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Time to get our defense off the field, Democrats

Written by Pete Talbot
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The refrain I’ve been hearing lately is that Montana Democrats need to do outreach to rural counties but should avoid topics like abortion, minority and LGBTQ rights, and environmental issues. They should focus on jobs and the economy.

Of course they need to visit the likes of Prairie, Treasure, Carter and Golden Valley Counties, and deliver a strong economic message. But they need not abandon their moral duty to women, the disenfranchised or Mother Earth.

It’s time for Democrats to go on offense and ask our country folk what the Republican Party has done for them lately.

What drove this home was a question poised by MTN’s Mike Dennison to Ambassador Max Baucus in last Sunday’s “Face the State” (at the 12:45 mark, here).

Dennison: If I live in rural Montana or anywhere in rural America, what do Democrats have to offer me? Abortion rights, LGBT rights, environmentalism — that’s not going to pay the bills.

Max offered platitudes on going out and listening, talking about grain and cattle prices, supporting infrastructure improvements, etc. — all legitimate topics.

But let’s turn the equation on its head. Let’s ask what the party of jobs and economic growth, supposedly the Republican Party, is doing to advance rural interests.

The Republican dominated Montana Legislature is spending its time introducing bills to keep Sharia law out of Montana, put guns in schools and post offices, victimize bicyclists, approve raw milk, get rid of the Commissioner of Political Practices, create a state militia… Is that what rural Montanans asked legislators to do?

And it’s even worse at the federal level.

One would assume that most rural voters — farmers, ranchers, small business owners — don’t have health insurance through an employer, and rely on the Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicare or Medicaid. How will Trumpcare work for them: From the Washington Post:

The proposed cuts will fall hardest on rural and small town communities that Trump won, where one in three people are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress.

And since these rural areas and small towns tend to be made up of older folks, it’s a double-whammy. From Fortune magazine:

Vox and others reported on Tuesday that annual premiums for people ages 55 to 64 would jump by $5,269 if the Republican plan were put in place immediately, and would rise to $6,971 in 2020.

Let’s talk about the environment. It would seem likely that those in agriculture would be most attuned to climate change: shifting growing seasons, drought and the extreme weather events associated with global warming. This would be a bad time to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, as Trump’s budget proposes.

Same is true for those in the timber industry as wildfires increase in size and intensity.

Then there’s trade. Rural Montanans should be very concerned with potential trade wars with Asia, particularly China, our second largest export market.

Voting against one’s self interest isn’t a new phenomenon but it’s time for Democrats to go on the offensive and point out that Republican policies are hurting rural voters more than Democratic policies ever would or could.

About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

26 Comments

  • I just wonder if the Democratic party has been on defense so long it may have forgotten how to play offense. I agree that we as a party need to defend women’s rights and the LGBT community, but every conversation does not need to be about those issues. If a family cannot make the bills, cover themselves with health insurance or find a way to send their kids to college, they may not have anything left in the tank to worry about other peoples problems. We are all in this together, remember the big tent party, or as Benjamin Franklin apply put it, “we can either all hang together or we can all hang separately”. This is what the GOP has done far to long, divide and conquer, that needs to stop.

    • Hmm. I take Pete Talbot’s column as a challenge to people who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
      In MT 2014 Primary, Bernie Sanders won by a larger margin in Rosebud and Mineral Counties, than Secretary Clinton’s marginal win inYellowstone County.
      This weekend I’m going to call friends in rural Montana counties and listen to what is said about Russia agitating/infiltrating/manipulating/corrupting our USA semi-democracy.
      http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/03/16/fox-news-poll-voters-want-congressional-investigations-into-russia.html
      And listen to what is said about the Russian Government ongoing funding of hostilities/war crimes in Syria.
      And listen to what might be said about the Trump-Heritage Fndn. budget proposal trade off of broad based budget cuts, while greatly increasing USA expenditures/indebtedness for the Pentagon and Homeland Security.

    • This sums it up pretty nicely. I agree with the writer’s assessment that the Democrats have to defend the underdog. One of the issues I have is it’s easy to sit and preach to rural America when you have no idea what goes on there…

      Women’s rights and gun control are 2 of the stupidest planks to run on for rural voters. Period. People can disagree with me all they want, but as someone who lives in rural Montana and sees it everyday…these are 2 issues that are huge turn offs with people. How is telling someone in the Yaak that they need to register their guns going to do any good when they’ve had no problems with them their whole lives? Who really cares?

      Why is what Max said in the video “platitudes” when it’s the damn truth. People will consider voting for the person over the party…you have to be empathetic to the people you serve. Why do you think Max was able to stay in the Senate as long as he did? Yeah…he wasn’t as “liberal” as others, but he listens to people.

