Platform Rhetoric in the Race for Congress

Platforms, for parties and candidates alike, are the launchpad for political fundraising, election chatter, and conection with a voter base. As the initial connection point between person and policy, many journalists and promoters will use the planks of a platform to verify the ideas and stance of the candidate in question. Similarly, this “ground-zero” style of engagement provides the candidate with opportunity to set the tone of discussion for potential backers and endorsements by allowing a vacuum-like atmosphere in showcasing their most basic ideas and beliefs. If technology has done anything for the political process, it has provided ease of access to our potential leaders’ desired contributions to policy creation and shaping.
Naturally, since Congressional candidate Steve Daines has currently out-fundraised his opponent  by a 10 to 1 margin, I decided to examine the Gilan and Daines platforms in an effort to understand the financial force  behind the Daines campaign. Bearing in mind that this statistic was taken very near the  post-primary seasom, at which point the democratic donor base was spread between a multitude of candidates rather than a single person, a lead this distinct can be a sign of general election outcomes. In that case, a study of platforms and planks serves as definition for the proverbial boat our state may be boarding on the congressional front.
In my research, I realized that this race requires a decision based upon what we value in our representatives; relevant experience or rhetoric. Thus far, wealthy Montana donors have chosen rhetoric.
When examining each candidate’s job creation plank, a decisive issue this election cycle, both Gillan and Daines reference their small/local business experience and both camps use a certain amount of prose necessary for platforms to be engaging. But there is a fine line between making a platform interesting and not saying anything substantial. Here are each candidate’s comments on job creation, for your review;
Daines on jobs;
“Montanans understand that Government does not create jobs. Individuals, entrepreneurs, business men and women create jobs. I’ve not only talked about creating jobs, I’ve actually done it — creating hundreds of high paying jobs right here in Montana. The best way to create jobs is to give small businesses the right incentives to invest and grow, instead of creating doubt and uncertainty as Washington politicians are doing today. The path forward to create more jobs begins with less government.”
Gillan on jobs;
“A hallmark of Kim’s legislative career has been her support for small business. Whether pushing for small business tax relief so they can create jobs or promoting a worker training program so that businesses can compete, Kim knows that small businesses have always been the engine of economic growth for Montana and for America.
Gillan has run a small business, and in the Montana Legislature her first and last bills were tax cuts to help small businesses create jobs. In Congress, she will find practical solutions to create a climate that small businesses can grow and succeed. This includes cutting unnecessary regulations and red-tape and providing targeted small business tax relief.
Montana undoubtedly has some amazing natural resources. However, Montana’s greatest asset is and will always be its people. Kim believes that maximizing these natural resources and giving Montana workers the right training is how we will fuel the jobs of tomorrow.
Now more than ever, a trained and educated workforce is essential. While we work to gain the jobs we need right now, we also have to educate the workforce of tomorrow. That is why Kim will work to make college more affordable for Montana families.
We also need to make sure that the jobs of Montana’s traditional economy like farming, ranching, timber, and mining survive and that new industries like biotech and clean energy lead Montana in the 21st Century economy.
Our economy won’t be back on track until every Montanan who needs a job can find one that pays a livable wage.  And in Congress Kim Gillan will never stop working until we get there.”
Outside of the obvious differences in the two platforms (length, depth, clarity, contradiction), the use of tangible examples stuck out the most to me. Now, hear me out; experience is not necessarily telling of success in a public office. But, experience in policy creation/voting records reveal illustrations of values in action that require equalization by an opponent with a less concrete background through more substantial planks and ideas; this provides supporters with a spring board of excitement around the candidate. This truth was very evident in the election of our current president.
Regardless, what am I, as a voter, supposed to garner from the Daines plank, other than his position at RightNow Technologies? Gillan references tangible examples such as bolstering higher education,  training programs, and the maximization of all our natural resources. All that I gain from Steve Daines’ position is that he hates the trend of Washington politicians pandering to extremes and, in doing so, stalemating any kind of positive policy creation.  I agree with Steve, but that bandwagon left a long time ago, taking his concrete policy examples with it. Upon closer inspection, the  three substantial sentences in the Daines plank contradict a tried-and-true value that his party, and his platform, continue to promote; less government. How, exactly, will the federal government, of which you are attempting to be paid by, provide the “right” incentives for small business investment and growth in Montana with less of itself? Gillan answers this question by briefly discussing tax breaks for small businesses. But, Daines’ thoughts are a giant question mark. Either he is referring to spending taxpayer moneyto make money in the private sector, taking hits in the revenue, or his position needs some serious rewriting. As a voter, this lack of clarity creates a certain level of “doubt and uncertainty” in my mind.
The difference between an experienced and non-experienced candidate in platform creation shows in the dynamic use of successes, failures, and goals to thicken their initial presentation. While neither Daines nor Gillan went so far as to pull from their failures, there is a gap in the level of engagement with policy creation and execution in each case that is expected, of which Daines made no effort to make up for in the easiest way possible; through position platforms.
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About the author


I am a Montanan, fisher-person, and a passionate progressive. My political interests lie within political ethics, economic justice, and the responsiveness of government to the needs of real people.


