It isn’t hyperbolic to suggest that the Democratic primary for governor will be one of the most monumental political choices of this generation. We’ll be choosing a candidate who will either protect what we love about Montana and finally send Greg Gianforte packing for good or lose the race, condemning our state to becoming a nightmare version of itself where health and human rights are subordinate to profits and bigotry.
And we also have two accomplished candidates running in the primary.
Whitney Williams is an accomplished person with an outstanding resume of public work in the United States and abroad. we are looking forward to voting for her one day, perhaps as a Congressional candidate in 2022 if Montana gets its much hoped for and deserved second seat in the House.
But the choice for our candidate for governor is clear: Mike Cooney.
Cooney has fought progressive fights in Montana for decades and offers the best chance for Montana Democrats to retain the seat they have held for sixteen years.
Montanans know who Mike Cooney is: he’s a damn nice guy who fought for LGBTQ rights in Montana before it was politically popular, who has spent a career working to ensure that Montana kids and families have access to healthcare, and who has never forgotten it is the working men and women of this state who made Montana what it is and continue to make it the place we all hope it will remain.
And Mike has chosen Montana as the battleground where he’s fought those fights.
If Democrats select Mike Cooney, they will choose a person who has committed his life to improving our state and preserving what is best about Montana as his vocation and his passion. They will also be choosing someone who knows what it takes to defeat Greg Gianforte and govern the state from day one.
We also wish that we had learned more about Williams in the past year. While her campaign has issued a flurry of policy statements in the waning days of the campaign, she did little to establish herself with Montanans and let us know more about her priorities if elected. Unlike other statewide candidates, her campaign did not respond to our request for an interview. After a second request, we’re still waiting for e-mailed responses to questions we sent ten days ago.
We have also been troubled by the tenor of the Williams campaign in the past few months as her criticism of the Bullock-Cooney administration has sharpened. Any candidate, of course, has the right to criticize the record of her opponent, but what concerns me about the criticism from the Williams campaign is that it seems to ignore or not understand the political reality on the ground here in Montana for the past sixteen years.
It is one thing to argue, as Williams does, for instance, that she would not have approved budget cuts that occurred in the 2017 special session, but talk is easy. For sixteen years, Montana governors have held an increasingly reactionary Republican Legislature at bay. A counterfactual history where any candidate for governor could have enacted all of the policies she—and we Democrats—champion feels either unfair or uninformed about the incredible work Democratic administrations, including the Bullock-Cooney team, have done to maintain the Montana way of life in the face of a very hostile, often irrational Legislature that has seemed more interested in tearing down government than in lifting people up.
By her own admission, Williams did not understand until after the 2016 election that Montanans were struggling. From an interview this March:
But after the 2016 election, the big “aha!” was that I didn’t know my country as well as I thought I did. I decided then that it was time for me to hunker down and focus on issues facing Montanans and Americans. As I started doing that, what I discovered was that people are scared and struggling in Montana. The reality is that we need a new generation of leadership at this moment in time in politics.
Given that the difference in policy proposals between the candidates is so slight, Williams has chosen to make this race a referendum on the last eight years in Montana, something that feels like a strategic mistake because it reminds Montanans that while the big political questions of the state were raging, Mike Cooney was here, and she was not.
When Mike Cooney was working with a bipartisan group of legislators to pass and then solidify Medicaid expansion for over 100,000 Montanans, Whitney Williams wasn’t in the fight.
When Mike Cooney was working with the Legislature to freeze college tuition in Montana, Whitney Williams wasn’t in the fight.
When Mike Cooney was negotiating to finally break the logjam and get critical infrastructure, upgrades to our universities, and a new Heritage Center for Montana’s Historical Society, Whitney Williams wasn’t in the fight.
When Mike Cooney was working to keep guns out of our schools and corporations out of our elections, Whitney Williams wasn’t in the fight.
And make no mistake: Republicans will exploit that absence in the general election. When Democrats have spent years attacking Greg Gianforte and Matt Rosendale for not being from Montana, how will they defend a candidate who has voted far more often in Washington than Montana?
In some ways, the Williams campaign has made this choice easy for Democratic voters. If you believe, as we do, that Governor Bullock and Lieutenant Governor Cooney have protected public schools, public lands, the environment, reproductive rights, all while balancing our budget, Mike Cooney is your candidate. If you don’t, Whitney Williams is.
We’re thrilled to learn that someone as impressive as Whitney Williams is going to join these battles here in Montana and look forward to supporting her future candidacies. In this race, though, the best candidate is the one who has been here in the trenches working for a better, more equitable, more just Montana his entire life.
From the first moment he stepped onto the political stage in Montana as a teenager, Mike Cooney—as a legislator, advocate, Secretary of State, Lieutenant Governor, and member of our community—has fought for progressive values, even when they weren’t always easy or popular. He understands and lives the ideas that Montanans do when we’re at our best: that we’re all fortunate to share this wonderful state and that we owe something back to our neighbors, our communities, and our environment.
Mike has had our back, and he will be a hell of a candidate against Greg Gianforte.
Mike Cooney has been here for us. We hope you will consider being there for him as ballots go out next week.