Yesterday we took a quick look at the parameters of redistricting in Montana, which is going from one at-large seat to two seats, one, the rural east, deep red and one, most of the western part of the state, likely more competitive. As I was writing the post, former state Rep. Tom Winter declared his candidacy for the western (competitive) seat. Crooked Trumpist Ryan Zinke is almost certain to be the GOP nominee. So far there are 3 viable Democrats besides Winter– state Rep. Laurie Bishop, Cora Neumann and Monica Tranel. The establishment is leaning into Tranel, who ran twice as a Republican, switched parties and was beaten by a white supremacist/secessionist. We can always count on the DCCC to get it wrong.
When Tom was still in the state legislature he recorded this video for us and I thought it might be a good way to reacquaint yourself with a dynamic, thoughtful and dedicated young candidate. Take a look:
At the time he told me that in Montana “Republicans win when they can cast their opponents as unpopular or out of step with everyday Montanans. Democrats win when we make the case for our shared values and fight for what is right.” I was thinking about that yesterday in terms of the Democratic debacle in Virginia. It’s important to keep in mind that around half of Montana’s voters register bot as Republicans or Democrats, but as independents. Their votes are up for grabs. When he ran and won in a “red” largely rural district, by knocking on doors and talking with his neighbors, he noted that “Nobody felt like any party or any politician was addressing their concerns. And they knew the problems they were facing were systemic. Our broken politics had left them behind.”
He ran as an agent of change in a western Missoula County district where people knew the system wasn’t working for them. In 2016 Missoula County went for Bernie over Hillary 60.4% to 43.4%– but Bernie also beat Trump on primary day– by a lot. County-wide Bernie got 13,271 votes and Trump got 7,623. Voters wanted change– and Bernie and Trump were the two change candidates. Hillary was the candidate of a status quo that wasn’t doing anything to help the people who elected Tom to the state legislature in 2018.
Voters, he told me, “knew what issues animated them. They cared about ever-rising property taxes, unaffordable (and often inaccessible) healthcare, an unfair tax structure that catered to the rich, legalizing marijuana, and crippling student loan debt. Other candidates weren’t even acknowledging these concerns because they didn’t fit well into a simplistic left vs. right narrative. People told me I couldn’t run as a progressive in this conservative district, but the actual, real people we were reaching didn’t care about ideology. They just wanted someone to be honest, to level with them about this mess we’re in. Years of being force-fed talking points from both parties had left Montanans jaded. But getting burned by Trump’s false promises hadn’t made it any better. It was all of a piece. So there was excitement for real plans and real progressive legislation.”
Please take a look at Tom’s guest post and consider contributing to his campaign, either here or by clicking on the Blue America thermometer below.
Montana Democrats Built Something Special
by Tom Winter
It’s almost official– for the first time in 30 years we Montanans will gain another congressional district. There’s been a lot of talk recently about us being a “red state” and to be honest that might be earned after the disastrous results of our 2020 election cycle when we lost every single statewide race. But let’s go back a little first here before we get into the competitiveness of this new seat…
Montana Democrats built something special here. For more than a century we provided strong, populist, community-focused leadership to the state and the country. Montana has sent Democrats to the Senate for more than 100 years. Montana Democrats gave the country the Wilderness Act, Montana Dems worked with labor to break the back of monopolies, and that legacy continues to protect Montana workers, voting rights, and some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes.
But we have lost our way. We’ve nominated cycle after cycle of corporate Democrats who trumpet their support of the Reagan administration, who actively argue against healthcare for the people, whose most controversial stance is to totter around in flannels and a Collins axe for the camera and then run back to their townhouse in Bozeman. They are afraid of their own shadow, but even more afraid of Montana voters.
Which is why they’ve also been afraid of me. I flipped a +11 Trump district with an unabashedly progressive campaign platform by knocking 22,000 doors in a state legislative district of 10,000 people. We took our message to the community, we organized trailer courts, farm lanes, railroad siding towns– places no Democrat had gone in a generation. And we won.
In the legislature I authored 24 bills to tax the rich to zero out taxes on the working class, legalize recreational weed, strengthen the rights of trailer court tenants, pay off student loans, and strengthen the minimum wage. Members of my own Democratic caucus worked with Republicans to lobby against these bills. But I passed 4 of them anyways– a record for a first termer.
And I’ll do the same in Congress. Unlike my primary opponents, I didn’t work for the Rand Corporation; I didn’t carpetbag from California in order to run for this seat; I didn’t switch parties to run as a Democrat after losing 2 elections as a Republican.
I live here. My family lives here. I have made my life here. Unlike my opponents on both sides of the aisle, I can’t just go back home to the coast– I am home. And I definitely can’t switch parties– because I’m not willing to ally myself with bigots for political expediency.
So when Ryan Zinke gets the GOP nomination, I won’t be afraid to call out his bullshit. And there’s a deep well of that stuff with him, including 18 federal investigations into his conduct in the Trump administration, his ties to the oil industry, his sale of protected wildlands to a uranium mining company, the fact that he lists a hotel as his voting address in Montana while living full time in Santa Barbara, and most egregious of all: The fact that he rigs his fly rod backwards.
Montanans don’t like outsiders pretending to be something they’re not; we don’t like liars; we don’t like corporate shills; we don’t like crooks; and we’re jealous of our fishing spots and protective of our wilderness. Enough said.
But my primary opponents and Ryan Zinke suffer from the same problem: They are creatures of the corrupted political system that all Montanans have lost faith in. They’re not here to take back our democracy from corporate lobbyists, to tax billionaires and their corporations, to save our towns and forests and rivers from the climate crisis, or to strengthen unions. They’re here to be polite, to play a game of politics that working people have been losing since the Reagan era. But I will be there to remind them and the voters of the Montana we had before– prosperous, fair, a national leader in anti-monopoly law, clean elections, and confident populist progressivism– and what we could have again.
There are also signs of progressive populist movement happening down ballot after the municipal elections this Tuesday in Western Montana.
In Missoula and Bozeman progressive candidates swept the local city council elections– including three municipal court candidates running as a progressive ticket on criminal justice reform in Missoula. Two candidates in Missoula for city council ran as outright leftists and won on platforms of affordable housing, climate change, and greater social and economic equity. Bozeman saw the first queer Black elected official in state history get elected to their city commission on the back of a progressive campaign rooted in his public health expertise.
Looking ahead there is a whole slate of young, diverse, and politically progressive candidates already announced for the state legislature in Western Montana for 2022. We have a record number of LGBTQ candidates announced in Missoula County. One of the youngest indigenous candidates in state history is building an exciting campaign in our state capitol– Helena– with institutional buy-in as an outward progressive. Something special is happening in Montana. And our campaign will be there in support of and a part of the grassroots movement building.
What the political class thought about Western Montanans isn’t tracking with the work activists and organizers have been building on the ground in our towns and cities. Change is coming– one way or another.