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  • Clearly, after reading this article, Gillian has no shot. I think the biggest problem isn’t platform, but name recognition.

    Kim Gillan, however, …

    • I would agree to a point. The Gillian campaign has done a lot more real-time work at a grassroots level that resonates with Montanans more. And, again, the margin is as wide as it is due to the variety of democrats that also ran in the primary; donations were spread thin.

  • Strictly speaking, your wording that Daines outraised Gillan by 10-to-1 is a little inaccurate. From the Center for Responsive Politics*, Daines raised $1.1 million, or three times more than Gillan’s $379,000. Of course, most of her money went to winning the 7-way primary. The 10-to-1 ratio represents cash-on-hand available for the campaigns to spend.

    Your basic point, though, remains valid. Since these numbers came just after the primary, they mostly show Gillan’s ability to outraise all her opponents in a crowded primary. We won’t know how her fundraising compares with Daines until the next fundraising report is due in mid-September.


    • Yeah, I should have specified that the 10-1 ratio is a cash on hand advantage. I did point out that this is a direct result of a wide primary, Although that margin is still worth consideration in terms of the general race.

  • It would help if the paragraphs were separated by an extra carriage return.

    Gillan is more verbose than Daines, but not much more specific. In my opinion, most, perhaps all, of her platform could be employed by a Republican. What are her bold initiatives — bold initiatives that her opponent disdains — for creating new jobs that pay well and last for year? What, exactly, would she do differently from Daines? How? Why? What would it cost? Where would she get the money?

    Although Gillan is running for an open seat, she is, for all practical purposes, running as the challenger as she proposes replacing a Republican with a Democrat. She has to make two cases: (1) why a Democrat should replace a Republican, and (2) why she would be a more effective representative than Daines. I know her partisans think she’s done that, and continues to do that, but I see nothing but the vague and anodyne generalities that tend to issue from candidates who not only are cautious by nature but fear the voters are likely of a different political persuasion.

    Gillan needs to raise a ruckus. So far, she seems unwilling and unable to do so. Sometimes I wonder whether she expects to lose and is positioning herself for a winning candidacy in 2014 when Rep. Daines challenges Baucus and Montana’s seat in the House becomes open again.

    Am I voting for her? Of course. But her bland as boiled oats campaign does not get my juices going on her behalf.

    • So, I see your point in that Gillan’s plank is nonspecific in a sense, but a plank is not the place to spell out all of those exact details you are asking for; it is for overview. Debate and discussion is where you talk about specific funding mechanisms. The campaign trail reveals all of those inherent differences, which rings true if you have ever heard each candidate speak or give an interview. The point was to show the comparison of what each candidate sees as their perfect “overview”. This matters, again, because it is the expression of basic beliefs.

      I have to say though, while I understand why you are dissatisfied with the plank above (even if I disagree that planks are not the place to answer the questions you have), but there are some pretty glaring differences in policy stance (and, again, in generic specifics [ha]). The simplest way to describe each is to list;

      Gillan; Small business tax relief, worker’s training programs, cutting red-tape, fueling “jobs of tomorrow” via “clean energy”, making college more affordable, and a fair living wage.

      Daines; less government creates more jobs.

      The key differences (and, I believe this references your democratic effectiveness piece) between Gillan and Daines are, based upon this one plank; 1) training programs and an emphasis on higher ed/continuing education, 2) Clean energy industries, and 3) Fair living wage. That seems pretty distinct to me and we haven’t even had a chance to compare the other planks.

      Regardless, and this may just be a difference of political personality between us, the time for ruckus is not now. More than ever, Montanans are muting their TVs when the Tester/Rehberg ads come on and are tired of aggressive politics at the moment. The low-key approach is working for both of them at this point, especially the grassroots/town hall approach.

      • I don’t think making a ruckus has to be negative – it just needs to be something to get her name out. A low-key campaign is never going to get Democrats a seat in the House – Montanans default to the GOP, especially with Obama on top of the ballot. Gillan needs to get famous, fast. She needs an issue – Schweitzer had prescription drugs, Tester had Jack Abramoff, Gillan needs something to get her name out. In fact, I think she’ll be better off if she does it without going negative, because Daines is not very famous; no reason to make him so. I don’t know what her signature issue can be, but she needs one quick.

    • Oh, and WordPress would not let me edit in the spaces between paragraphs. More specifically, the final drafts do not show the paragraph breaks I added. Sorry if this was frustrating.

  • “Regardless, and this may just be a difference of political personality between us, the time for ruckus is not now. More than ever, Montanans are muting their TVs when the Tester/Rehberg ads come on and are tired of aggressive politics at the moment. The low-key approach is working for both of them at this point, especially the grassroots/town hall approach.”

    When you’re behind in the polls, short on money, and voting starts in six weeks, it’s not just time, but long past time, to raise a ruckus, to make noise, to be heard. And that has to be done in the mass media: Montana has 650k registered voters; only a few hundred can be reached in town hall meetings. Town halls, etc., are for inspiriting the faithful and volunteers, and making points in a way that generates news stories. Gillan needs to grab a megaphone and deliver a strong, clear, provocative message. This is no time to pussyfoot and play patty-cake.

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