Liberian refugee, Montana's first black mayor launches bid for US Senate seat

PHOTO: Wilmot Collins, a refugee from the African nation of Liberia who became the first black mayor of a Montana city, announces he is is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Steve Daines, in Helena, Mont., May 13, 2019.PlayThom Bridge/Independent Record via AP
WATCH News headlines today: May 14, 2019

Wilmot Collins, the Liberian refugee who surged into national headlines in 2017 after becoming Montana's first and only black mayor is launching a bid for higher office, officially filing paperwork with the FEC to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by incumbent GOP Sen. Steve Daines.

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"I’ve traveled this state, from every corner of this vast, rugged state. And what remains consistent is that for far too long and far too often, we have had politicians representing us in D.C. and not public servants," Collins told a crowd at his announcement Monday in downtown Helena, according to the Helena Independent Record. "I think it’s time we restore the real and true meaning behind public service."

PHOTO: Wilmot Collins, the Mayor of Helena, Mont., prepares for a meeting during his first month in office, Jan. 31, 2018. William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE
Wilmot Collins, the Mayor of Helena, Mont., prepares for a meeting during his first month in office, Jan. 31, 2018.

The Democratic candidate listed some of the issues central to his platform at the Monday event, which include health care, better treatment for veterans, middle class wages and climate change, ABC Fox Montana reported.

Collins teased a "special announcement" in a Twitter video posted on May 10.

"A lot of people said it could never be done like being a refugee who escaped a civil war could never get elected to office, and certainly couldn't do it in Montana," Collins said in the video. posted on May 10 teasing a "special announcement" he is expected to make today. "They do not know Montana and they do not know America -- a country where if you dream and work hard, anything is possible. We have more work to do."

On Nov. 7, 2017, Collins toppled four-term incumbent Jim Smith to become Helena's first black mayor – in a city where African Americans make up less than one percent of the population, according to a 2010 U.S. census – 20 years after first arriving in the United States.

"I may not look or sound like the regular politicians but I am a hard worker and I get things done," he continued in the Twitter video. "I provided my family a second chance and give my family refuge...It is time Washington gets back to work to get America back to being the land of opportunities."

He landed in Montana in February 1994, after fleeing Liberia amid a devastating civil war in 1990. Alongside his wife, he escaped to Ghana before petitioning for refugee status in the U.S. But two weeks before she was set to leave, his wife, Maddie, found out she was pregnant and she ultimately came to the U.S. first as he awaited refugee status in Africa. They were reunited more than two years later.

After settling in Montana, Collins joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and worked as a child protection specialist with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services before launching his unlikely bid for mayor.

PHOTO: Sen. Steve Daines walks to the Capitol from the Senate subway on Jan. 31, 2019. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images, FILE
Sen. Steve Daines walks to the Capitol from the Senate subway on Jan. 31, 2019.

He called his 2017 campaign an "uphill battle," during an interview with ABC News, after being told repeatedly at fundraising events that he was wasting his time against such a long-time, widely known opponent.

"When I started knocking on doors, constituents didn’t even know there was an alternative, didn’t even know that there was someone [else] running," Collins said, before adding, "Had we not gone door to door, I don’t think I would be here today talking to you."

At his Monday kickoff event in Helena's Performance Square, Collins took on the notion of his own electability in his upcoming challenge against Daines.

"Hundreds will question the feasibility of this candidacy," he said from the city's Walking Mall. "But what they fail to realize is that this campaign is not about me. This campaign is for all Montanans."