Montana Rep Race gets Interesting with Two New Entrants!

Could it be Gopher vs. Otjen for Congress?

by JC

This last week has seen two newcomers to Montana politics throw their hats into the ring to unseat republican congressman Denny Rehberg.

First up, Melinda Gopher–daughter of Robert Gopher, a long time native activist, cultural leader, and petitioner of the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention for “the need to provide for state support of the cultural survival of Montana’s Tribal peoples.” The Gopher family’s unique experience living and growing up on the northwest side of Great Falls on Hill 57 helped them to lead the way on Montana’s Constitutional “cultural integrity clause.”

The result was Article X Section 1. (2) The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.

I find some personal satisfaction in Gopher’s announcement, having grown up in the same Hill 57 neighborhood, knowing that the Gopher family persevered through all of the adversity that came their way.

While I’m a few years older than Melinda, I knew the family, and went to school with some of her siblings, watching many of the obstacles that were thrown their way. Some of those obstacles I likely contributed to during my misguided youth on GF’s northwest side, though I have come to a different understanding of native culture, and the residents of Hill 57 since then, and offer my amends as often as possible.

Melinda will officially announce her candidacy today at 3pm at the Family Life Building in Montana Expo Park in Great Falls. In her announcement, Gopher had this to say:

Gopher’s news release said she is a descendant of the Rocky Boy’s Band of Ojibwe and a member of the Blackfeet Tribe. She is a lifelong civil, treaty and political rights activist who works as a paralegal, feature writer and screenplay writer.
Gopher said she helped initiate fair housing in Montana in the late 1980s and early 1990s and worked alongside her late father, Robert Gopher, to fight for “environmental justice.” She is trying to restore the Chippewa nations’ sovereign status.

Calling for building coalitions at every level, Gopher said she will work to draw independent and Republican voters.
“My heart is in both parties; the Chippewa people have a direct historic connection to Republican Frank Linderman. He is to Montana what President Lincoln was to the nation.”

She said the Rocky Boy’s Reservation wouldn’t exist without Linderman’s efforts.

“Now we need a fresh set of eyes to tackle the many issues we face,” Gopher said. “I will work to reach across the aisle and mediate to find common ground. I would consider it an honor to represent Montanans of every political stripe.”
Blogging for the liberal Huffington Post on health care, Gopher blasted Democratic Sen. Max Baucus for his “callous disregard” for Indian constituents by opposing a public option – a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.

“In all the battles we have fought as a family, I have never been involved in such a tough fight as to keep the public option in health care reform,” Gopher said.

I look forward to seeing and hearing much more from Melinda as the primary season heats up. Welcome to the race! While I haven’t found an official campaign website yet, check out her Facebook campaign page. Or do a little Googling.

Next up is A.J. Otjen, who dropped by earlier today at 4&20 to leave a comment inviting people to her new campaign website, I don’t know anything about A.J other than what she has posted at her website, but it is good to see another republican come out to challenge Denny.

A.J. seems to represent a spirit of new republicanism, in that she isn’t afraid to buck the party line and deliver some well deserved criticism where she sees fit:

In 2004, I was very unhappy as I thought the Bush Doctrine was the opposite for which our country stood. I wanted America to get out of Iraq and I thought George Bush and Dick Cheney were very bad for the country and the Republican Party. I thought that John Kerry combined with a Republican Congress would be adequate government for four years. If Bush lost, we could have begun to rebuild the Republican Party in 2004. I voted for John Kerry.

In 2008, I liked Obama early because he spoke like Ronald Reagan and he is a centrist. John McCain made up my mind when he picked Governor Palin as his running mate. I think she is what is wrong with the party today. Our current base of the party is about fearand ignorance.

For example, there is a big difference between socialism and fascism. In fact, they are basically opposites.
We don’t need graduate degrees to know this. We can now look it up on Wikipedia. We can end the fear by being informed. The McCain/Palin ticket was not informed of the issues important to our future. The future Republicans must be. I am running for Congress to help the party be a part of this time of transformation.

Judging from what I’ve seen of the other two contenders in the Democratic primary, and from incumbent Rehberg, the entry of Gopher and Otjen into the primaries provides an opportunity to inject some new views on issues from individuals who haven’t bought into the current political climate of polarization and ideology.

