Montana Democratic Party platform convention

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I hesitate to write this post. No matter how I phrase it, some friends in the party won’t be happy — depending on where they stand on the issues.

The last thing I want to do is give the Democratic Party a black eye with this most crucial midterm election 112 days out. In a way, the convention is a snapshot of how democracy works: it’s messy, and there are winners and losers. I continue to respect the delegates from all over Montana who gave up a summer weekend to sit in the Great Falls Civic Center.

I have yet to see any media coverage of the convention. In the old days, Lee newspapers would have sent Chuck Johnson or Mike Dennison to the event, and the Great Falls Tribune would have had a reporter there. The only recap I’ve seen is on social media and there tends to be bias. So, here’s my view as a progressive participant.

I should mention at the outset that I’m the director of the Montana Progressive Democrats (MtPD). We had five planks we wanted to add to the platform. A thumbnail sketch of the convention can be viewed by how those planks fared.

Energy. Right out of the gate, I got my ass handed to me. This is the MtPD plank I introduced:

We support an immediate and just transition to 100 percent renewable energy, and to take action to accelerate the shift to a clean energy economy that works for all. There must be a rapid phase out of fossil fuel projects in Montana to be replaced by alternative and sustainable union energy jobs.

I’d just arrived in the Electric City from a gorgeous drive along the Blackfoot River and over Rogers Pass and onto the rolling plains of Central Montana. Organized labor was waiting for me. It based its opposition to the plank on a loss of good-paying union jobs in the fossil fuel industry and election defeats in energy producing counties.

I also took a hit from former legislator and Public Service Commissioner Greg Jergeson. It was the word “immediate” that troubled him. He said that ratepayers would see substantial increases in their power bills because Northwestern Energy and Montana-Dakota Utilities consumers were tied into existing contracts with various fossil fuel energy providers, with guaranteed rates already set. He also mentioned a lack of infrastructure and alternative energy producers to cover users’ needs in the near future.

The reason the word “immediate” was used by MtPD is because we could not find consensus on a specific transition date, anywhere. 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040? Sooner than later was our suggestion.

Ken Toole, also a former legislator and PSC commissioner, challenged Jergeson’s statement and added that Montana was falling behind in the clean energy race and that fossil fuels, particularly coal, were not Montana’s future. He also stated that there was more job growth in the renewable energy sector than in the old fossil fuel industry.

I got maybe five votes out of the 30 delegates in the room, many of whom were representatives from labor, and a few cautious legislators, candidates and handlers. To say that unions are well represented at these conventions would be an understatement. Here’s the deal, though: MtPD is a strong supporter of organized labor, as you’ll see in some of the other planks, below, that we introduced.

What you don’t see at these conventions are leaders from the environmental community, and perhaps for good reason. They have received short shrift in the past. There is room at the table, though: form a partnership organization, like MtPD did, that represents our mutual, important environmental concerns. It gives you votes at conventions. You can also get involved through county central committees. As they say in the lottery commercials: you can’t win if you don’t play.

And labor, how about helping out on environmental planks being offered up? You know, a little quid pro quo.

An aside on this issue — I spoke to a woman legislative candidate who had just finished filling out the AFL-CIO questionnaire to get its endorsement. She’s a strong advocate for labor and answered all the questions to the organization’s satisfaction except one, something along the lines of, “Do you support the reasonable development of future coal reserves?” “Reasonable?” What the hell does that mean? And since she’s rightfully concerned about global warming, she didn’t respond appropriately to that particular query. This could cost her the endorsement.

Bad move, AFL-CIO.

Jobs and the Economy. 

We support raising the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour and then indexing it (to cost of living and inflation). No one who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty.

This didn’t make it either, although the vote was much closer than the clean energy plank I’d offered up earlier in the day. The arguments against it came from mostly rural delegates. They figured it would be a difficult sell to small businesses in their communities. MtPD explained that it was just a target and this wage was sorely needed in booming cities like Bozeman and Missoula, but that fell on deaf ears.

