Yesterday, the Montana Democratic Party rejected a rule change that seemed design to drive union members from party leadership at the MDP Officers Convention. Former Party Chair Jim Elliott offered an rule change that would have essentially excluded all labor union officers from serving on the Executive Board of the Montana Democratic Party.
The rule change would have read:
“6. Any officer of an organization that has endorsed and/or contributed to a candidate who is not a 19 Democrat and is running in a contested race in which a Democrat is a candidate cannot hold a 20 Montana Democratic Party – elected positions.”
Eric Feaver, President of the MEA-MFT spoke in strong opposition. He pointed out that this would cut anyone from the MDP Executive Board who works with an organization that has ever endorsed a Republican, an absurd position in a state where progressives often have to endorse and/or support moderate Republicans when the only viable alternative is a member of the TEA Party fringe. Candidates like Senator Duane Ankney come to mind immediately, and there are certainly others.
Senator Jon Tester’s State Director made a strong argument against the rule change pointing to Governor Schweitzer choosing a Republican as his running mate.
Opponents also included Democratic state legislators, who argued that the rule change was not in their best interest, nor the best interest of the party. The current Chair and Vice Chair are union officers and the current Executive Director Nancy Keenan is an outspoken MEA-MFT member. Union members knocking on doors and making phone calls get Democrats elected in this state, and moving against them over a disagreement over one race would have been a terrible mistake.
That critical relationship was also obvious at the convention, where union groups offeredsponsorship for the event, taking four of the top five spots.
Look, I think the MEA and AFL-CIO were wrong to endorse Steve Gibson over Mary Ann Dunwell, and wrote the same back before the election, but the imposition of some sort of Montana GOP-style “purity” test on Democratic officials is not in the interest of the party, and not in the interest of maintaining our critical relationship with labor. Friends can disagree with each other from time to time, even passionately, even angrily, but it doesn’t mean they don’t share the same values and priorities most of the time.
And Democrats did well to remember that our party has no better friend than labor, a vital constituency that not only works tirelessly for Democratic candidates, but represent a partnership at the core of our identity as the party that puts working conditions, fair pay, and respect for a hard day’s work at the top of its agenda.