In perusing U.S. House candidate Tom Winter’s Twitter feed, it’s hard not to get distracted by the adorable dog content.
So this little pupper jumped in my car at the trailhead today. Wouldn’t leave. Anyone I asked (shouted to from a distance) said he had been there alone for hours in the snow. Gotta admit: He smells terrible and he made my day. pic.twitter.com/h1Ow5VehNU
— Tom Winter (@WinterForMT) March 23, 2020
Seriously. The exploits of Gary (because of course he adopted the dog) on the campaign brings a much-needed slice of joy and beauty in a pandemic.
Many of you are also friends with Danni, U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams’ four-legged companion, when he accompanied her on the road in 2018, visiting nearly every small town in Montana. Their tour during the 2018 Primary and General election was the type of fearless “talk to anyone and everyone” style of politics that many of us have sorely missed.
Whereas the Winter-Gary-Exploits on Tom’s Twitter are an absolute delight, don’t be distracted by the cute content, because what you find more prevalent than puppies is the campaign’s quest to purchase and donate PPE (personal protective equipment) to underserved agencies and areas in Montana (more on this later); an undaunted approach to universal healthcare for all; a recognition of climate change and the sweeping changes we must make to address the climate crisis, unflinching and honest conversations about equity, social justice, poverty, systemic racism and sexism, inequality, the failures and successes of government, and more. Tom Winter’s Twitter feed is authentic and real: the retweets, the commentary, the cussing, the anger, and sadness at leaders who choose corporations and profits over people, the joy. None of this has been sanitized for your protection by a campaign team or consults.
The authenticity and commitment to these ideals doesn’t stop at a Twitter feed. On the Winter campaign website, each issue contains a detailed, disciplined plan for execution. (It’s a lot of reading, but don’t we owe ourselves the deep research into each and every candidate platform and voting record?)
This level of honesty and public information was also on display in Winter’s social media feeds during his tenure in the 2019 Montana Legislature (HD96). Tom’s campaign for this seat in 2018 was an uphill battle – Donald Trump had won this District by +11 points and the seat was held by that same Republican in 2016 – but with some old school shoe leather and his unapologetic message shaped by the voice of the voters (both Democrat and Republican), he won.
A week after Tom Winter announced for the U.S. House race in 2019, Kathleen Williams announced that she would again be running for the seat. Her primary win in 2018 against 5 other candidates where she was polling in 3rd place, still brings a smile to my face. Kathleen dared to go anywhere in 2018. “I’ve been everywhere, man” with her dog and camper on her pickup truck, she landed in places that had not seen a Democratic primary candidate in over a decade. Her hard work was rewarded with one of the closest U.S. House votes Democratic candidates have seen in decades.
Kathleen Williams has always sported an impressive resume: multi-term legislator with friends and collaborators on both sides of the aisle (a necessity in a purple state like Montana; especially in the Legislature) and her experience in natural resource management and a knack for talking Agriculture with high plains ranchers, farmers, and growers has won her respect in some unlikely areas. And as mentioned above, her grassroots style campaign and willingness to travel the rough road has also garnered respect from both blues and reds – something a candidate needs if they are going to win back a seat the GOP has held for over 24 years.
And it’s that resume that leads us to believe that Kathleen Williams is the candidate best-positioned to finally return Montana’s House seat to Democratic hands. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a passion for policy that transcends partisanship, a willingness to listen and collaborate to craft the best possible legislation, and a deep well of empathy and concern for the people of Montana.
And she has absolutely run the kind of campaign that can win in November, with impressive fundraising and organization that should help her build on her close 2018 race.
Because of her hard work and dedication in 2018, any candidate running against her in 2019 would face an uphill battle (statewide network, fundraising, war chest, contacts), and Tom Winter is no exception. And without the ability to travel, knock on doors, and run the pavement-pounding type of campaign that flipped his district in 2018, that makes a primary win even more unlikely.
Endorsements are difficult, especially when contributor teams are faced with two candidates we would love to vote for in the General election. In this instance, we choose to strongly commend Tom Winter’s platform, ideas, and leadership, And with this commendation, we ask the Kathleen Williams campaign to take Tom’s ideas and style, add them to her toolbox, and use them to win in November.
We encourage her and her campaign to:
- Embrace a Healthcare for All platform. One of the truths that Coronavirus/COVID-19 has exposed in America is our economic failure of a healthcare system. Healthcare should not be tied to your employer, nor should the threat of bankruptcy because of medical needs ever hang over a Montanan’s head. It’s time for America to join the modern world; time to fundamentally change our approach to healthcare.
