A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

7 February 2018 — 1541 mst

Bullock wants a legislature that protects all hardworking
Montanans —but fails to call for a Democratic majority


In an oped published in most Montana newspapers late last week (Flathead Beacon), Gov. Steve Bullock said, “Throughout the legislative session, I repeatedly warned Republican leaders that building a budget on false revenue projections would result in even deeper cuts to services. And it did.”

Now Bullock is asking Montana’s voters to elect a legislature that will approve:

…[a] budget that works for everyone and we need to have real discussions, neighbor to neighbor, about the on-the-ground impacts of these cuts and how we can rebuild a budget that protects Montana families and restores these services…

I encourage every Montanan to contact their local state representatives to voice their concerns about the Legislature’s budgeting priorities. And if your local state representative doesn’t listen to your concerns or isn’t willing to answer these hard questions with us about our state’s future, I encourage you to vote for legislators who understand the needs of your community.

He did not, however, ask voters to elect Democratic majorities in the Montana House and Senate.

Why didn’t he call for Democratic majorities? Because, in my judgment, he fears Democrats will fail to win majorities, condemning him to working with another Republican controlled legislature in 2019. He’s (1) hedging his bets, trying not to anger the so-called moderate Republicans who jammed their perniciously parsimonious budget down his throat in the 2017 regular and special legislative sessions, and (2) avoiding setting himself for an embarrassing defeat that could weaken his undeclared Presidential campaign’s attempt to portray him as a strong bipartisan leader who gets things done by bringing people together.

That calculatingly cautious (overcautious, to be frank) approach ignores two facts. First, the events of 2017 proved that “moderate Republican” has become an imaginary class. A Republican controlled legislature will neither reauthorize expanded Medicaid nor restore cuts to vital programs that mitigate human misery. Second, as proven by Bullock’s re-election victory, a Democratic majority is possible: while winning an absolute majority of the popular vote, he carried 52 of Montana’s 100 house districts.

But Democrats prevailed in only 40 of those 52 districts, and in one district (HD-3, Columbia Falls) that Bullock and all statewide Democrats lost. If Democrats can hold the house seats they now occupy, and win the 12 seats that Bullock won but the Democratic legislative candidate lost, they would hold a 53–47 majority in the MT House in 2019.


MT SecST data. Filings data as of 1500 MST 7 February 2018.

Thus far, Democrats have filed in 11 of the 12 districts. The glaring exception is in HD-7, old downtown Kalispell, currently represented by two-term Republican Frank Garner, a former Kalispell chief of police who’s now head of security at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

Garner’s a decent fellow who thinks for himself and doesn’t alway vote in lockstep with the legislature’s Republican leadership. But he caucuses with a political party that’s become too dangerous to be trusted to govern and therefore he must be replaced by a Democrat. That Democrat could be Garner himself, although the probability that he would switch parties is low. Meanwhile, he faces a primary challenge from a gun loving ex-Marine fighter pilot who now flies jumbo cargo jets and consorts with the GOP’s far right wing. Were the jet jockey to win the primary, a long but not impossible shot, a strong Democratic candidate would have a decent chance of winning HD-7.

Winning these MT House seats won’t be easy. But if one Democrat can carry these districts, so can another. Democrats must nominate strong legislative candidates with a strong, compelling, message. They must run strong, well financed, campaigns. And Steve Bullock must visit these districts and campaign hard for these candidates.