash to use whenever he wants on the campaign trail.

Heather Margolis meets me in Helena’s walking mall outside her husband’s office. He works at Strategies 360, a public relations company that represents many Democratic candidates. She works out of her home, raising the couple’s 3 year old son Bridger and doing some work for the Montana Education Partnership–which supports collaboration between schools and communities. Her campaign has given her the chance to get out and spread her primary message of greater civic engagement.

“I’ve had the opportunity to travel the state,” Margolis said. “I’ve had the opportunity to connect with voters and get my word out via the media.”

So far that’s about the only way voters have had the chance to learn about Heather Margolis. She does not have a campaign website or staff.There’s no phone number to call. She does have some Margolis for Governor yard signs and a Facebook page—where she only has about 70 fans. Margolis calls it a cost effective primary campaign, but latest figures show it’s about $300 in the hole. From the beginning, this has had political pundits doubting the legitimacy of her campaign, as a real alternative to Bullock.

“How do you convince those people that you’re taking your candidacy as seriously as possible and if they vote for you they’re voting for someone who really wants to see this through to the end?” I asked. She responded, “I think it’s become clear there are certain distinctions between Steve Bullock’s campaign and my own around certain values.”

She mainly means Bullock’s opposition to gay marriage, which she strongly supports. She is also against the Death Penalty, which Bullock supports. Margolis says this presents a moral compass for Democrats.

“People can send a message to the Democratic party about the values that represent our party,” Margolis said.

The economy and jobs have become a central issue in this year’s Gubernatorial race. Margolis says her jobs plan first and foremost calls for restructuring and investing in our public education sector. She says resources at K-12 schools and the state’s two year colleges need to be reorganized to create a more prepared workforce.

“In doing so,” she said, “we need to figure out what are we doing to tap into new, emerging energy markets, i.e. wind and solar.”

Margolis also thinks a job market exists in retrofitting buildings around the state to be more energy efficient. As for natural resource development, she wants it done in the most responsible way possible—minimizing environmental degradation. And she wants industry to shoulder a greater share of the cost of damage that is caused in and around communities.

“We can’t always be in a place where we are socializing risk and privatizing gains. We need to have a more balanced approach,” she said.

If elected, she says her first priority would be to bring down barriers between state agencies and local governments. Ultimately, though, she does not seem convinced she will have that opportunity.

“Do you see yourself making it past this primary?” I asked.

“I see the message that I’m trying to convey that service and civic engagement can play a vital role in supporting better collaboration between government and communities as moving past this primary,” she replied.

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