Labor raised concerns about the plank, which baffled me. Would this hurt its organizing efforts? Doesn’t the cliche “a rising tide raises all boats” apply? Help me to understand your opposition, please, labor.

Some of the handlers for the congressional candidates were hesitant, too — again, worried that it would harm the candidates at the polls.

One argument against the amendment was that this should be done municipally, like Bozeman is trying to do, and not be a statewide effort. That’s fine for cities with progressive councils and commissions, but what about communities in need of wage increases that have regressive elected officials? I guess those towns lose out.

Health Care.

Health Care is a Human Right. America needs not-for-profit universal health care. We must resist privatization and voucherization of Medicare and Medicaid, or the rising age of Medicare eligibility.

“Health care is a Human Right” made it into the platform — a victory — but universal or single-payer or Medicare-for-all language didn’t. Those present at the committee said it was the same refrain: how will it affect our congressional and legislative candidates? How will it play at the doors?

It was unfortunate that many of the plank discussions that MtPD hoped to influence were scheduled at the same time: Health Care, Energy, Good Government, for example, were set for the same time slot. I don’t have many details on how the health care debate fared, but obviously one would think universal health care would be a winning message.

Labor.

We oppose right-to-work in all of its forms whether through the use of the judicial, federal, executive or state-level government, or any act that inhibits or restricts a member’s ability to join a strong union, or allows members to use the benefits of a union without paying their fair share.

With a little needed wordsmithing, this was adopted. The final sentence about members getting benefits without paying full union dues is MtPD’s response to the SCOTUS Janus decision (unionized public employees don’t have to pay “agency fees” even though they receive the wage increases and benefits that are negotiated by their union).

See, organized labor, MtPD is your friend.

Good Government.

WE SUPPORT:

1. The assurance of voting rights to all citizens and expanded voter participation particularly in historically disenfranchised areas.

2. Campaign finance reform to protect the voice of Montana voters against the dominance of large moneyed interests in electoral and political matters.

3. The overturning of Citizens United.

WE OPPOSE:

1.The dominance of huge moneyed interests over the interests of MT voters in electoral and political life.

2. Corporate human rights under the Constitution and money as protected speech.

Again, with a little wordsmithing, these got in. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. Any Democrats in favor of disenfranchising voters or Citizens United?

Perhaps the most interesting debate was on legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana. The plank wasn’t introduced earlier but as the convention wound down, a motion was made to add it to the platform by Billings Heights candidate for the state senate, Jennifer Merecki.

The discussion was enlightening. It wasn’t an urban/rural split. A farmer from Ekalaka was interested in a potential cash crop. An urban legislative candidate — from Missoula — spoke against the amendment. But the conversation leaned pro-pot. There are certainly tax and budget incentives, and it appeals to libertarians, young voters and those with medicinal needs.

The vote was closer than expected and it was somewhat of a defining moment. From my hasty count there was about a 20 vote difference out of 125 delegates. But it did go down.

Briefly, there were other amendments, good and bad, that were or were not adopted: a plank recognizing crimes against Native women, support for net neutrality, language on immigration, welcoming all gender identities into the Montana Democratic Party. All these made it into the platform. I’m sure I’ve missed a few other, important amendments.

On the con side, an amendment to take trapping out of the Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Recreation plank went down in defeat. Yo, Democrats, who are you trying to appeal to here?

Now, a brief message from Montana Progressive Democrats. It’s in MtPD’s job description to push the envelope, otherwise there will be no forward progress.

It reminds me of my first platform convention about a dozen years ago. Progressives there were advancing gay rights language. The more moderate wing of the party was worried about how that would be perceived by the voters in the upcoming election, and gay rights didn’t make it into the platform.

Twelve years later, it’s a major plank and there isn’t a delegate who wouldn’t defend LGBTQ rights. It’s called progress.

I did get to go to the Sip ‘n Dip and see the mermaids (and merman) and listen to Piano Pat, so the weekend wasn’t a total loss. Seriously, there were good people at the convention, doing what they thought best for the candidates and the future of the party.

And progressives, I think we’re making headway, albeit slowly, so keep agitating.

 

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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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