      The Montana Democrat Party had the freedom and independence to run itself for many years and until recently it seems like the East Coast, big business, elitist wing of the party has inserted itself here…I can’t say why or when…but Montana Democrats CANNOT keep running on a platform that isn’t custom fitted for the state.

      Maybe the problem is Nancy Keenan’s experience NARAL is a bad fit for our state. How do you go to someone who may be an Independent and explain to them who Nancy Keenan is tell them she ran an abortion out fit for years before she took the party over going to win over those voters?

      When you have someone like Jim Elliott (who is a rural Democrat) running the show…he had the ability to reach out to rural voters because he knew what in the hell people cared about.

      The Montana Democrat Party is losing urban districts in Great Falls and Missoula to Republicans that were once Democrat strongholds.

      There are counties where the party can still make in roads to rural areas…Lake, Carbon, Mineral, Pondera, Choteau, Rosebud…look at the county by county election maps since 2000…these are counties the Democrats are generally within 5% points of…

      The message needs to be better…I commented again more below…

      • Okay, I hear you on the gun control issue but women’s rights? I can’t believe that the strong, independent rural Montana women don’t want equal pay for equal work, access to health care or the ability to make their own choices when it comes to their bodies (and I seriously doubt they like their Pu**ies being grabbed by the likes of a Donald Trump).

  • There is value to what Max said about asking people about grain prices and the like…you have to build trust with these people.

    If Montana Democrats are going to gripe about the 2nd Amendment…it’s going to turn a lot of these people off. Brian Schwietzer had an A+ rating from the NRA…why in the hell isn’t anyone griping about this? Do we turn our heads to this because he’s been out of office for so long?

    It’s absolute suicide to talk about gun control to people.

    Economy…why aren’t Democrats coming up to Lincoln County and the like and talking about how we can get timber harvest up and still have clean water and air? Why not come up and defend the ACA and the asbestos coverage? The Democrats from Lincoln County don’t even do this…they take their cues from a Montana Democrat Party machine that is out of touch with most people in the state, but HELL!!! The money’s good, so they have to keep doing something to justify their pay checks.

    Colstrip…does anyone realize that this is traditional Democrat territory!?!?! Union and a reservation…but ah…the Democrat machine can’t have the fortitude to separate their party from the liberal elitists in Seattle who are ruining their livelihoods.

    Public Lands…why isn’t the party using the public lands and grazing right argument to their favor for the ranchers and farmers? People depend on public lands for their livelihoods! They care about grain prices and the economics of trade deals…Our forests are and have been poorly managed for years…but instead of working with collaboration the party is forced to back itself in a corner against the fight of land transfers…WHICH the party could find a lot of balance with independents and moderates…

    Privacy? War? Come on…

    BOTTOM LINE…YOU NEED INDEPENDENTS AND MODERATES TO WIN THIS STATE. PERIOD.

    Even before Schweitzer became Governor this state routinely had multiple positions on the Tier B levels of State Government. The Democrat Party regularly had better margins in the House and Senate.

    The Party got shellacked last November and unless something happens at the top…it’s not going to get better. I have a number of friends who have recently switched from Democrat to a different party because the National Party has gotten so off base for Montanans.

    Lay off the guns. Get right with God. Those are some places they can start.

  • 6 weeks until the mail-in ballots go out, and I haven’t seen or heard a Rob Quist ad, unless you count the attack ad, telling us he wants to register guns. I do see Gianforte promoting himself though.

    Is this going to be a Rob Who? election?

  • Maybe Rob or Greg have already pushed for a Quist-Gianforte debate.

    If not, it’s up to us people to push for Greg and Rob in an open debate setting.
    You bet the media would be there.
    If you want mail in Ballot why not also want Debate(s)???

  • To further the defense/offense sports metaphor, what dems need is not so much to move to the offensive, but to get a new game plan. Fire the coach and offense/defense coordinators, let the stale, costly and unproductive veterans go and start anew by drafting a new generation of youngsters to rebuild and lead.

    • Fully agree, the current makeup of our party leadership, in particular Nancy Keenan, are out of step with this state and they need to be replaced ASAP.

    • There is certainly some deadwood that could be cleaned out and policies that could be revamped. I was glad to see a strong contingent of “youngsters” at the recent Democratic nominating convention. Let’s hope they stay engaged.

      I will defend Nancy Keenan, though. She has done an excellent job as Executive Director of the party. She is strategic, a seasoned campaign veteran and a fighter. The losses that Montana Democrats suffered last November certainly can’t be pegged to her. They can be blamed on who we had at the top of the ticket and that a lot of voters were taken in by a con man.

