Collateral Damage

“Do no harm, but take no shit.”

In the world of politics, women are tested unfairly and held to a standard far different than male politicians. Shrill, loud, callous, aggressive, “lock her up”, nasty, bitchy. I honor the record number of women who have stood up in the 2020 Montana political cycle to run, to make a difference, to lead.

“Do no harm, but take no shit.” ~ I fear that the Whitney Williams campaign has dipped into the “do harm” realm of campaigning.

Trashing the Bullock Administration: Specifically Attacking Steve Bullock’s 2017/2018 Budget Situation

Steve Bullock is running for U.S. Senate. The Williams’ campaign constantly bashing on the funding decisions of the 2017 Legislature displays a profound lack of knowledge of what actually went down in 2017 and 2018 with budget cuts. While many of us were in Helena that session lobbying the MTGOP majority to fund essential services in Montana, where was Whitney Williams? According to her voting registration, she was still working, voting, and living in King County, Washington; far removed from the vicious actions of the GOP dominated Legislature. That session the Legislature handed Bullock an piddly amount of revenue that was nowhere near adequate to run the state. Their battle cry was the same tired old “there’s too much fat in State Government” (the same trash talking points we are still hearing today). When Bullock and the Democratic Reps inquired where this fat exists (or when Greg Gianforte is asked about his State Budget Cuts) the answer from the MTGOP always remains the same: they can’t, or won’t, actually SAY WHERE THESE CUTS ARE NEEDED. 

Instead, after Bullock made cuts to his budget (he’s required to produce a balanced budget by law), the MTGOP had successfully manufactured talking points that they milked for an entire biennium and beyond, criticizing his choices and bad-mouthing “Bullock’s Job Cuts” to any press agency or group that had a microphone. Hearing the Whitney Williams campaign use these exact MTGOP talking points over the past few weeks is a slap in the face to the Democratic legislators who fought for Montanans, to Steve who was placed in a lose-lose situation, and reveals some terrible truths about her strategy:

Does she know exactly what she’s doing and is making the choice to trash Steve’s chances at a U.S. Senate run against Steve Daines to contrast herself to the current administration?

Does she understand what the relationship between the Governor and Legislature entails?

Maybe she’s perfectly comfortable using GOP manufactured talking points to reach her end; content to chew up and spit out the Democrats who have done the hard, uphill work in this state while she was absent. Had she been fighting for Democratic principles in this state for as long as many of the legislators, Governors, and leaders she just tossed under the bus, she would know how much of an endangered species Democrats are, especially in rural counties. We cannot afford to eat our own around here.

How Exactly did that Photo from a Closed Democratic Governor’s Association Meeting End Up in the Press’s Lap?

Monday night MTN News dropped a story about Mike Cooney taking a call from the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) while inside his office at the capital. A screen shot from the 30 minute video call showed Mike sitting on his couch at the office. On the regular this blog, the Democratic Party, and news orgs point out these types of infractions by the MTGOP. For every one (1) Democrat who makes a mistake, there is literally a slew of Republicans in this state lining up to say, “Hold my beer; this time I might try and get arrested.” First off, it’s that hypocrisy that just chafes my ass. Secondly, but of course the MTGOP filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices. Of course.

And thirdly, let’s chat about how that photo got magically out of the DGA’s meeting and into the hands of the press. These strategy meetings are not open to the public. They are closely guarded and the attendees are trusted at the highest levels of these campaigns. The list of people in that meeting was small: maybe a little over a dozen people between the Williams campaign, Cooney’s campaign, and some DGA staff. That’s it.

There is only one group of people who attended that meeting who would benefit from a screen shot leaking.

The Williams campaign posted a scathing few sentences regarding the press’s piece to social media as well as an extended statement on their website (of note, in over 20 years of campaigning, they could only point to Mike Cooney making two mistakes… that’s a stellar record for public service under extreme public scrutiny by the MTGOP and outside money groups).

Snapshot of Whitney Williams’ campaign Facebook. Identical post available on her Twitter account.

Optically, this looks like garbage. Hot garbage.

To preserve their integrity, I’m calling on the Whitney Williams campaign to public denounce ANY involvement with this screen shot and media share. They should be eager to distance themselves from indictment – because we all know that with a group that small on the call, the truth will come out. Best get ahead of it now.

For Goodness Sake Quit Repeating GOP Talking Points and Handing Them Material

I’ve struggled with the above low-blow attacks on Mike Cooney from the Williams campaign — all they have done is amplify the the MTGOP talking points and talking heads. And the above scenario isn’t an isolated incident: Williams also made a huge deal about Mike Cooney having to pull out of a debate/forum, saying he’s like candidate Greg Gianforte. Turns out he had to work. At his job.

Screen shot of Mike Cooney’s campaign Facebook replying to William’s accusations comparing him to Greg Gianforte.

Typically, we don’t see this type of base campaigning out of candidates – again, because most of us here know how hard it is to fight in this state; to be an active Democrat in this state. Low attacks like this don’t display a better slate of policies or platforms; nor do they convey what makes Whitney Williams a better or different candidate for Montana voters.

