Spare Me the Talk About the Deep Bench of Republican Candidates in Montana

Wood bench
Old Log house with wood bench

One of the enduring tropes in Montana politics over the past five or six years has been the idea that Republicans have a “deep bench” of candidates for statewide offices while Democrats don’t. Some of that idea comes from an interesting definitional trick by which a corporate middle manager is automatically qualified by the media as a serious candidate for Congress while multi-term legislators are not, but even a cursory look beyond that sleight of hand demonstrates the idea of a deep field of qualified Republican candidates is more imagined than real.

Even if we put aside the fact that the likely Republican candidates for governor and the U.S. House have both lost bids for these offices in the last four years, it’s easy to see that the idea of the Republican bench rests more on the sheer number of candidates they put forth than any qualifications those people possess.

The current Republican primary for Secretary of State makes that quite clear. While four Republicans have announced for the race, you’d be hard-pressed to make the argument that any would be an improvement over Corey Stapleton.

Bowen Greenwood, the latest to enter the race, brings a mixture of rabid partisanship and support for discrimination against his fellow Montanans, but little else other than his desire to abandon the Clerk of the Supreme Court office he was elected to just over 12 months ago. Greenwood, who spent part of his career shilling for the Republican Party, is perhaps best-known for his work at the Montana Family Foundation, where he routinely defended and promoted their bigoted agenda. In his spare time, he writes “clean thrillers,” including the powerfully titled Deeper Secrets, the summary of which I cannot recommend enough.

In a sign of just how tremendously sophisticated his campaign launch has been, his campaign site currently resolves to a web page for Russ Fagg’s law practice.

Another Republican candidate, Christi Jacobsen, the current Deputy Secretary of State for Stapleton, is so unqualified for the job that her own Facebook ads list her ability to “survive in Montana winters” as a qualification for the job.  In her tenure at the Secretary’s office, first as chief of staff and now as deputy, she has repeatedly covered for the misdeeds of her boss, even when he committed felony-level theft of state resources, stonewalled the public, and created a toxic work environment that drove experienced staffers out of the office in droves. Given her defense of Stapleton and her own proclivity for scheduling state travel to coincide with shopping adventures, some enterprising reporter might just want to take a look at how she has used state resources, too.

Because it’s a Republican primary, you’ve got to have at least one supporter of white supremacy and that’s Columbus-area legislator Forrest Mandeville, who has used his time in the Montana Legislature working on critical legislation that would permit Montanans to keep foxes at pets. More pertinent to the office of Secretary of State, he has actively worked to undermine voting rights in Montana, opposing an effort to increase transparency when corporations violate election laws, voting against a Republican-backed bill to reduce dark money in Montana politics, and voting to block online voter registration.

And, in news that somehow never seems to matter to the Montana media, Mandeville donated to white supremacist candidates for the Legislature and has offered his support for militia fan Theresa Manzella.

And the final candidate on this Murderer’s Row of elite contenders for office is Bozeman’s Scott Sales, who believes he is qualified to oversee Montana’s elections even though he wasn’t able to discern that his own wife was embezzling $20,000 from her ailing mother in his own home.

Worse yet, Sales was the state director for the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, a group that has been been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for its massive interference in Montana elections and its refusal to abide by the idea that those who seek to influence elections should disclose their spending and the identity of those who donate.

And his record on voting rights is just as bad. In the 2019 session, he opposed a Republican-backed measure to simplify voter registration when applying for a Driver’s License and against a measure to allow voters to drop off their absentee ballots at their polling places.

He also wants to further restrict voting rights by ending Montana’s popular same-day registration, telling Montana Public Radio that he would push the Legislature to change the law if elected.

And let’s not forget that Sales has such bad judgment that he wants to impose a sales tax on the state and shutter many of its rural hospitals. In a further signal of his excellent judgment, Sales wanted to, in a budget year when vital services were being slashed, appropriate $8 million dollars from Montana’s budget to fund Trump’s imaginary border wall.

With a candidate who made his name in Montana politics shilling for Jeff Laszloffy’s hate group, one who has defended and enabled the criminal malfeasance in Corey Stapleton’s office, one who donated to white supremacists and who opposes voting rights, and a fourth who worked for one of the worst practitioners of dark money in Montana politics, this most certainly isn’t a “deep bench.”

It’s a party off the deep end.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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