      Keep in mind that we did re-elect a Democratic governor. Other states did much worse.

      • A lot of voters also taken in Russian stories channeled to US propaganda masters= the hate HRC momentum
        A lot of votes never happened because of voter suppression.
        A lot of Votes crossed off by cross- check.

        Add up. Trump hugely lost popular vote.

        Maybe won rust belt and Appalachia by way of fancy falsehoods.

      • I will strongly disagree with you on Nancy Keenan. Her being the head of NARAL is a lot of dead weight the state party has to carry. She was also a strong advocate for Clinton while the primary season was still going on, even when polls showed that most Montana Democrats supported Sanders. She was also part of money laundering program that Debbie Wasserman Schultz ran for the DNC through state parties. As far as Bullock, he won despite the blunders of the national and state parties, he won because he is a great leader and the fact that Independents voted in droves for him. Trying to tie his victory in any way to Keenan or the state party does a disservice to the character of Governor Bullock.

        • I’ll bet if you were to ask Bullock his opinion of Keenan, he would agree with me and not you, 48degressnorth.

  • You forget Pete – Montana Governors get re-elected to 2nd terms.

    I came here as a young man in 1980, and since then no sitting Governor has been in danger of losing his job.

    Have you ever went through the precinct books after a election, or primary election to see who reliably goes to the polls? Don’t target youngsters – go after older married couples.

    So far this election is pretty boring – still looks like 49-39-5. I

    • “Montana Governors get re-elected to 2nd terms” says Eric. Judy Martz? (Granted, she chose not to run for a second term. She saw the handwriting on the wall.) Forrest Anderson? Stan Stephens?

      Anyway, this election is far from boring. You’ve got the Gianforte attack ads. Quist is criss-crossing the state (where’s Gianforte?). This election is getting national attention and to some extent will be a mandate on the Trump presidency.

      Quist has a good chance of beating Gianforte, just wait and see.

      • Judy would have been re-elected too – and until I see a sitting Governor actually lose an election, the numbers are on my side!

        Right now, if I was Gianforte, I’d keep up the ads, and run out the clock. I don’t know him, but if Quist thinks the handful of Dems who show up to meet him are a replacement for the establishment Dems handing him checks, he’s about to get a lesson. We’ll know for sure if they’ve already given up on this race when we see the first financial reports.

        The hug number of mail-in ballots have changed the dynamic of races, at least here in Yellowstone County. No more last minute surges, or surprises, the races are decided 3 weeks before the election.

        • Judy Martz should have been reelected?!?! She was mired in muck. She wasn’t going to bear Brian.

          Quist needs to get some adds out. Why is he being on the defensive?

          • I don’t believe Rob is on the defensive, James. He just didn’t have a personal fortune to start running negative campaign ads the moment he was nominated, like Gianforte. Strategically, I think Rob is doing it better. He’s traveling the state, visiting the news media, hosting events and meeting with folks. Recent research indicates it’s the person-to-person contact that is the most effective — that the negative ads and mailers are losing their luster.

            And just where is Gianforte? I haven’t heard a personal peep out of him since the convention. It’s the ground game that’s going to win this election and Gianforte doesn’t have one.

  • I gotta disagree Pete – What research indicates that a candidate with no money, going to Dem functions and talking to handfuls of people is a winning formula? Who was the last Montanan to win a race like that?

    • You’re are right, Eric, “going to Dem functions and talking to handfuls of people” won’t win an election. But meeting with enough people, spreading the word and organizing volunteers, i.e. “barnstorming,” can win an election. As I’ve said, it’s the ground game that’s going to win this election — Quist has one, Gianforte doesn’t.

      • Well Pete – I have a challenge question for you – suppose Rob Quist and the Dems organized a big ‘Grassroots’ rally in Billings tomorrow, in Billings, a city of close to 100,000 people – how many would turn out to see him do you suppose? 3000? 2000?

        • I’d need to have a lot more detail, Eric, before taking on your challenge. How was it promoted? Was there good press around it? What’s the venue? Other headliners?

          And of course timing is everything. Who’d have thought 10,000 people would show up for the Women’s March in Helena. But the political climate was right, the social media around the event was amazing and the stars aligned.

          So there you have it — a non-answer.

  • The Gazoo said 60 people showed up yesterday, but me sitting there counted 43, there were a handful of new faces with blue Quist signs, but mostly Dem regulars.

    There was talk about tax-liens, an civil judgment’s against Quist for bad debt in the back row. Watch the next series of ads I’ll bet.

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