In our world where sound bites matter more than substance, I want to start with an important point that might otherwise get lost here: none of what will follow in this post is an indictment of the staff working at the Montana Democratic Party. I think they have an excellent team and I don’t mean to be critical of the effort of people who are doing and who have done the day to day work of the party.
That being said, I do believe the Montana Democratic Party needs new leadership. Whether that comes in the form of a new leader or a new, more active leadership style doesn’t matter, but something must be done as we head into a 2020 election that could define the future of our state.
The most pressing problem should be the easiest to fix. The Party needs to stop being silent. A look at the press releases page on the party’s web site shows the latest post was added over three weeks ago. The Facebook page? Other than posts about fundraising events, it’s a ghost town. Twitter? About one post a week.
And these have been pretty damn momentous times. Where was the Montana Democratic Party when thousands of Montana kids were out on the streets demanding action on climate change? The Party couldn’t offer support for these future voters even though our Party platform demands action on the climate?
Where has the Montana Democratic Party been on the latest wave of Trump scandals and his potential impeachment? While Republicans are gearing up their predictable attacks on the rule of law and their specious defense of the President, where is the voice of the Democratic Party defending the inquiries that will take place in Congress?
Parties play a unique role in our political system and some of that role must be to be the cudgel of the party, to take swings at Republican candidates for office that might be too difficult for candidates to take. Given the copious ammunition their voting records and public statements provide, Republicans should be taking hits from the MDP almost every week, if not every day. That’s just not happening.
And while the chairman of the Montana GOP is regularly communicating with voters in op-eds across the state, there’s been little corresponding effort from the Democrats. The e-mails and op-eds that Don Kaltschmidt sends out might be dishonest screeds, but at least he’s articulating a message for his party that is more than asking for money 3-6 times a week. The absence of a response from Democrats has been deafening.
I’m also struggling to understand the Party’s current fundraising strategy. While I get breathless e-mails about the need to fund a “rapid response team to fight against Trump’s harmful trade war,” for instance, I haven’t seen much response at all, much less a “rapid one.”
Worse yet, at the end of each fundraising quarter, a crucial time for candidates to raise money to establish their electoral viability, the party is sending competing e-mails that echo the same “end of quarter” rhetoric. All of us on the MDP’s mailing list over the past few days have been bombarded with a series of fundraising messages, sometimes twice a day—at precisely the same time candidates who need to establish themselves as viable candidates are trying to get their messages out.
While the MDP certainly needs to raise money, it doesn’t need to do it at the expense of candidates who are struggling to get their campaigns off the ground and, as more than one veteran Montana operative has told me, pursuing the same small donors individual candidates need to jumpstart their campaigns is neither an effective nor sustainable long-term strategy to fund the party.
As important as raising funds for the party might be, that fundraising can’t come at the expense of our candidates at this critical time.
It’s time for a change of direction at the Montana Democratic Party. Democrats talk about it every few years, but 2020 looms as the most important election in a generation. We absolutely need to hold the governor’s seat unless we want to let Greg Gianforte turn the state into Idaho. We need to regain some of the Tier B seats we’ve lost, to build our bench and protect our public lands. And we need to promote the values of the Democratic Party, to help voters understand that it’s our party that is looking out for our schools, environment, and rights.
It’s time to recognize that we’ve been losing ground and we need to start fighting twice as hard.
This piece isn’t a call for heads to roll or a defeatist critique of the Party; it’s a call for renewed action, renewed strength, and renewed energy. It’s a call for our Party to champion its values and broaden its support as we approach a critical election that could define the future of the state.
The Montana Democrats can lead us to victory in 2020, but only if it starts to lead again.