One of the frustrations of the primary race for House District 81 between Rob Farris-Olsen and Mary Caferro has been that those supporting Ms. Caferro have been very upset about coverage here that shows a problematic record from her time in the Senate, suggesting that accurately reporting her votes is somehow unfair behavior. I’d argue that voting records are one of the best ways to measure a candidate and that Ms. Caferro cast some terrible votes in 2017, netting her the lowest score from MEA-MFT and the Montana Conservation Voters among Democrats in the body.
If a candidate doesn’t want to be called out for some truly terrible votes in a legislative primary the easiest way to avoid it is simple: just don’t make terrible vote–like those that would have allowed legislators to bring weapons to the Capitol building or to allow healthcare ministries to operate their shady products in Montana.
Another way to measure a candidate in today’s political world is by those who donate to a candidate. For someone positioning herself as a champion of progressive values, Senator Caferro has taken money from some disappointing sources.
Among the latest to appear on her campaign filings is Chuck Denowh, known to almost everyone involved in Montana politics as a jack-of-all-trades for Republican causes ranging from support for the ill-conceived and unconstitutional Marsy’s Law to anti-government influenced support for property rights. Previously, he served as executive director of the Montana Republican Party, including time while Caferro was serving in the Legislature.
Even though Denowh is the President of the Montana Group, a Republican lobbying firm, Caferro’s disclosure form lists his $180 and $20 donations with the notation that his job is unknown which can only be explained by awfully shoddy campaign reporting or a desire to mask his connections to the Republican Party.
Caferro has also taken money from Republican Senator Terry Gauthier and, more egregiously, as Josh Manning has previously reported, Senator Mark Blasdel and Bozeman-are Representative Jon Knokey. Bladsel is a problematic donor, as he has been feted by the extremist Montana Family Foundation and also gave a max donation to white supremacist Taylor Rose. While Ms. Caferro certainly doesn’t hold those beliefs, it’s money she shouldn’t have taken, and it’s troubling that Bladsel sees her as a candidate worthy of support.
Caferro has also received money from PACs that raise concerns. Northwestern Energy, hardly a champion of the interests of ordinary Montanans, gave her the maximum allowable donation and she has received support through mailers from the Montana Hospital Association and the Montana Dental Association.
What all of this tells me is that Republicans and business interests, knowing that the winner of this primary will be elected to the Legislature, are backing the more conservative candidate, the one who has demonstrated a willingness to compromise with the other side of the aisle even when it means betraying core Democratic values and the interests of the caucus as they fight to remain a viable obstacle to Republican dominance of the Legislature.
Primaries are always difficult things and the voters in HD81 have a choice to make. Do they elect Mary Caferro, who has voted against Democratic interests and bills while taking money from Republicans and big business interests or do they send Rob Farris-Olsen, a new face who will consistently fight for Democratic principles and take on the big energy companies and medical industry to make sure that the people of Montana are put first?
For me, the choice is clear. It’s time to send Rob Farris-Olsen to represent Helena, not Mary Caferro to represent Chuck Denowh and Northwestern Energy.