This could be the most difficult post I’ve written in the dozen or so years I’ve been blogging. I’ve struggled with it for over a month.
Why all the consternation? Because there’s a great field of Democratic candidates vying for Ryan Zinke’s vacated U.S. House seat.
Seven men and one woman are seeking the Democratic Party nomination (to date, there are seven men and no women on the Republican side). Three Democratic candidates have the greatest chance of getting the nod: state representatives Amanda Curtis and Kelly McCarthy, and musician Rob Quist. Each would do an excellent job representing Montana in Congress and I would wholeheartedly campaign for any one of them.
In addition, there’s attorney John Meyer of Bozeman, Tom Weida of Helena, Link Neimark of Whitefish, and Missoulians Dan West and Gary Stein. I’ve chatted with most of them. I appreciate their willingness to throw their hats in the ring and their reasons for running. I don’t believe they have the name recognition, yet, to get elected.
Here’s why I’m endorsing Amanda Curtis:
1) She has the experience as a legislator and as a statewide candidate.
2) Amanda has a team ready to hit the ground running to turn out the votes.
3) She is a young, articulate, progressive woman and a fighter (and we could certainly use more of those in Washington). To me, she represents the future of the Montana Democratic Party.
4) She’s the genuine article — not a waffling politician — we know where she stands on the issues. As we learned from the November election, being genuine counts. (Sen. Bernie Sanders was genuine and he won the Democratic primary in Montana. Donald Trump was considered “genuine” because of his outrageous comments and actions, although over half the electorate did realize that he was as phony as a three dollar bill; damn that Electoral College.)
I have no quarrel with the two other candidates with nomination potential: McCarthy and Quist. I have met with both of them and they are honorable men. McCarthy is a seasoned legislator, has progressive credentials and is already running a strong campaign. I’ve known Quist for close to 40 years, as a musician, a Montana booster and friend. A look at the issues on his website indicate progressive leanings. He, too, is running an aggressive campaign.
So, the question on everyone’s mind is who can win. I’ve listened to my heart and I’ve listened to my head. I’ve struggled mightily in coming to the conclusion that Amanda is the best candidate.
I’ll try to dispel some of the myths surrounding her candidacy.
Folks look at the 2016 election and see that the great, progressive woman, Denise Juneau, got pretty soundly beaten by Ryan Zinke. This is not the 2016 election. The much-maligned Hillary Clinton is not at the top of the ticket, a fact that kept some potential Democratic voters away from the polls and influenced independents.
I believe that Juneau’s and Trump’s margin in Montana can be attributed more to Clinton negatives than Trump positives. There also appears to be buyer’s remorse now that Trump voters are seeing their choice in action. And his win has motivated those who sat on the sidelines to take an active role in electing a Trump foil.
The presumed Republican nominee, Greg Gianforte, is not Ryan Zinke. Zinke was the incumbent and had a decent reputation as Montana’s sole representative in Congress. And, perhaps you’ve heard, he was a Navy SEAL. His negatives were kept well under wraps.
Although Gianforte has not received the Republican nomination, he claims he has the votes and is poised to run the strongest campaign of the Republican hopefuls, in my opinion. He has name recognition from his gubernatorial race, although not all of it good (“New Jersey millionaire who wants to buy the election,” and then there was that public access issue). Those tags will stay with him.
And, it pains me to say this, but there is still an anti-woman, anti-Native American, anti-gay sentiment in the Montana electorate. These should be non-issues but, alas, they are not. There’s nothing Amanda can do about sexism but the other two labels won’t affect her.
Then there’s the rural/urban question: can a progressive woman from Butte resonate with rural voters? We know Amanda will do well in the liberal hotbeds of Bozeman, Butte, Helena and Missoula, which is close to one-fifth of the electorate, but how about the rest of the state?
My answer would be a question: what has the Republican Party done for average Montanans? Improved access to affordable health care? Helped the public schools and colleges where their kids go? Made the public lands where they recreate more accessible? Cleaned up the toxic sites that dot our beautiful state? Fixed our infrastructure? I could go on.
I’ll close on a positive note. I haven’t seen this level of interest and activism since I was a teenager during the Vietnam War era: ten thousand at the Women’s March in Helena; rallies almost everyday at cities and towns around Montana; unprecedented phone call and letter writing campaigns; and involvement in this special election that I’ve rarely witnessed in the most heated general elections.
This is a good thing. We can win this one.