Credit: photo courtesy Trent Bolger

This week Montana Free Press continues its ongoing coverage of the lead-up to the 2020 elections with an interview with Mayor Wilmot Collins of Helena. Collins joined host John S. Adams to discuss his emigration from Liberia to the United States, starting a new life in Montana, his current role as mayor of the state capital, and his campaign for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Steve Daines for a seat in the United States Senate.

Collins emigrated to Montana in 1994 as a refugee after a bloody civil war broke out in his home country of Liberia. Over the course of the next two and a half decades, he and his family have made a new life for themselves in Helena.

Collins tells Adams about having to flee Liberia once war broke out, saying, “Within a matter of two weeks we were homeless, walking the streets and starving.”

Collins and his wife, Maddie, later found temporary refuge in a small village in Ghana. But Maddie, who had studied in the United States as an exchange student, told her husband, ‘I think we can do better … Let’s go to Montana.’”

Collins said his decision to run against four-term incumbent Helena mayor Jim Smith in 2016 was the logical next step in a career dedicated to serving the state that gave his family a fresh start. He ran, and won, in a year when Donald Trump carried the state by more than 20 points, and he cites his victory as evidence that Montanans are independent thinkers and voters.

Collins has been treading the campaign trail statewide, and says his would-be constituents understand how Trump’s trade wars are affecting Montanans, telling Adams, “The people are aware that the tariffs are hurting Montana, and they are also aware that taxpayers are giving them the subsidy that the federal government is giving [back]. So they know that China is not … hurting the country, but we are hurting ourselves.”

Collins also takes Daines to task over a perceived lack of accessibility to voters, saying, “[Daines] is not meeting with the people of Montana, he’s not listening to their issues. … And when you see the senator run from his constituents, it’s concerning.”

Daines was elected to office in 2014 after serving a single term in the House of Representatives, and is now in an uncontested primary for re-election. Collins faces two Democratic primary opponents: engineer and Navy veteran John Mues of Loma, and author Jack Ballard of Red Lodge.

Alex McKenzie has worked with a diverse array of start-ups and nonprofit organizations. He is a former record producer and music journalist, has additional experience working in agriculture and food security, and previously operated his own dairy business. He lives in southwest Montana. Follow him on Twitter.