So. Much. Money.

On Tuesday, Emily’s List announced a large ad buy ($700,000) in support of Whitney’s campaign. I disagree with assessments that Emily’s List is a dark money group. Emily’s List supports strong, pro-choice women candidates all across this country and has shifted the needle significantly for women’s advocacy and uplifting women political voices since its inception as a PAC (seriously, go donate). I do not fault them for their endorsement, nor a demonstration of that endorsement with a fiscal investment in the race. What is a tad concerning is the level of financial investment. For those not attuned to campaign fundraising and investment at normal Montana levels of money — $700,000 is not a small investment. This amount of money is not bringing a “knife to a gun fight” as the old adage goes. This investment is bringing a tank to a cupcake bake sale; it is beyond overkill. It has the appearance of trying to buy Montanans. And that’s a sentiment usually reserved for the GOP side of the ticket. The optics are horrible.

Lobbing Grenades…

Each of these (and there’s more examples I could list) is damage being rendered on the Montana Democratic Party. In interview after interview, Whitney talks about being a “fresh perspective” for Montana politics. That fresh perspective appears to be burning down the hard-won successes of the Party on her mission to attain the Governor’s office; and not seeming to care who or what she damages along the way. Each interview and news piece contains her famous Democratic pedigree … but her campaign choices and actions are dismantling the gains of that legacy.

I understand that campaigning is tough work, and contrasting yourself to a beloved primary opponent can be an uphill battle, but you don’t have to burn the people along the way to establish your differences, your fresh approach.

Scorched earth is not a fresh approach – the MTGOP has been doing it for ages. 

It’s imperative that the Whitney Williams campaign lobs their grenades at the true enemy of democracy and our Montana way of life – the MTGOP. A Democratic Governor has been the one bulwark for many of our Democratic ideals; ideals that were won with the sweat and tears of Democrats before Whitney appeared on the scene as a candidate.