Welcome to the primary season, Melinda and A.J.! And thanks for having the courage to step up to the opportunity to doing good things in public service. I hope that your presence in the races will open up the dialog on the great issues of our time: health care; climate change; war and terrorism; the Great Recession and our horrible situation with jobs and reigning in our finance sector.

I look forward to much time spent here debating your platforms and ideas. And I’d love to see a General Election with these two women as their respective party’s nominees!

Quick update: It seems that the righty blogosphere has just gotten wind of A.J.’s campaign via her comment here, labeling her a “moron,” and lambasting her as “someone whoring their website” at a Left blog. (Go Rusty! You’re helping A.J. out bigtime here!)

I hope that is a good indicator that the whacko republican base is feeling some strong pushback from those that want to bring the republican party back from the wilderness into some form of political sanity.


  1. problembear

    i like gopher’s chances in a debate against either denny or otjen. rehberg seems to be just a touch outside of moderate mainstream thinking these days. and otjen…in striving to appear flexible (which is a good thing) seems to be trying too hard to appeal to everyone….kind of a warning flag to this bear.

  2. Excellent, JC. Nice to hear that background on Melinda Gopher.

    I find Rusty’s post funny. Talk about pimping 4&20, he had that post up within an hour of A.J.’s announcement here. LOL.

    Flathead Memo’s James Conner has a post up on A.J. Otjen’s announce…look for the post title A Montana Republican for single-payer health care?, dated October 3rd.

    At least you can read James’ post and learn something.

  3. Now, has anyone checked with Craig Wilson as to Gopher and Otjen’s chances of winning?

  4. Pogo Possum

    Thanks for the heads up on the two new political challengers, JC.
    I have not met Melinda but recognize the family name from the years I spent in Great Falls and from the Constitutional Convention. She comes from a good family. I am proud to see another Argo run for political office. Good luck Melinda.

    I don’t know A.J. Otjen but I welcome her as a Republican candidate. I am always glad to see people willing to expand both the leadership base and the political perspective of the party and take on the challenges of running for office.

    Reminding Republican voters that you voted for Kerry and Obama may not be the best strategy to win a Republican Primary. I doubt many of the Republicans voting in the 2010 GOP Primary believe Obama “. . . spoke like Ronald Reagan. . . “ Nevertheless, this race will give her some valuable experience and name recognition should she decide to run for office again. Welcome A.J.

  5. Unless Dennis McDonald keeps putting his foot in his mouth for the next 11 months I’d say Melinda Gophers chance in the Dem primary is quite poor.

    As far as A.J. Otjen goes, what, is it Christmas morning for Denny Rehberg? She’s given interviews, saying she’s glad she voted for Barack Obama, who she thinks can make the world love the USA, has lots of gay friends, and is pro-abortion, among other things. Not exactly a winning combination in a GOP primary !

    If she thinks losing to Denny will be some sort of springboard, she’s forgetting something, mainly that she’s a liberal Dem, running as a Republican.

    I’m delighted !

    • I’m delighted too Eric. It’s refreshing to see a Republican openly say that a candidate having homosexual friends is a deal breaker. I assume you’ll be calling for Dick Cheney to be sent to not be allowed on television as his gay daughter is much worse than Otjen’s gay friends, right?

      • petetalbot

        And Eric, you can count me as delighted, too. The Republican Party continues to reveal its homophobic, anti-choice, anti-anything Obama, pup tent philosophy. Please, continue to exclude anyone but right-wing zealots from the party. It’s a losing strategy.

  6. problembear

    obama’s numbers are rising again despite the best efforts of the tiny minority known as the tea-baggers…..

    now if the democrats in congress can just pull their collective heads out of their asses and check out the political landscape once in awhile we should be alright in 2012. majority want out of iraq and afghanistan, majority want a universal health care plan with public option for anyone who wants in, majority in this country are not racist assholes; we are for the most part still hopeful and fair-minded.

    i think that otjen might just be a good test of the so-called power of the far right. i think she may appeal to many in the republican party like the ones i know- who volunteer at many non-profits and who were pretty appalled at the extreme excesses of the bush/cheney regime. good luck to her. there are just as many fair-minded republicans out there as democrats. she may just pull it off.

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