Archive for December 26th, 2007

by Pete Talbot

Missoula’s reputation as a haven for “liberal dope-smoking hippies” makes it hard to get candidates from the Garden City elected to statewide office. That’s according to Craig Wilson, a political science professor at MSU-Billings, in a story written by Chelsi Moy in last Sunday’s Missoulian.

“To the rest of the state, there is a perception that (Missoulians) view themselves at the center of the universe, and at the center of the state, for sure,” Wilson added. “They feel Missoula is out of step with the rest of the state.”

I have two points to make. First, we are the center of the universe. Second, if you want to be the Democratic nominee, you have to win Missoula.

This second point was overlooked in the Missoulian story. We (Democrats) actually have some power in who ends up on the general election ballot. That’s because we deliver more Democratic votes than any other county in the state. You want to be the Democratic nominee for, say, attorney general? You better work Missoula really hard before the primary election.

An example of Missoula’s clout is the Jon Tester/John Morrison primary race for U.S. Senate in 2006. Morrison had a lead in the polls going into the primary but because of a giant grassroots effort and big turnout for Tester in Missoula, Jon ended up being the Democratic nominee in the general election. Granted, there were a few other mitigating circumstances but Missoula did play a huge role.

There are some exceptions to this theory. The John Ellingson/Bill Kennedy 2006 secretary of state primary race is one. Although Ellingson, from Missoula, beat Kennedy, from Billings, rather handily in Missoula County, he didn’t get enough votes statewide to pull it off. I believe Kennedy really thrashed Ellingson in Kennedy’s home county (Yellowstone). I’m guessing that Kennedy also pulled some Republican votes. And Kennedy was quite popular in many of the state’s other counties, both urban and rural.

Ellingson being a trial lawyer probably didn’t help much. That title can raise money but not votes. Witness John Morrison and years earlier Jack Mudd, a Missoula attorney who got spanked by one Conrad Burns. So, maybe it’s the attorney tag and not the Missoula tag, that really hurts you.

That being said, though, in most cases Missoula holds the key to winning in the Democratic primary. And you can hold me accountable on June 4, the day after Montana’s primary election. I’m betting that the Democratic winners in Missoula County will be the Democratic candidates on the November ballot.

Another Missoulian article, this one in Wednesday’s paper and written by AP reporter Matt Gouras, talked about the Montana Republican Party’s new caucus system. It will allow the party faithful — from statewide office holders all the way down to precinct committeemen and women — to support a presidential candidate in the party’s Feb. 5 caucus.

This system has some appeal to me because everyone else in the state can’t weigh in until the June 3 primary. And by that time, it’s usually all over. (Some pundits are saying it will be over by Feb. 5, also known as Super Tuesday, when as many as 22 states could be holding primaries. Notice that this date also coincides with the Montana Republican caucus.)

Of course the downside is that only hand-picked Republican Party insiders will be voting on the outcome. The Democrats will rely on the number of votes cast in the primary to dictate how their delegates will vote in the national convention. It’s more democratic that way but again, it’s really late in the cycle — it could be down to one, maybe two Democratic candidates at that point.

There has been other commentary on the Montana Republican caucus, on blog sites both left and right. It has been noted that while the caucus system may not be the most democratic, it actually might draw some candidates to Montana, or at least get them to respond to some of our issues. It’s also a great way to build the party. For example, the AP article indicates that Ron Paul supporters are starting to line up for open precinct seats.

Should Montana Democrats adopt a caucus system? What think you, faithful reader?

Update: This is sort of a correction for the Missoula Parking Commission. Meter maids were just ticketing serial parking abusers on Christmas Eve day — those parking over two hours, in loading zones or leased parking slots that didn’t belong to them. The standard parking violator (expired meter) got a Christmas card from the commission.

I was also informed that there used to be a TWO week period before Christmas when vehicles weren’t ticketed downtown. That’s not the case anymore.

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