I hope over the next 12 days she chooses to honor the legacy of the Montana Democrats that have fought for those principles, and that she adds to those successes, not destroys them, in her candidate journey. 

~~~

I struggled with this piece. As a feminist, I wanted to elevate all women candidates and women political voices in the 2020 cycle. Electing more women to office will help us better govern and better lead. Our state houses need to reflect the people.

I could no longer remain silent as more and more scummy campaign tactics were being sown with more frequency the closer we got to June 2nd. “When they go low, we go high.” ~ Michelle Obama. If we cannot win on platform, on ideas, on smarts, and on mindfulness and leadership; then we don’t deserve to win. Montana Democrats have always put the person over the corporation and business; the people over ourselves; we’ve made the tough compromising choices time and again while in the minority of leadership — all because we see and believe in the big picture and we will not allow the MTGOP to let Montanans suffer. We’ve consistently been the grownups in the room.

With that said, I apologize to the Whitney Williams campaign – I should have stated these concerns a few weeks ago when I first saw the attacks on the other Democrat in the race. I don’t know if you would have listened then, but you deserved to hear it from someone. I should have said this all to you because I respect you and because I believe that women can and should LEAD MORE.

I hope these words prompt you to assess your strategy and make a move away from collateral damage and toward a coalition-building strategy. I believe in you. “Do no harm, but take no shit.”

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

Plains Feminist

Montana and national politics from a Southeastern Montana perspective, focusing on regional activism, womxn’s issues, LGBTQ equality, education, and growth of the Democratic Party. Plains Feminist tries (sometimes fruitfully, sometimes not so much) to connect with the hard-working folks who *eek* out a living on the “not mountains” side of the state. Plains Feminist enjoys intellectual banter over coffee or beer preferably after dark. You can reach her at plainsfeminist@themontanapost.com or on Twitter @PlainsFeminist.

19 Comments

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  • Well-stated. Winning at all costs is a Republican strategy that leaves us in a scorched earth landscape. I see Republicans eating their own (Cory Stapleton vs. Matt Rosendale, neither of whom has earned the trust of Montana voters) and it shames me to see a Democrat & a woman doing the same. Mike Cooney is a steady & experienced hand who will serve us well in this time of crisis and provide continuity a smooth transition at a time when we don’t need any more surprises and disruptions. I’m glad that Whitney has returned to the State & is offering her skills here. I hope that she will be able to find a legislative or executive branch position that gives her the opportunity to get to know the political realities & apply her skills from inside the State.

    • Good pragmatism, Sara. (Learned in Augusta?) We’re all on the hunt to win and
      this time it is literally a life and death pursuit. Republicans appear to view human life as expendable, from Medicaid to Covid 19 testing. Whitney has a future in
      Montana politics (even though she wasn’t born in Butte…). Let’s all take a lesson from Governor Bullock and work to win but play fair.

  • When I moved to Montana eight years ago, I didn’t know much about Montana politics but I did get to a rally for John Tester within a few weeks and gradually learned sort of who was who in the state. I soon came across a political blog called Montana Cowgirl which I liked. Because I’d been a freelance writer in several states and three other countries, then a commentator on South Dakota public radio and finally a newspaper columnist in the Black Hills, I thought I’d see about contributing to the Cowgirl so I inquired. The author of that column seemed interested in the idea, but when I asked who that person was, I was told she (if it was a she) would remain anonymous. So I couldn’t contribute to the blog. I don’t believe in anonymous letters or anonymous opinionators. Now I’ve read this piece by someone calling himself or herself “Plains Feminist.” Could it be the same person as the alleged cowgirl? I’ve been a feminist for about 65 years and I’ve had some flak in several places for what I’ve written or spoken about. But I do think one should have the courage of one’s convictions. I don’t think Montana is any more hazardous to a writer than other places I’ve lived. So why not sign what you write? I might pay more attention to what you say.

    • Hi, Lorraine.

      I understand your point of view, but none of the writers here are doing this as their profession, and some would find it difficult to write without using a pseudonym. That’s why Plains Feminist does so. I hope you will consider the merits of her arguments in this and other pieces, even if you’d prefer to see a real name.

      Thanks,
      Don

      • Thanks for your comment on my comment, but I point out that many people who are not professional writers do express their opinions and concerns every day in Montana. They write letters to the editor and sign them.

    • @Ms Collins – I also understand your view. In some regards, I even agree with it, but there are valid arguments to counter it. I comment here under a forum identity, and it was chosen to indicate an overall position. Claudius was the last of the Roman Emperors who truly wanted to restore the Republic.

      Given the current climate of partisan extremism and eager devolution into threats and intimidation, an open identity may actually detract from rational discussion. I am always open to direct communication with people interested in actual dialog, and have never hesitated to provide a purposed email address to open such a dialog. In that process, I’ve met several people who have become good friends and regular correspondents. Also, in that process, I’ve weeded out a few would-be trolls who just want to vent and rant.

      I think your decision to decline participation in discourse prompted by Montana Cowgirl was a poor one. You muted your own voice where you might have contributed to better understanding.

      • I was one of Claudius’ recipients of an invitation, which turned into a scalding and genuinely unwarranted, salacious rebuke from him. Some of us, who have lived continuously in Montana for 50 years or so – not intermittent returnees who spent the preponderance of their lives back East – feel that openness invites honesty. But it can be dangerous,
        especially when you encounter an obstreperous oaf with pieties of
        self-righteousness. “Just for you know.” – Billy Bronco

      • Thanks for your concern about my being “muted” but I haven’t been. I have contributed several letters to the editor of the Billings Gazette. My first one, within a few weeks of my arrival in Montana, expressed how thankful I was to move to a state that did not require me to register as a party member in order to vote in a primary election and where one could register to vote on election day. Both of those things are under attack all the time by those who want to suppress the vote (Republicans). I think it’s good to express a rather liberal opinion in a public “forum” rather than, as they say, preaching to the choir. It may help somebody think a new thought. (I just Googled myself to find that a letter I wrote to the Gazette on Feb. 6, “Trump’s life of scandals, lawsuits” is still on line, if you’re interested.)

        Of course I’d like to have more words than allowed in an LTE and I did write a couple of “guest columns”, one of which was on trying to be a journalist in a country without freedom of the press. A cautionary tale for America under Trump. I am very concerned about that, of course, but I don’t know what harm can come to Montana people who express opinions that may be contrary to their community. Would you lose your job, be thrown out of the family, excommunicated by your church? Would your home be firebombed, would you be under police surveillance? Put on an FBI watch list? Denied loans by a bank? I sincerely hope none of those things have happened, or will. If those things are possible in Montana, First Amendment rights are under more serious threat than I thought.

  • Thanks for making me feel better for choosing Cooney. I haven’t sent in my ballot yet, but was having a hard time not voting for Williams as I like to support women.

    • Maybe you just persuaded me.
      Call it a win.

      Sometimes you can be persuasive, something I have acknowledged a few times.

      That being said, I do think there is a difference between anonymous regular contributors and people who post comments anonymously. I think I have tried to explain that difference a few times, but I haven’t persuaded you. That’s cool, too. I’m not very persuasive.

      But you outed yourself.

      Hope you are doing well.

      • Wow! And I thought being open and using one’s true name was now the
        wrong thing to do. I was even partially banished for being too forthright
        – no curses, obscene innuendos or even more than slight invectives
        intended only as instructive. Still threatened with banishment. Jeepers Creepers! Anyway, I like this fake identity better. It might even make me more responsible. This blog is an important opportunity to learn what
        is dominating progressive thought in Montana. And it’s time consuming
        to produce. Thanks to you Mr. Skink for sharing your posting and thanks
        to Mr. Pogreba, for your work and the partial self-admonishment. Anyway.
        Happy days.

    • Oh come on, skinky. At least Don allows you to post here, unlike you who bans anyone who doesn’t genuflect at the alter of the skink. And that makes your meant less meanderings meaningless!

  • I sincerely hope that the people who found the photo of Mike Cooney will be as diligent in locating photos/videos of Gianforte bragging about his assault of a reporter. I’m guessing that some anonymous person has one or two of those.

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