Gopher Comes Out Swinging

“I challenge white male privilege in this election”

by JC

Well, that didn’t take long! Two days ago 4&20’s own Pete Talbot wrote up a quick profile of Montana’s Congressional race. And of course, by doing so, he had a few things to say about Melinda Gopher. First off, the platitudes:

“I really like Ms. Gopher. Her straightforward campaign is quite refreshing and her enthusiasm for progressive issues is contagious… The inspirational, refreshing and candid Ojibwe woman.”

Then the digs:

“A few things bother me, though: her late entry into the campaign leaves her way behind in fundraising and organizational staff, her ability to do outreach to constituencies outside of the human rights’ sphere is questionable, and the fact that she’s using Republican talking points against primary opponent Dennis McDonald. Please, Melinda, stick with the issues and leave the negative, policy-avoiding rhetoric to Rep. Rehberg.”

To all of which Gopher replied on her blog today:

“I got in this race, after failing to seeing an electable Democratic candidate step forward. My family has a long and proud tradition in the state of advancing equality. To attempt to pigeonhole me in a particular constituency is unfair, as Pete Talbot does in his post on 4& 20 Blackbird…

First, Talbot singles me out: no other candidate in this race has the track record I have in addressing Montana civil rights and environmental issues, and that includes the incumbent. Second, McDonald’s representation–that was detailed as, a friendship of sorts, by two different writers; of a crime family hit man are not Republican talking points–his electability is fair game and a valid consideration in this race. Certainly Montana voters I have spoken to, now too many to count–are alarmed. Third, accusing me of policy-avoiding rhetoric is just plain untrue. All one has to do is read my campaign blog right here, to see that I–unlike all of my other opponents, have been doing that very thing. Every forum, rather than play it safe, and deliver a canned five minutes, I put my skin out there and do just that–I talk about the issues. Of course, Talbot chooses to single me out and hold me to the high bar. And thats ok, I expect that, I was prepared for it, that is why I will win. Thank you Pete Talbot.”

Yes, thank you Pete Talbot! For once we get to see a candidate who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, and speak her mind, no matter whom gets in her cross hairs. And it is our very own Pete Talbot who gets to sharpen Ms. Gopher’s foil!

Much ado has been made about all of the regular political process for the democratic primary to pick a worthy opponent to try and unseat Denny Rehberg. And much of that primary already has consisted of three dems trying to garner some attention by trying to differentiate themselves from the other. But what it really comes down to is who has a chance to beat Rehberg in the fall.

Traditional politics would tell us that the candidate with the most money and name recognition will do best. But the 2008 campaign would tell us differently, when John Driscoll ran a campaign in which he did virtually nothing–didn’t raise any money, and didn’t run a traditional effort. And for that he won a third of the vote. Not a single candidate running against Rehberg in the last 4 elections has garnered more than 40% of the vote, two of which ran conventional campaigns fullof money, staff, and outreach: Velazquez in ’04 and Lindeen in ’06. So what’s a candidate to do?

If any democrat is going to have any success in unseating Denny, they’re going to have to take an unconventional approach. And Gopher seems to be settling into hers: grab the bull by the horns and twist them till they cry uncle. Speak truth to power.

One way I think about which of the candidates would have the most success is by looking at how Rehberg would respond to them. How will McDonald and Gernant campaign against Denny? How would Gopher? If Gopher were to take Rehberg head on like she went after Pete, then I think she has a fighting chance. After all, what is Rehberg going to do? Go negative on a Native American woman activist rising out of her HIll 57 roots? Ignore her? Answer her policy challenges? Most likely he would try and swat her aside, as he previously did with challengers Driscoll, Lindeen, Velasquez, and Kelly. McDonald and Gernant pose large targets for Rehberg. Gernant with his youth and inexperience. McDonald for his role as party insider and out-of-stater baggage.

Many people would like to make this an election about ideas and policies, where if we could have a rational debate, that reason would win, and Rehberg lose. But the national political climate is anything but attuned to that sort of rhetoric. Candidates bandy about policy points finely tuned to match a poll indicating where the wind blows.

