by Josh Manning
Two years ago a former state legislator asked me who I preferred in the race for president. I thought Hillary Clinton had it locked up, this was December 2015, and that while I mostly agreed with Bernie Sanders on policy issues there was something about him I found lacking. I said that Senator Elizabeth Warren was my dream candidate since she had that portfolio of strong progressive issues, a lifetime of making them reality, and could speak about those things in a way that was dynamically appealing.
I was wrong about Sanders. He managed to have massive appeal and there are people, to include the brain trust around Obama, who have openly wondered if he would be our current president. The politics of personalities aside, it is an interesting notion to think that a candidate who attached the word “socialist” to their name could manage the free world.
There is something amazingly potent in the message Sanders and Warren bring to the national stage. Recently I read a piece that distilled this idea to “economic justice,” which is a shorthand way of saying that a rising economy, better regulation, and increased rights for people will be the tide that lifts all boats. This is the message that will dominate the 2018 elections and will create the alternative to the Tea Party wave of 2010. Montana will have its own candidate in the Warren-Sanders mold and the one I believe will be perfectly positioned to ride the deep blue wave and wash Greg Gianforte from office. This is the reason I have put my efforts and thoughts behind John Heenan for Congress since I first met him months ago.
The obvious question is how Heenan can win statewide. There is the “special sauce” that has allowed Democrats like Steve Bullock and Jon Tester to win statewide again and again. Heenan, who is far more to the left of either of them, would not seem to have this secret recipe that allows people seemingly out of sync with all of Montana to get elected.
But no one knows what this “special sauce” really contains. I think the key ingredient is something a former Secretary of State from Missouri got the pulse of when he nearly took out an incumbent Republican senator during the Trump wave. Following the 2016 election, Jason Kander took to the country to tell them how he used honesty and speaking candidly about solid progressive values allowed him to come within points of winning. If you have not seen it, I recommend taking some time to listen to him speak a month after the election. Kander lays out a very simple and effective way to win: be honest about what we believe in. It is that simple.
That brings me back to Heenan. He will be unapologetic about his progressive beliefs and explain that healthcare for all is an economic necessity, that the current political system demands fealty to corporate interests he has long fought, and how government programs that lift people from poverty are not our common enemy. Heenan has taken on Art Wittich and won. He has taken on the big banks and won. He can take on convict Gianforte and win.
Heenan will define himself by running his own honest campaign. He is not going to farm this out to consulting firms that tailor messages to polls yet do not seem to have any bearing on election day. He is going to say what he thinks is best for Montana and that message will win the day, not play it safe but boring and follow D.C. dictates. He picked up Middle Seat—a group of former Sanders digital gurus who helped raise from scratch a veterans group I am in—long before I recommended them to him. He should receive the endorsement of Our Revolution, a group of amazing organizers who have followed in the spirit of Obama’s Organizing for America and identified ways to magnify messaging and voter outreach. Yes these are all Sanders people and yes there are still pains from 2016, but let me tell you having met many of them: they are the future, embrace it.
As someone who knows a lot of radical leftists and moderate Republicans, there is a commonality between the two. They respect honesty and fairness. Many moderates are not excited or even willing to do much for Gianforte. They probably will not do anything for Heenan either. But, as Kander says, they may decide to check the box for the guy who is honest and candid about programs that will extend a hand to all rather than vote party line for the guy who bought his way in Congress and assaulted a reporter to get there.
There are other great candidates in this primary as there will be across the country. Democrats are excited about the prospects of a wave election in 2018 and people want to be on that boat. Two former state legislators are running, both of whom had exceptional careers and gave some of the best floor speeches on Democratic values. Another candidate has done amazing work to expand public access to lands and is a premier conservationist in the state. I will be equally excited about their candidacies if any one of them wins the primary.
But for now, I am solidly with Heenan. We only get candidates like him, people who are well-intentioned farmers or lawyers willing to take on Citizens United at the highest stage, so often. Heenan combines that authenticity with a sharp mind and is someone we need to send to represent us in D.C. to make sure Montana is not left behind while a few others get to enrich themselves. If you want to upset the status quo and protect our abilities to get ahead then Heenan is your vessel to that vibrant future.
Note from Editors: If you are interested in writing an endorsement or piece on the House race, feel free to drop Don a note.