Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Montana Democrats fighting for jobs and opportunity

by Kim Abbott and Jill Cohenour
| January 10, 2021 12:00 AM

This has been an unprecedented and incredibly difficult year for Montana families and businesses. Virtually every Montanan has been touched by loss, whether of income, health, mobility, or loved ones. Yet as we approach the 2021 Legislature, we have reason for optimism. COVID vaccines are well on their way to widespread availability, and the prospect of a return to normalcy is more real than it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. Despite the light at the end of the tunnel, we know many Montanans are struggling and we have the responsibility to rebuild an economy that brings opportunity for all Montanans. In short, we’re here to create good jobs with fair wages for working families across the state, and help Montana come back stronger than ever.

Montana Democrats have decades of experience working across the aisle to pass legislation that expands economic opportunity for all Montanans, and we plan to build on those successes and overcome new, unprecedented obstacles in 2021.

We can create jobs by investing in Montana’s broadband infrastructure. Broadband is a game-changer for rural places and Tribal communities. It allows small businesses to compete and grow and increases equity in education for students across Montana. While other parts of the country are seeing huge strides in technology, too many communities across Montana still cannot reliably access the internet. This year has been a stark reminder that the consequences of the digital divide are immense. It is time we treat rural broadband as critical infrastructure that is as necessary to job creation and a growing economy as roads and bridges.

The surest way to create an economy that works for everyone is to uphold Montana’s constitution by guaranteeing every child access to a quality public education and ensuring teachers are paid adequately for the critical work they do. Protecting and investing in our public schools guarantees a strong workforce now and into the future. Our public schools provide safe spaces for children to learn while their parents work and are a source of jobs and community hubs for many of our most rural communities.

Montana must prioritize the needs of our health care system, both immediately and into the future. A system that was stretched thin before the pandemic has been pushed to the brink. As one of the fastest growing industries in our state, it is absolutely critical that we invest in job training for health care professionals while protecting our rural hospitals and supporting our health care system so it can continue to serve every Montanan.

And across our economy, we must take action to ensure that Montanans are able to earn fair wages that keep up with costs of living, and allow our families to thrive. Every Montanan has a right to earn a living that allows them to put food on the table — by focusing on creating good paying jobs, we can create a path to opportunity for all.

For the next 90 days, your elected legislators have an opportunity to create a state that works for everyone. We can come out of this pandemic with a stronger economy if we come together to educate the next generation, close the digital divide, and ensure our population has adequate access to health care.

This will be a legislative session unlike any other, and Montana’s Democratic caucus will roll up our sleeves and get to work for all Montanans, just as we’ve always done.

Representative Kim Abbott is the House Minority Leader. Senator Jill Cohenour is the Senate Minority Leader.