In the lead up the the election, one of the most divisive issues among progressives in Montana was almost certainly the environment. While almost all progressives would view themselves as environmentalists, sharp divides exist in how willing different groups are to sacrifice environmental ideals for electoral success. But in the end, the election was very successful, for both sides, and hopefully we can use that success to meet the challenges of the future.
Republicans in many ways attempted to make the election about the environment whenever possible. Against Tester, Bullock, and Denise Juneau, they leveled damning (but largely unsupported) charges of favoring environmental causes over the employment and education of Montanans. In all three cases, pending a big recount upset, those charges were unsuccessful. It’s perhaps a stretch to say that this constitutes a mandate for those environmental policies, but it does indicate that they are tolerable to most Montanans.
This was not despite challenges. Words like ‘extremist’ and ‘Vichy’ led to some vicious fights and exposed bitter divisions among progressive Montanans. And there is ultimately the problem that some progressive goals do not square entirely with strong dedication to the environment. Progressives were largely successful in the most recent election Nationally because their position on the decency and rights of immigrants, while not perfect, were more human than those of the GOP. Some environmentalists have already taken the irrational position that somehow limiting immigration will help the global environment, and abroad, at least, this is having policy implication. This is but one iteration of the biggest problem facing the environmental movement in the coming decades: breaking the perception (and the reality, where it exists) that environmentalism means preserving nature close to wealthy, largely white populations even at the economic, social, and health expense of poorer communities and countries.
Fortunately, these elections should provide some motivation for healing between the environmentalists and ‘real’ environmentalists. One of the largest investors in progressive politics this Montana election cycle was the League of Conservation Voters and their aid to Senator Tester. While both the League of Conservation Voters and Mr. Tester are fairly controversial topics among environmentalists, the get-out-the-vote efforts of the LCV almost certainly floated all Democratic votes, and if it made a decisive difference in any race, it would probably be to keep Denise Juneau, the most reliable environmental vote on the Land Board, in office. Inevitable bills attacking our environmental protections can be vetoed for another four years. Nationally, the Democratic Senate, for all it’s compromise, can hold back the worst bills already passed by the House. Hopefully in these victories (the unfortunate AG race aside) we can come to the realization that whether the environment is our top priority or one of many, it is important not to let our difference in approach and priorities diminish our ability to protect Montana from those who have already spent millions trying to auction our resources to the highest bidder.