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Featured Helena Legislature Montana Politics

Rob Farris-Olsen Is the Clear Choice for House District 81

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Helena is fortunate to have a number of excellent candidates for the Legislature this session. One new face running to represent our community is Rob Farris-Olsen, who I am supporting because I believe he will not only best represent the interests of our community and state, but he will also be a strong, consistent vote for progressive principles and the Democratic caucus at the Legislature.

I’ve known Rob since he was an incredibly bright debater at Helena High near the beginning of my teaching career. Since then, he’s earned a degree at Whitman, earned a law degree at the University of Montana, and worked for Montana consumers as a lawyer in Helena. Most recently, he was elected City Commissioner in Helena, where he has developed a reputation for listening to constituents, even obstreperous old cranks like me who hector him about snow removal strategies.

In the end, though, I’m not supporting Rob because of his resume or because I knew him decades ago when he was a high school debater. I’m supporting Rob because he is deeply committed to the economic and social justice issues that matter to our community, because he will make fighting for labor a priority, and because he knows that our environment and public lands are the way to ensure Montana’s spiritual and economic health.

I am also voting for Rob because it’s time for a change in the delegation representing Montana. Rob is running against Mary Caferro, who has represented Helena in the House and Senate since 2004. While Caferro has undoubtedly done important work in her tenure, she has also become an unreliable Democratic vote at a time when the Democratic caucus absolutely must work together, including casting votes that are hard to justify or even understand.

Caferro led the fight to close the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder, a vote that did serious damage to Boulder, cost state workers jobs, and came under a cloud of potential conflict of interest for the Senator, who was the director of an organization likely to benefit financially from the closure of the MDC. Two years later, the Legislature was still wrestling with the impact of the abrupt closure, including problems with the exact concerns—patients who couldn’t be placed easily somewhere else—dominating the discussion. Ultimately, scaling back the MDC and getting as many people as possible into residential care was probably the right thing to do, but this bill was not the way to accomplish those goals.

Caferro also voted against the position of the MEA-MFT more than any other Democrat in 2017, scoring a 77% rating. The worst of those votes was a vote for HB 239, which would have allowed taxpayer funding of private, religious schools. In addition, she also cast a vote allowing legislators to carry guns at the Capitol building, and for a proposal that would allow double-dipping in the teacher retirement system, threatening its long-term viability.

Another place for concern about Caferro’s voting record is the environment. While Helena’s Moffie Funk, Jill Cohenour, and Kim Abbott were listed on the Honor Roll from the Montana Conservation Voters in 2017, Senator Caferro only scored a 72%, the lowest score for a Democrat in the body. Among those votes were two against net metering, which were votes for Northwestern Energy and against Montana consumers, and a vote for increasing registration fees for electric vehicles.

These bad votes represent a troubling reality about Senator Caferro’s voting record: in 2017, Senator Caferro was the least reliable Democratic vote in the Senate. In a caucus that had to hold together to have any chance of protecting progressive values, Senator Caferro was often an outlier. In fact, she was the only Democratic vote against the Democratic caucus 22 times. In the 359 votes where at least 70% of the Democratic caucus voted together but were not unanimous, Caferro was in the minority 25.1% of the time, more than any other Democrat.

Working across the aisle can be a virtue, but in the past session, Senator Caferro voted against the position of the Democratic governor, against the will of the Democratic caucus, and most importantly, against progressive values on some truly critical votes.

Rob Farris-Olsen is the candidate who will best represent us in the Legislature, and I hope you will support him in this open race. I know I’m proud to do so.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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