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Grant Kier, the former director of a Missoula nonprofit, has joined the Democratic primary for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, in hopes of unseating Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte next fall.

Kier, a Democrat, will formally announce his candidacy at the Kettlehouse Amphitheater outside Missoula this evening. He stepped down as executive director of Five Valleys Land Trust, a nonprofit that works to preserve open space in western Montana, last month.

“My whole life I’ve been thinking about ways I serve the community around me and in the past four years I thought more and more about how does working for nonprofits translate into a bigger way to serve the community and about taking a political route and an elected office route to try to serve,” he said in an interview Tuesday morning.

Kier said that he is running in part because growing up he had access to things that helped him succeed — such as health care, education and public lands — and those things are threatened.

“I think those are pretty core elements of who we are as Montanans and as Americans,” he said.

While he supports a broad look at ways to fix the affordability of health insurance and access to health care, and is glad people like former U.S. senator and ambassador to China Max Baucus has called for a switch to a single-payer system, he wants to see faster fixes to the Affordable Care Act before greater policy shifts are discussed.

“What’s critical is recognizing the Affordable Care Act was a big step forward but it doesn’t work perfectly and needs fixes,” Kier said. “We need to make a quick change, to pull people together from both sides of the aisle to look at how we can fix these things and make those changes right away, and then if we want to debate bigger changes that’s fine.”

He also emphasized finding ways to fund critical infrastructure, and increase access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment, especially in rural parts of the state.

Kier said he comes from a rural farming familes and has spent a lot of time in rural areas, which could help him appeal to Democrats.

“I respect those people, I care about the issues that affect them every day and I listen.” He also said he's assembling a team to help him better understand a broad range of policy areas, and plans to cross the state to meet with and hear from Montanans.

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Kier is accutely aware that, if he were to win the primary, he’d likely face a candiate in U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, who has access to tremendous personal wealth that he’s shown he’s not afraid to tap for campaigning. Gianforte spent millions to win a special election this May and did the same in his failed bid for governor last fall. Gianforte started and then sold RightNow Technologies, a Bozeman-based company, to Oracle in 2011 for $1.5 billion.

But as a nonprofit director, Kier has his fair share of experience asking people to write big checks.

“The way to succeed right now in politics really demands raising a lot of money, and going up against these self-funding candidates is daunting. (But) my experience running a nonprofit is twofold:

"It’s realizing that every single dollar somebody gives you is their hard-earned money they’re asking you to put to work for something you both believe in and to me, that translates directly to politics. And I feel comfortable, if I believe in something, asking other people to contribute financially.”

Kier was born in Kansas and grew up in the Colorado Rockies. He came to Montana in 2005 when his wife, Becks Bendick Kier, accepted a job teaching geology at the University of Montana. The couple have an 8-year-old daughter, Fiona. Kier has a master's in geology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and had been with Five Valleys Land Trust since 2007.

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State Bureau reporter for The Independent Record.

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