Over many years, Grant Kier has worked with farmers and ranchers, conservationists and roughnecks. He has helped find middle ground between often opposing groups and closed deals worth millions of dollars.
On Tuesday, the former well-site geologist and director of Five Valleys Land Trust entered Montana’s race for Congress, looking to win the seat currently occupied by freshman Rep. Greg Gianforte. Billings attorney and restaurant owner John Heenan has also entered the race as a Democrat.
While Kier is running as a Democrat in a state that leans Republican, he believes his ability to work with people from all backgrounds to find solutions will emerge as his fundamental strength as the 2018 election draws closer.
“We’ve all got a lot in common and a lot of opportunity to work together,” Kier told the Missoula Current on Tuesday. “Everything I’ve done in Montana has been about not being focused on the partisan fight.”
Most recently, Kier served as the executive director of Five Valleys Land Trust, where he helped expand the organization’s partnerships and protect 40,000 acres of open space and public land across Western Montana.
At the Bitterroot Land Trust, he also worked with local farmers and ranchers to invest in open space in Ravalli County. There, he helped establish a public advisory committee to review projects worthy of public investment.
But Kier, who earned his master’s degree in geology from the University of Colorado, has also worked as a geophysical engineer, reviewing highways and bridges for structural integrity, and as a well-site geologist in the gas fields.
Regardless of party affiliation, he said Montanans generally want the same thing. Roughnecks aren’t anti-environment, he said, and conservationists aren’t anti-jobs.
“Working with Montanans every day, I hear time and time again that they’re tired of being divided,” Kier said. “They’re tired of lofty, empty promises. Montanans in urban and rural communities know that’s not how we get things done. They find things they agree on to solve problems.”
The latter issue played a key role in last year’s congressional race between Gianforte and Democratic challenger Rob Quist. While Quist often questioned Gianforte’s commitment to public lands, he ultimately lost the election by 6 percentage points.
While Kier brushes aside last year’s race and withholds any criticisms of Gianforte, he said public lands remain central to most Montanans, and he’s placing the issue near the top of his list of priorities.
“One of the things we had growing up was access to public lands,” Kier said. “We felt like kings. We could hike or fish, we didn’t get sick because the water was clean, and access to those places was free.”
Kier left the Bitterroot Land Trust in 2007 to join Five Valleys where, over his tenure, the organization doubled in size and united diverse groups under the common interest of conservation and protecting public access.
While it was easy to point to a patch of ground and see success, Kier said, achieving long-term conservation goals required collaboration.
“This is less about focusing on the current congressman but looking at what people need to succeed in life,” Kier said. “I don’t want to be a single-issue candidate. Montanans don’t appreciate someone saying they have all the answers. I’m walking away from the job I have now because I want to focus on what people want to see happen in Montana.”
Kier said he was raised by a single mother who worked as a nurse to ensure the family had decent health care and food on the table. While he wasn’t a strong student, he said, his public education gave him the tools he needed to succeed. His teachers believed in him and pushed him to do his best.
“I think we’re already seeing right now that public education in Montana is struggling,” Kier said. “There’s limited funding available, and they’re making it harder for rural and urban schools to access that funding. We need to protect public funding for public education, and ensure that schools don’t need teams of administrators to access that funding.”
Kier also said the country must reinvest in infrastructure. Working as a geophysical engineer, he said he’s seen first-hand the condition of the nation’s infrastructure.
“Our roads, our bridges, our core infrastructure and our water delivery systems are vital to people’s day-to-day lives,” Kier said. “It’s time to reinvest in the fundamental infrastructure that has made this country strong.”
This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.