Howie Klein’s Blue America: Montana
Last week I mentioned how important June 6 is, with primaries in 8 states, and I talked about a couple of crucial ones in California (Francine Busby’s Special Election run-off against Republican lobbyist Brian Bilbray and Jerry McNerney’s grassroots campaign, which first has to beat some Rahm Emanuel shill before he can go on to rid the nation of one of the most corrupt men to ever stalk the halls of the Congress, Richard Pombo). Makes sense to talk about these two high profile House seats in the biggest state in the nation, right?
Well today I want to focus on a race at least as important, for progressives, for Democrats and for America. And it’s in Montana. Montana? Isn’t that a red state with no people in it? No. Montana’s the 4th largest state in the union and there are almost a million people living there. The Republican Party has been in a serious state of decline and the Big Sky State boasts a populist, progressive Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, as well as Democrats in all but one statewide office, as well as a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.
The Senior U.S. Senator, Max Baucus, is also a Democrat. That, and the fact that Montana is the most pro-labor union state in the Rockies, makes it sound pretty blue to me. And it is about to get a lot bluer, courtesy of Jack Abramoff. Well, courtesy of Jack Abramoff’s extremely close relationship with Montana’s junior U.S. Senator, ethically-challenged Conrad Burns, the U.S. Senator who took the most money from Abramoff– and did him the most favors in return– of anyone in the upper chamber. He has to face the voters in November– and is he not popular! (The newest polling shows that 56% of the citizens of Montana think he’s doing an unsatisfactory job, a rating surpassed by exactly one other much-hated senator, Rick Santorum, who has managed to alienate 57% of Pennsylvania’s citizens.)
It looks to me like the Democrats are going to take the House in November– or, rather, that the Republicans’ greed and over-reaching and bankrupt policies are going to lose it. The Senate is a tougher nut to crack, just because only a third of the seats are up for re-election. The Democrats need 6 seats for a bare majority. Montana is a must-win. Without Montana there is no shot whatsoever. But we’re looking at Montana today for more than just little old that. I mean, Democrats need to hold on to Ben Nelson’s seat in Nebraska and Bill Nelson’s seat in Florida too but we’re not looking at those seats (both of which are pretty much in the bag). As bad as the music the Nelsons used to make, the voting records of the Nelsons in the Senate are even worse. Democrats, yes… but… the worst. In the June 6th primary we have a chance to chose between a really stellar candidate and a mediocre one to face off against the doomed Burns.
The really stellar one is Jon Tester. (The Democratic political hack– way better than a Republican political hack (way, way, way better), but a hack nonetheless, a DLC one at that, is Montana State Auditor John Morrison.) Tester is more than just better than the other guy. He’s a transformational politician, the kind of inspiring public servant who we will be able to look to for a genuine effort to actually make our nation a better place, the way candidates like Ned Lamont in Connecticut or Rick Penberthy and Jan Schneider in Florida, or Jerry McNerney, Francine Busby and Marcy Winograd in California can be expected to do the same. Not run-of-the-mill garden variety Democrats, but men and women who have the ability, the capacity and the intention of doing far more than just going along with the political whores who rule the roost Inside the Beltway.
I want to tell you a little about Jon. But first I want to ask you to read what someone else has to say about him. John Rodwick is a guy in Montana who stumbled across Down With Tyranny a few months ago. He was cynical about the sorry state of politics-as-usual and I asked him to look into Jon’s campaign and to go meet him. Last week he did and his report is here. The word that comes up in John’s report– and in any report of first-hand experience with Tester— is "straight shooter." When I was running Reprise Records I sometimes would get so excited about an album that an artist delivered– more often than not, something from Green Day, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Wilco, Depeche Mode, Joni Mitchell– that I’d fantasize about going door to door with an iPod and asking people to just listen. I’m positive that if Jon Tester could just meet every one of Montana’s voters…
So who is this guy? I first started writing about him last July. My excitement has grown and grown as I’ve seen more of him in action. A 48 year old organic wheat farmer from Big Sandy and President of the State Senate, Jon announced his populist, progressive candidacy driving his tractor-trailer rig around Montana. He’s endorsed withdrawal from Iraq, a clean renewable energy policy (he actually sponsored a renewable energy standard in Montana), and is calling for expanded health care— including government funded health care for all children. He’s also endorsed a reasonable version of single-payer health insurance. Morrison (as a DLC shill) has more incommon with Burns on these issues than he has with Jon. Jon Tester’s stands on the issues are what I expect from every Democrat; unfortunately my expectations are shot down more than they are realized. That’s why when a strong and outspoken leader like Jon comes to the fore, I feel grateful… and eager to help in any small way I can.
When I asked Jane to look this over for me, she asked me 2 questions: How is Tester on Choice and Gay issues (talk about separating the wheat from the chaff!) and what are Tester’s real chances? I call these next two my Jane paragraphs. Like John Kerry, Tester is personally pro-Life. The good news is that he has a 100% pro-choice voting record in the State Senate. That’s because to him it’s a privacy issue between a woman and her physician (and anyone else she wants to talk about it with). He’s a Montanan and he’s not eager to see Big Government interfering in peoples’ private lives. The gay issue is always the hardest for any politician not living in an urban area. But Tester hasn’t ducked that one either. He’s come out strongly against the hate and bigotry amendments the Republicans have tried passing and he’s worked hard to make sure others in the State Senate understood the issue as well. The man has great instincts and we can expect him to come to progressive conclusions about important issues.
Now, can he win? The DLC has been running around trumpeting the inevitability of their puppet Morrison because he’s been scooping up lots of cash from wealthy, often out-of-state, donors, while Tester’s strategy has been to fund-raise from average voters inside the state. In the last month, Tester has overtaken Morrison in fundraising, a result of more people in the state getting to know him and also of Morrison’s ethics problems. The momentum is clearly with Tester now and he very much looks like a winner. Polls show either Democrat beating Burns, who is so mired in corruption that people wonder what the chances of his indictment before November are, but at this point the latest polls show Tester surging and Morrison basically holding steady.
The irony, of course, is that the DLC and Inside-the-Beltway schnooks who have been propping Morrison up all during the campaign and insisting that the issue was electability against the hated Burns, are screwed. Now that every newspaper and media outlet in the state has been titillating its audience with stories of Morrison’s infidelity and how that mixed with state business, he no longer looks all that savory OR electable against an incumbent who has turned off most Montanans not because he’s a far right maniac but because he is widely perceived to be corrupt and dishonest. Morrison is now similarly tainted in the public eye and Tester’s straight-arrow reputation makes him look far more electable. Add that to the fact that the Beltway Establishment’s #1 stated reason to turn against grassroots and populist candidates– that they can’t raise big money– has been utterly demolished by Tester and all that is left are a bunch of corporate Democrats sputtering and fuming and feeling very much hoist on their own petards.
Last weekend’s fund-raiser for Jerry McNerney and Francine Busby brought in around $3,000. I was really happy about all the generosity from the readers and Jerry and Francine were thrilled. Every contributor got a Neil Young CD in the mail. I have a feeling you can figure out who I’m hoping to collect some much-needed last minute money for this weekend. I just opened a Jon Tester page at ACT BLUE so that whatever you feel you can chip in will go directly to Jon’s campaign. Is there an incentive this weekend too? Of course. As long as my old friends from the record companies take my calls I’ll have boxes of CDs to share with contributors! But to play it safe, let’s say… first 50 contributors (regardless of amount) get a CD. Give to Jon Tester’s campaign today because you want to make America a better place; the CD’s just a bonus from Jane and Ken and Adam and me, something we’re happy to share.