Montana is an anomaly. Democratic Party leadership tends to be young: Gov. Steve Bullock is 49 and Sen. Jon Tester is 59. The three tier-b’s: Monica Lindeen, Linda McCulloch and Denise Juneau average a little over 57.
Juneau is the youngest at 48. Granted, these aren’t spring chicken ages but compared to the serious Democratic Presidential contenders, they’re youngsters: Clinton at 68 and Sanders at 74.
The New York Times had an interesting piece on the respective ages of Presidential candidates from the two major parties.
The average age of the leaders, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, is 71, older than Ronald Reagan was during his successful 1980 campaign.
The Republican candidates average 57, with three candidates in their 40s, even after Scott Walker (47 at the time) dropped out in September. The sole Republican candidate old enough to collect Social Security? Donald J. Trump.
The story goes on to ask, “Where are the national Democratic politicians in their 40s and 50s?” That’s a damn good question.
Explanations offered vary but the main theme is that there really hasn’t been an activist class of Democrats since the 1960s and early 70s: the decades of anti-war, civil rights and feminism. Most of the younger Democrats, nowadays, come up through party bureaucracy. They are more cautious and inoffensive. It’s hard to recruit activists and excite young voters with a namby-pamby agenda.
The Democratic Party, as an institution, had little meaning for this generation (the generation following the baby boomers). It was not ideologically coherent — extremely conservative Southerners were still Democrats well into the Clinton years — and the party’s operatives did little to make it meaningful to young people.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, was being aggressive back then with “galvanizing backlash politics” a la Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. Ergo, we have a slew of 40 and 50-year-old Republican candidates champing at the bit to continue advancing the far-right policies of their mentors.
Denise Juneau — relatively young, a Native American woman and a progressive — could be just the antidote needed to fire up younger generations in Montana; and being one of the more environmentally conscious members of the state land board can’t hurt, either.
Bullock, Tester and President Barrack Obama were seen as having some of these same qualities when they first ran for office (well, not Native American, obviously, but you get my drift). Having become mired in the system and tagged with “politics as usual,” they may now appeal more to the base than the masses. And in order to win, the Democratic Party needs to turn out more than the base. It needs the cynics, the independents, the disenfranchised, the young.
At the national level, evidence that “politics as usual” isn’t working abounds in both parties: Sanders’ popularity within the Democrat Party, and Trump, Carson and Fiorina for the Republicans.
Juneau has the appeal of an outsider but also has governing experience and party connections. And as a former teacher, she should get the support of labor as the teachers union has a lot of clout in that arena. With a masters degree in education from Harvard, you know she’s sharp, and did I mention, young?
It’s going to take a lot of hard work to oust incumbent Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke but Juneau could be just the one to pull it off. She’ll also be helping up-ticket and down-ticket races and energizing the Montana Democratic Party (and maybe the national party) in the process.