I want a candidate who is willing to attack Rehberg for all they’re worth. A candidate who isn’t afraid to step on some toes as she guns for the jugular and rips the silver spoon out of Denny’s mouth. And the only candidate I see that seems willing to do what needs to be done in order to beat Rehberg seems to be Melinda Gopher.

Pete’s lamentations about his perceptions of Gopher’s downside can be addressed: money can be raised; staff built and organized; and outreach expanded beyond her traditional base. As to the “the negative, policy-avoiding rhetoric” he decried, well, that’s politics. I see plenty of policy meat in Gopher’s writings, indicating a keen mind willing to jump into the policy arena and debate: “I challenge any of my other opponents to delve as deeply into the issues as I have; they all lack the political courage to do so”. And that negative rhetoric, well, I have to agree that McDonald has some baggage that is just going to make him an easy target in the fall, and make for an ugly campaign.

People have lambasted me for wanting to make Rehberg’s character an issue in this election. But I think it is key, as the regular policy debates have become useless talking points dictated by polling and regulated by media megaphones. And no one seems concerned about Rehberg’s lack of achievement. In fact, many think his lack of achievement is a bonus, as it leaves him with little controversy over his accomplishments–there are none. I think that if voters were to look to the character of our candidates, they will see a clear difference between Gopher and Rehberg.

But the race has finally hit the first turn, and is heating up. This should be fun!


  1. Gopher must not have much to do if she has time to sit and reply to whiney white males from the blogosphere.

  2. Mt hasn’t had a fighter in congress since pat williams.

    Go melinda.

    And pat….how about a little old fashioned butte style support for a couageous lady fighting entrenched party resistance here?

  3. Montana Cowgirl

    I agree with you 100% that Rehberg’s character issues are key to this race.

    However, remember that John Driscoll won the primary exactly because of the Driscoll family name recognition, and no other reason, even though he didn’t campaign.

    The Driscoll name is famous in Montana Dem political history. Hunt didn’t build up enough of his own to overcome it.

  4. mick

    GOPHER IT !!!!!

  5. petetalbot

    I have no problem going negative on a hypocrite (i.e. ex-Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s homophobia). However, and you can call me naive, but it depresses me when campaigns focus on personalities rather than issues.

    Rehberg is coming close to crossing that line from just a flawed character to a hypocrite. I would think, though, that his inability to get much done in his decade in Congress, linked with his lock-step voting with the far right, would provide ample opportunities for attack.

    I’d like to add that the shortcomings I perceive in the Democratic primary candidates can be, for the most part, overcome. Come on, candidates, prove me wrong!

    I’m thrilled to see Ms. Gopher challenge my presumptions head on.

    • JC

      I’m not calling you naive Pete–far from it. And campaign focus doesn’t have to be an either or proposition: personalities or issues. They can be both.

      And I don’t necessarily equate character with personality. Character is a measure of the person bu which we can all judge. Personality is how one choses to display one’s own self-perception. It can be an act, or it can be authentic. Most politicians are phonies, and it is obvious. They have no character, or what character they have isn’t worth diddly.

      A candidate can have all the greatest policy positions, but with no principle or backbone to guide themselves, they just slip down that Baucusonian path of gumbyism.

      Character is essential for excellence in a politician. Without it, a politician is worthless, or more dangerously, becomes worthy to the wrong constituencies.

      • petetalbot

        Agreed, JC.

        • We haven’t had excellence since mansfield/metcalf.

          I would settle for someone willing to fight for what’s right win or lose.

          Leadership vaccuum in the democratic party is at critical mass because too many party insiders cull the herd based on pedigree instead of merit. which results in mediocrity or (in the case of baucus) complete genetic dysfunction.

          Time for some new energy and ideas is now- and I don’t mean more-of-the-same white guy lawyers.

          Go melinda!

      • Montana Cowgirl

        You are so, so right. Hey candidates!! Listen to this guy. Please.

  6. Montana Cowgirl

    I’ve got one more clarification.

    You assert that, in addition to the Driscoll race there were two other real candidates “which ran conventional campaigns fullof money, staff, and outreach: Velazquez in ‘04 and Lindeen in ‘06.”

    The truth is NEITHER candidate ran a good enough race, worked hard enough, or raised enough money to even be considered barely viable.

