Editor’s note: This is reprinted with permission from Montana Mint, a website whose stated mission is to “Bring the best of Montana to the internet.”
The Montana Mint recently had the opportunity to speak with Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate in Montana’s special election for our lone seat in Congress. We spoke with Quist between campaign events and discussed the campaign, his thoughts on President Trump, his past financial issues, and his favorite pizza in the state.
Below you will find our interview, slightly edited and reordered for clarity.
Montana Mint: You have traveled the state as musician many times before, but this is different. How do you like traveling the state as a politician on the campaign trail?
Rob Quist: I have to say I love it. Right now, there is such a palpable energy. Everywhere we go people are energized like I’ve never seen before in Montana. All of our campaign appearances are filled with people that are excited. They want to contribute, knock on doors, make phone calls, and really contact all of their friends.
This is a really amazingly full schedule, we are probably doing five meetings a day between fundraisers and appearances and interviews. I’m just really buoyed by the energy of the people I am meeting. Sometimes people come up with tears in their eyes and say they are so gratified that I am willing to take on the challenge of running in this election.
As I said before, this is just too important. This is a fight for the soul of Montana. As much as I loved this state, I just had to accept this challenge.
You are in a tight race, and there is a real chance that you could be representing Montana in Congress. If you’re elected, what would be your top legislative priority?
First of all, I don’t use the word if. I use the word when.
My priority of course, and the reason I’m in the race, is public lands. This is something I’ve been singing about and writing about in my poetry for the last several years. My opponent has a reprehensible record on supporting people that want transfer our public lands into private hands. I feel very very strongly about it, and the people that want me to run in the race are very fired up about it. In my trip around the state, this is the number one issue that comes up.
And what would be your top economic priorities?
The economy is always going to be an important issue that people are worried about. I really experienced the same things too, with issues not only with the economy but with healthcare and Social Security and Medicare. These things are all interlinked together. A lot of my friends are having to rely on social security just to survive. They need someone who is a voice for them in this race.
The other thing I really hear about is student debt. My own son and daughter are strapped with college debt. In fact, I even co-signed my son’s debt. You make payments on these loans and they don’t go down … they keep going up. To me, these are predatory loans. When I was in college, we had federally insured student loans that were 1 percent loans. You could always refinance them. That is not the case with today’s loans. It is something that is a big issue with me, and I am sure with a lot of college student as well.
Sticking to the topic of the economy, one of the bigger stories so far this campaign has been the Billings Gazette story about your finances and your various issues with debt over the years. Is this an issue voters raise on the campaign trail? What do you say to voters who see this story and worry about your judgment?
Here’s the thing—I’m getting so much support. People in Montana realize this is not an isolated story to me. We’ve had these healthcare rallies across the state, and several people will stand up and have stories just like mine where they’ve had a medical issue and they had to go bankrupt. People should not have to go bankrupt for medical issues here in the greatest country on Earth.
To me, the voters are glad that there is someone in this race that understands what they are going through and can be a voice for them. They understand it. It was really a perfect storm for our family—not only with my medical issues but with my wife, who was a real estate broker. With the recession of 2008, we were hit with a double whammy there.
Voters respect the fact that we did not declare bankruptcy. We powered through this and cowboyed up and paid all of our tax liens and I think that’s the story. You know, my opponent has had tax liens as well. Twenty-two tax liens. We paid our taxes, every dime, just like he did. We kept on keeping on and we were able to get out of this and did not give up.
Passing legislation in D.C. requires bipartisan efforts and working with folks from the other side of the aisle and with the administration. Is there an issue you could see working with President Trump on?
Well, I like the fact that he is saying we need to stand up for working families of America. I’m waiting to see how that will actually play out, but I would support him on that. I also would support him on spending money on our infrastructure here in America. It is something we let go for far too long and infrastructure throughout America is crumbling. I like the fact that he wants to focus on manufacturing. Manufacturing and infrastructure would infuse much-needed capital into our middle class. And I like the fact that he’s talking about getting dark money out of politics. That’s something that is important not only for Montana but for the entire nation. We have to really limit dark money because it is really controlling our politics and it is not fair for everyday people.
How about the opposite side of the question: What has been your biggest criticism of the Trump administration so far?
I would take him to task on giving big corporate tax giveaways, especially to corporations that outsource jobs overseas. I think we should be supporting our small businesses, which of course is a big economic driver here in Montana. As a small business owner myself, I know this stuff, and this is why I think I can be a voice for the people of Montana.
Of course, I have to say that the cuts he is suggesting on the National Endowments of the Arts and the National Endowments for the Humanities. These are programs that make us who we are as Americans, and I don’t see why we need to cut these. Knowledge is power. Also, the whole education thing of a voucher system in place and taking money away from public education.
Now for some hard-hitting questions:
What is the best venue that you’ve ever played?
You know, we did a Mission Mountain date where we loaded up a 40,000-watt PA system on this barge. We came steaming down Flathead Lake, and the crowd was on the shore of the Sacajawea Park. We came up with the name of Mission Mountain Wood Band “Barging In.” We had a film crew that was filming it, and a couple drones that would get these shots and then go up 2,000 feet and get these panoramic views. It was Fourth of July, and we sang the National Anthem as the fireworks were going off at the fairgrounds behind us. I would have to pick that one as one of my favorites that we’ve done. [You can see a video trailer of “Barging In” here.]
Here at the Montana Mint, we love talking about Montana pizza. In your opinion, what is the best pizza in the state?
I’d have to pick one right in Kalispell, it’s called Bullman’s. It is really hard to beat their pizza. They have a chicken barbecue pizza and it is just delicious. We always try to go over there and have a pizza and then go to the movies. That is a perfect date for my wife and me.
If you were to win, you would not be the only musician in the Montana delegation. Sen. Tester, as you know, is a former music teacher. If you were to get on stage, you with your guitar and Sen. Tester with his trumpet, what song would you guys perform together?
I actually have a campaign song that I’ve written, and the main verse of that is “if you stand with me, I will stand up for you.” That is probably one Jon can relate to because he’s been standing up for the people of Montana just like I want to do.
Jon Tester has been a great role model for me and has been a great help throughout this whole process. When he spoke at the M&M dinner, he said, “I need a partner in the House” so we can work to benefit the people of Montana. We plan to make more than music together.
I saved the toughest question for last—certainly the most divisive issue in the state. In November, when the Bobcats and the Grizzlies meet for Cat/Griz, who are you rooting for? And you can’t say you are rooting for both teams.
This is an easy question for me because I wore the maroon and silver. I played basketball for the University of Montana my freshman year so that is an obvious answer. When I played, we lost to the Bobcats by three points down at their place, and at the end of the game, we were all buddies. That’s just the way it is. We are all Montanans first. I’m just going to leave it at that.
Well, you just lost the Bozeman vote, but I appreciate you being honest.
If you see my yard signs, they are blue and gold. My Grizzly friends ask, “Well why would you do that?” I tell them that I already have the votes from Griz Nation and I wanted to make some inroads with the Bobcats.
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