Interview with Tom Winter: A Bold Commitment to Progressive Policy

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Tom Winter does not believe that Democrats will regain the House seat Republicans have held since 1997 by compromising on progressive values.

The Missoula representative, who won election in 2018 in a district President Trump carried by 11 points just two years earlier, is betting that, despite conventional wisdom and the advice of some political experts, a liberal candidate from Missoula can win a statewide race by embracing Democratic principles and respecting that voters who are skeptical of politicians who seem to run from their values will listen to a progressive message if delivered directly and honestly.

Winter is committed to that bet. In an interview with The Montana PostCast, he laid out a progressive vision for not only his candidacy but for Democrats across the state who he argues are too willing too often to cede ground to a Republican Party that has lost its moral compass.

On health care,  Winter noted that his priority in Congress would be to protect the idea of health care as a human right and work to develop policy that would ensure that Montanans had access to critical care:

First and this is because I know that people are animated about this and it’s what brought me on my journey to public service as a Congressman: put in front of me a bill that gets health care for all Americans as a right and does not increase taxes on the middle class who already pay too much and I will sign it. 

I care about health care and I care about using the platform of this campaign and eventually the Congress to bring the inequality of access in the state of Montana and rural areas to light for national figures. 

In Montana access is really difficult for most people, and when I go to D.C., I educate them about what’s happening here in Montana. We need to have someone in Congress fighting for the very concept of rural care. 

While acknowledging that he respects the Second Amendment, Winter said that it’s not only good policy but popular policy to enact red flag laws and stronger background check provisions to protect those who would harm themselves and others with firearms:

I have not seen polling that shows that Montana’s are roundly against enforcing and stronger red flag laws to save specifically the people who are often committing suicide with a gun and that’s mostly people’s brothers and their fathers and their uncles and their grandfathers. And I’m not to say it doesn’t happen to women and children as well, but we need to look at what this is and we need to talk about this openly and transparently. 

I’m not afraid to lead with the values that are pretty transparent here, which is trying to keep people from hurting themselves when they are sick and I think Most Montanans, if not all, are in favor of that. ‘

In the legislature when I was in Health and Human Services, we had people come in talking about the suicide crisis here in our state and they were people who would have been able to possibly save their loved ones from their illness if we had had stronger red flag laws.

And nationally about four million women are alive today who have had a gun either pointed at them or fired at them or they’ve been shot by a domestic partner and that’s part of domestic violence and guns, too, and Red Flag laws could help save many of them. 

Winter defended the impeachment of President Trump and offered pointed criticism of his primary rival Kathleen Williams for not backing the House’s decision to impeach:

Look the president used our taxpayer dollars to bribe a foreign official to interfere in our own electoral process. I’m not so certain how anyone thinks that’s alright, and I will gladly say this with respect to my primary opponent, Kathleen Williams. Her response to this multiple times has been that “Congress needs to get back to the work of the people.” That’s what Matt Rosendale  Greg Gianforte said. (Ed note: Winter clarified this quote after we left the recording to note that it was Gianforte, not Rosendale.) 

So in this case, I’m the only person talking about this in the congressional race.

And if you hear a certain tone in my voice that’s because I’m so disappointed in our politics that they’re not ready to stand up for people and ready to stand up for the rule of law. 

So do I think that it was the right thing to do to essentially prosecute a president who clearly and by his own admission and his administration used our tax dollars to bribe a foreign official? Yeah, I think that’s the right thing to do. I do. And I also think that it’s so important to ask our congress members about this and people who are running because it will be our job to hold any presidency to account, Democrat or Republicans.

When asked about the conventional wisdom in Montana politics that a progressive from Missoula cannot win a statewide race, Winter noted that the election of someone like Greg Gianforte would have been unthinkable just a few years ago:

A millionaire candidate from New Jersey with a trophy ranch who lives in Bozeman and is a tech millionaire probably [couldn’t] get elected either. But look, you put on some cowboy boots and assaulted a reporter and here he is.

That commitment to the idea that Democrats should speak and vote boldly in the defense of their values and not “act like the default mode for Montanans is to be Republican” is central to Winter’s bid, an unabashedly progressive campaign that endorses the idea of a single-payer healthcare system, equality for the LGBTQIA+ community, and debt relief for those struggling under the burden of student loans.

And one that recognizes that Democratic values built Montana and can be winning political messages again:

I really am calling on my friends in the Democratic Party to embrace our values, because if we do that, we are not lying, and it turns out that the bullshit meter among Montanans is pretty high. It’s high with me, too. So that’s why I run a transparent campaign that talks about what I actually believe in and what I have learned my fellow Montanans believe in so I can best represent them.

A lot of Montana Democrats have lost their way by essentially running from their constituents. If we leveled with our constituents, we’d see the program and the policy ideals that the Democrats have, actually are the ones that are in line with the state.

Montana was built by Democrats…We have a long history of economic populism that is in line with what the Democrats are working towards today.

If you’re interested in helping or learning more about the Winter campaign, visit his web site or Facebook page today.

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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