- Take a more progressive stance on changing Montana’s (and the country’s) dependence on fossil fuels – a dying industry no matter how much the Trump Administration attempts to prop it up. Kathleen’s platform on the environment and our outdoor heritage is a good start but will be even stronger when she includes Tom Winter’s proposals on Climate Change and public lands.
- Speak on gun rights. The opposition will paint Kathleen as an extremist no matter what she says – and we all know that Kathleen is not extreme on guns. The absence/void allows the NRA and the GOP to fill it with whatever they think they can use to demonize her. Kathleen – show them the sensible Montana woman with respect for firearms that we all know.
- Take a page out of Tom’s social media playbook and bring her warmth and personalization to her online presence. In a race that may very well be fought in the digital arena, transferring some of what made Kathleen such a successful candidate on the ground to her online accounts is critical to winning back the U.S. House seat. Currently, Kathleen Williams’ Twitter and Facebook feeds are nothing but standard, sanitized political soundbites, endorsements, and press releases. Those of us who saw Kathleen on the trail before this pandemic know that the current feeds on Facebook and Twitter are not reflective of the candidate we voted for in 2018.
- Unionization. The Tom Winter campaign staff unionized with IBEW: becoming the first and only unionized political campaign staff in Montana’s history. And now the ball has continued rolling and the staff of the Montana Democratic Party is unionizing under IBEW as well. This isn’t just lip service to labor, but action and walking the walk. Campaign workers have needed representation for a long time, and The Montana Post supports this strong show of solidarity and organization.
And finally, some thoughts on what the Tom Winter campaign did outside of the standard modern playbook. I mentioned above that the Winter campaign purchased PPE. When shortages of PPE were becoming an issue in Montana, Tom’s team switched gears and began buying PPE on the private market and paying to deliver it to underserved and needful areas and agencies in Montana; multiple shipments across the state. Additionally, some of the team’s campaign emails took on a different tone as well. Instead of the constant “PANIC! We are all but lost! Don’t delete!” or “If you read one email today…” fundraising, end of quarter/week/month/day asks for money – there were numerous check-in emails asking how folks were doing and what resources they need, asks to donate to the Missoula food bank or other charitable organizations, offers to deliver groceries locally (from a safe distance), a free patriotic coloring book to download, COVID resources, local resources, helplines. I actually read the Tom Winter emails in my inbox because of this. Everyone else mostly gets canned as just another ask for money. Tom Winter’s approach to the pandemic, this leadership, is what we should be asking of all our politicians.
The tenor of the campaign made me think long and hard about what it means to be a representative, a public servant, on a city council, in Helena, or in D.C. I was heartened by the first quote Kathleen gave for a Billings Gazette piece profiling the upcoming primary (May 3, 2020). Her first quote:
“One statistic that I’ve been worried about for a very long time is when the Federal Reserve concluded that 40% of Americans couldn’t afford a surprise bill of $400 or more,” said Kathleen Williams, a Bozeman conservationist and former state legislator who by most counts is the primary election frontrunner. “There’s just no cushion for so many people in America and certainly in Montana. I think this crisis hits hardest on people who are least able to absorb it. It shows that workers who don’t have sick leave are at risk of losing their jobs for staying home to get healthy.”
She’s absolutely right. Her experience and leading-with-intelligence-and-compassion is the type of measured cogent response needed when things seem so out of control and chaotic. She speaks the truth, considers the evidence presented, trusts her experience, and looks for a multi-faceted approach all while accepting that politics does include the folks on the other side (even if they are approaching problems incorrectly). In 2018 the voters saw 5 candidates in the primary and picked Kathleen as the one ready to walk into the halls of Congress prepared (and yes, she is always prepared); an initial choice she has demonstrated time and again, was the right one.
Regardless of the Democratic voters’ choices by the close of Tuesday, June 2nd in the U.S. House race, Montanans will have a fantastic opportunity ahead. Whether the name on the General election ballot is Kathleen or Tom, Montanans now have the honor of voting in a Representative who better reflects our values, humanity, and responsibilities. In endorsing Tom’s ideas and platform, we hope to see a winning and powerful coalition heading toward the General in November.
Montana really is the Last Best Place … and the Democratic ticket for the U.S. House embodies that and so much more.
Update: This piece was updated on May 15, 2020 at 7:38.