First, this message
The sun was blood red at 6 a.m. as I drove from Missoula to Helena on Saturday. I was headed to the Montana Democratic Party officers convention and the haze from the numerous forest fires, near and far, made for an eerie excursion.
The overwhelming evidence of man-caused climate change leading to earlier, more frequent and more intense wildfires was on my mind and I was hoping the candidates for the state party’s executive board would address this issue.
For the most part, they did not. There were some allusions to the environment but candidates skirted the subject of fossil fuels, alternative energy and climate change.
After stinging defeats in 2016 to Republicans pushing coal, oil and other extractive industries, Montana Democrats are leery of broaching the subject.
And I blame the environmental community, in part, for this reticence.
LGBTQ members are active and have a place at the table, some serving on the executive board. Labor is well represented. Women’s issues are front-and-center because activist women are involved. Same with tribal members, who have significant roles in the party.
So where are the environmentalists? “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” This quote and versions of it are attributed to Woody Allen.
Getting involved in the party is not heavy lifting. County central committees are hungry for officers. There are partner organizations that can vote on rules and officers, and effect change.
Between Montana’s fires, droughts and fish die-offs, a bold environmental platform is desperately needed and will resonate (if just for economic reasons). The party needs your help. Don’t write it off.
There were two oft repeated pronouncements: building the bench and rural outreach.
Building the bench makes sense. We’re behind the Republicans in numbers. They have more legislators, “tier b” elected officials, even congressional office holders. Democrats need fresh, young blood if they hope to make inroads. The party should start building name-recognition candidates for the long haul. Now’s the time to find and run people for office: school boards, municipal and county offices, legislative and statewide positions.
The rural outreach message is somewhat mystifying. Does the party expend energy on Wibaux County’s 564 voters or does it go after wins in, say, Yellowstone and Cascade Counties (71,871 and 53,867 voters, respectively). Don’t dismiss the rural vote but let’s focus on the numbers.
The new chairperson is Mary Sexton, former DNRC director under Gov. Brian Schweitzer and past Teton County Commissioner. She takes over for labor leader Jim Larson, who served for close to a decade.
Bryce Bennett of Missoula, a member of the Montana House and now running for the state senate, was elected vice chair. He succeeds another labor leader, Jacquie Helt, who served at least four terms.
My very progressive friend, Suzy Tarpey of Missoula, was re-elected secretary.
Great Falls’ Sandi Luckey, with the Montana Nurses Association, is treasurer.
The other seats filled:
Western District Female Chair: Lynn Stanley (Flathead County)
Western District Male Chair: Donavon Hawk (Butte)
Western District Female Members: Stacie Anderson (Missoula), Eve Franklin (Helena)
Western District Male Members: Andy Shirtliff (Helena), Lewis YellowRobe (Missoula)
Eastern District Female Chair: Elizabeth Marum (Belgrade)
Eastern District Male Chair: Kelly McCarthy (Billings)
Eastern District Female Members: Hannah Nash (Custer County), Vicki Dickinson (Billings)
Eastern District Male Members: Ming Cabrera (Billings), Jack Trethewey (Havre)
There were many contested races with people from all over Montana representing all kinds of constituencies. A number of activists from the Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign are on the board. This is all a good trend.
The election of Donald Trump and the far-right’s domination in congress, and various state executive and legislative positions, have galvanized the party. It’s too bad it had to come to this to get Democrats fired up, but there you have it.
In Montana, new central committees are forming, new folks are showing up and old folks are coming back to the fold.
This convention was the rank-and-file — people from all walks of life from counties big and small. They’re not in it for fame and glory but to advance progressive principles important to them. I really like these folks, which is why I bristle when some pundit talks about the “ignorant fucking Democrats.” That quote comes from a blogger on the “left.” I expect these sorts of comments from the right as I’ve hurled a few expletives in their direction. Fair criticism of the Democratic Party’s apparatchiks and culture is acceptable if one is willing to get involved and work for change. Otherwise, these sanctimonious comments serve no useful purpose.