One of the more interesting developments coming from the flurry of announcements for the Montana House and Senate races is that two of the leading candidates who’ve announced recently defy party expectations on abortion rights. On the Republican side, Ryan Zinke is running as a pro-choice candidate for the House in a deeply pro-life Republican Party, while on the Democratic side, former Lieutenant Governor (and former Republican) John Bohlinger is running as a pro-life Democrat for the Senate.
While Zinke is far from a champion of reproductive rights, his voting record and statements on abortion are certainly at odds with his party’s views. In 2009, Senator Zinke scored a 65% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Montana while the rest of his party was closer to 3%. In 2011, Zinke told the Whitefish Pilot that he opposes government intervention to restrict abortion:
He also says government should play no role in personal decisions like abortion. He and his wife, Lola, and their three children live their lives pretty conservatively, he adds, but that doesn’t mean he wants someone at a desk telling him what to believe. [1. I really recommend people read this article about Zinke. I think a Republican who is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-marijuana legalization is going to play really well]
In a Republican field that is likely to be a competition to see who can best embody the worst of the TEA Party, Zinke is likely to position himself as a “moderate,” but it will be interesting if supporting abortion rights (at any level) will make it impossible for Republicans to support him.
On the other side of the aisle, former Lt. Governor John Bohlinger has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, despite a pro-life record that will make him a very tough sell in a Democratic primary.
Bohlinger’s NARAL Pro-Choice Montana issues ratings were abysmal during his time in the Legislature. He scored a 0% rating in 1999 and 2001, and a 50% rating in 2003.
Back in 2004, he made it clear he still considered himself anti-abortion, as Mike Dennison reported:
During his legislative career, Bohlinger voted for a number of measures that would restrict or possibly outlaw abortion. But he also voted against a bill 10 years ago requiring minors to get “parental consent” before having an abortion.
Bohlinger said that while he opposes abortion, there is little he could do politically as a state senator or lieutenant governor to make it illegal.
I suspect Bohlinger’s record will prove more problematic. He’ll be facing off against a credible, pro-choice opponent in John Walsh and has the integrity to honestly assess his own position on choice issues. Zinke, on the other hand, is neither burdened by a credible opponent nor the integrity necessary to be honest with Montana Republicans. I have little doubt he will soon be traveling the state proclaiming his absolute fealty to the Republican war on reproductive rights.