Intelligent Discontent

Why I Won’t Support John Bohlinger for Senate


I will not be supporting John Bohlinger for the US Senate race—and I’d humbly like to suggest any progressives tempted by his decision to position himself as the liberal candidate for US Senate do some research before throwing their support behind the former Republican. He’s not the candidate we need nor the candidate we want.

The truth is that a month ago I didn’t know who I would support. Despite being interested in and following politics reasonably closely, I couldn’t have told you which John I’d support for the Senate race. Their positions as Lt. Governors and in the case of Walsh, the National Guard, afforded little opportunity to know either man politically. By reputation, each was (and is) a good man, but the past couple of months have made it clear that Mr. Bohlinger cannot be my candidate.

So far, his campaign for the US Senate has looked a lot like his campaigns for the Montana Legislature: he’s running against Democrats—and his erratic, even irrational campaign underscores someone who’s desperate to run from his conservative past while trying to establish liberal bona fides.

He’s simply not a candidate who can beat Steve Daines, and he’s not a candidate who deserves progressive support.

On Abortion Rights

Bohlinger simply can’t be trusted on reproductive rights. His entire political record is that of a pro-life supporter, despite his half-hearted assertions to the contrary. While he wants to dismiss abortion as a “litmus test” for Democratic candidates, it absolutely must be one. We cannot afford a Senator who will not fight for women’s health.

Bohlinger filed a complaint over the mere suggestion he supported abortion rights. Bohlinger had a terrible, terrible voting record with NARAL Pro-Choice Montana. Bohlinger even voted to blast a profoundly anti-choice bill out of Senate committee, demonstrating his deep commitment to the pro-life agenda. He’s even stated that his disagreement with the Montana Democratic Party is with the party’s firm commitment to choice.

And we’re supposed to believe he’s pro-choice now?

On John McCain and Barack Obama

Just five years ago, Lt. Governor supported Senator John McCain over Barack Obama for President, saying that “John McCain is the most prepared candidate to take on the challenges facing communities in Montana and across America.” Faced with a historic choice, Bohlinger supported the candidate who wanted to prolong the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, opposed the development of a national health care system, wanted to privatize Social Security, and had an 82% lifetime record from the reactionary American Conservative Union.

And we’re supposed to believe he’s committed to progressive values?

On Medicaid Expansion

Mr. Bohlinger has tried to burnish his progressive credentials by advocating for a special session to expand Medicaid.  There are a couple of things to keep in mind about this call: Bohlinger did not testify before the Legislature about this issue; Bohlinger did not call for a special session publicly in the six months between the session and his announcement of his candidacy; Bohlinger did not even sign the petition calling for a special session until the day before he called for one. That’s real commitment to the issue.

Instead, he waited until the day before a group of activists and progressive strategists decided to announce their call for a ballot initiative to parachute in and steal the attention from their campaign.  Now his campaign is painting his position as some sort of moral necessity, despite the fact that Bohlinger seemed entirely disinterested in the process until he could get some free press for it. His performance at the Ballot Initiative press kickoff was an embarrassment not worthy of a serious candidate.

The people who’ve been fighting since before the 2013 Legislative session until today have decided that a ballot initiative is the way to go, and Mr. Bohlinger’s just thrown himself in their way, jeopardizing their efforts and attacking the governor in the process.

And we’re supposed to believe that he’ll put Montanans ahead of politics?

On the TEA Party

On November 7th, Mr. Bohlinger attacked the TEA Party, likening their actions to that of the Taliban and the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Pretty bold rhetoric for a former Republican, but rhetoric not far removed from the truth. In the same month, however, Bohlinger walked back his remarks, telling conservative radio host Aaron Flint that he “regretted” the remarks.

And we’re supposed to believe that he’ll stand up against the TEA Party?

On Terms in the Senate

In August, Bohlinger told the Associated Press he would only run for one term if elected, saying that it would allow him to be “bold with his decisions and not be forced to worry about raising money or getting re-elected.” Less than three months later, he backed off that pledge, saying he is “ blessed with good health” and it will be up to the people of Montana to decide what they want.”

And we’re supposed to believe that he’ll stay consistent?

On the Company He Keeps

Mr. Bohlinger has made a great deal of his association with former Governor Brian Schweitzer, someone I and many Democrats admire greatly. He’s even somewhat disingenuously suggested that Governor Schweitzer has endorsed his campaign, despite the fact that the Governor said he plans to donate to both John Walsh and Bohlinger.

On the negative, however, Bohlinger’s decision to let Bob Brigham, a self-described Internet consultant, speak for his campaign speaks incredibly poorly about Mr. Bohlinger’s judgment.  According to Mr. Brigham, in fact, he’s “running” the Bohlinger campaign.

Today, when I questioned Mr. Bohlinger’s commitment to Medicaid expansion, Brigham responded with his usual moderation:


Interesting that’d he use the term “whore,” given his public association with blogging for pay. Unlike Mr. Brigham, I’ve never taken a dime from a political candidate, committee, or campaign, let alone while blogging about a campaign.  Brigham can’t say that himself—and I suspect Dr. Freud would take issue with his desperate projection here.

The problem with letting Brigham be a strategist for the Bohlinger campaign actually isn’t about my hurt feelings about being called a sex worker, though; it’s that Bohlinger chose to let someone like Brigham speak for the campaign. It demonstrates both a lack of seriousness as a candidate and a lack of judgment as a potential Senator.

While he’s certainly energetic, managing half a dozen Astroturf Twitter accounts, Brigham is erratic, rude, and hostile to anyone who disagrees with his vision for the Democratic Party. He often viciously attacks anyone who disagrees with his views, including accusing Senator Max Baucus of having the blood of his nephew on his hands, attacking the Montana Human Rights Network for calling for a Special session he now supports, and spending  more time attacking Democrats than the Republicans he pretends to fight against.

Take a handful of Tums and read through his Twitter feed for a sense of the person who’s advising Mr. Bohlinger.

All of that would be fine for a member of the Internet commentariat or a Republican in the Montana Legislature, but not terribly appropriate behavior for someone running the online communications, much less advising, for a Senate candidate.

The tone of Bohlinger’s early campaign has been an unfortunate and costly mistake, one that could have been avoided.

The Bottom Line

I have a relatively simple criteria for determining a candidate who will receive my support in a Democratic Primary:

  • Is the person a Democrat?
  • Do his/her votes and positions align with progressive values?
  • Does she/he seem rational, consistent, and competent to hold the office?
  • Does he/she seem like a decent human being?

Less than a month into his campaign, it already seems like John Bohlinger has failed the first three questions. I certainly hope his campaign doesn’t end up changing my answer to the fourth.

The kickoff of this campaign has hurt the most valuable thing John Bohlinger had going into the race: his reputation as an honorable man. People who follow politics closely in Helena are horrified with the turn of events that’s seen this decent, good-natured man turn into a surrogate for one person’s petty grievances against nearly every progressive organization and worker in the state. It’s potentially a tragic ending for a man admired for his fundamental decency.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a sixteen year teacher of English, 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. 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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