    Here’s how it works. Somebody announces they are going to run. They then have to prove they are viable. There are somethings that candidates have to do for themselves in order to prove they merit the help of others: Raise money, work hard, and get earned media.

    IF they do a good enough job, national money comes their way. If they don’t, there are other close races with candidates that will work hard and can raise money that get the help in other states or other races.

    Velasquez and Lindeen both failed the test big time.

    • JC

      Well, compared to Driscoll, they were light years ahead. Conventional in the sense that they tried to raise money and run a campaign, unlike Driscoll or Steve Kelly (who was ostracized by the state party). But they failed because no one believed they could win. Hence no one wanted to give them money, or the nationals waste their support. But it was a good ramp-up for Lindeen in her state run–experience and name recognition.

  7. Montana Cowgirl


  8. problembear

    party history lessons bore the hell out of me….

    let the past bury the past.

    what have you got for working people to believe in going forward mt cowgirl?

    • problembear

      notice i specifically didn’t say what have you got that the party insiders can believe in going forward. because i think there is a big disconnect with working folks in montana and the party regulars in either dominant party.

      what has gernant got?

      show us your beeves mt cowgirl!

      • Montana Cowgirl

        I like that McDonald has a proven record of standing up for working folks in Montana.

        The Boiler Makers Union Local 33 has just voted to endorse the candidacy of Dennis McDonald for Montana’s lone Congressional Seat.

        Here’s what Bob Winger, President of the Local, says “We’re proud to endorse Dennis McDonald in his bid for Montana’s Congressional Seat because he can most effectively represent Montana working families and that he exemplifies Montana values. We believe that he is the best possible choice for effective representation.”

        “McDonald has a long history of supporting organized labor. He paid union dues as a proud Teamster. As a lawyer he represented the interests of union members. Dennis has stood in picket lines supporting the interests of struggling union members. He was appointed to the International Trade Committee by President Clinton in 1998 and was reappointed by President Bush, serving until 2005. While on the committee, Dennis represented the interests of grass roots farmers and ranchers as well as union members.

        “In 2005, on behalf of the AFL-CIO and U.S. Agriculture, Dennis led a task force to Central America to expose unfair labor standards, environmental degradation and unfair Agricultural markets. The information gathered was used in opposition of the CAFTA agreement. McDonald also led the successful fight against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). He’s always of taking the position of the outsourcing of the American dream must stop.”

        Sounds pretty good to this outsider.

        • problembear

          sounds like a lot of plaques on the wall with no real basis for working folks to take an interest in whether or not he will fight for them.

          union lawyers and being appointed to toothless commissions are one thing. congress is something else.

          i don’t hear any squeal of real rubber on the road from mcdonald yet. i hear a lot of talk.

        • Kevin

          Exactly. What the F has Gernant done? Zip. Oh, and Melinda has blogged.

          • problembear

            melinda has struggled to help working folks in montana and to raise the bar of tolerance and equality.

            what has ten gallon empty hat done…
            i mean, besides give you a job spinning comments on blogs about him?

          • Gernant has worked as an attorney for small business and non-profits and tax credits for low-income housing. He’s helped bring together young leaders in the Missoula community to work towards community goals.

            Gernant’s also worked for Baucus as an intern and then went to work for some other guy in congress, until he went to work on the (now-disappointment) John Edwards campaign.

            He’s been on the Hill. More than any of his challengers.

            • Kevin

              Now THIS is hilarious.

            • problembear

              worked for baucus and john edwards???

              j-girl- you are handing all the good dish to our friends in the Grotesque Old Party on that one.

              and spending time on the hill for those two counts against him.

              no wonder he is so close-mouthed.

              • what makes you assume that he didn’t learn what’s wrong with politics when he worked there? That he doesn’t want to change that?

                Otherwise, one might thing an attorney would stick with working for the big money instead of going to private practice working for non-profit low income housing providers…and helping small business navigate the IRS.

            • Montana Cowgirl

              oh yikes. this is worse than his being a tax attorney. i thought you were a supporter of Gernant. with supporters like you he doesn’t need enemies.

              • Yeah. Because mob attorney is so much better.

                Tax attorneys tend to help people navigate the IRS, girlfriend. Don’t know about you, Cowgirl, but that sounds like some pretty righteous lawyering to me.

      • Montana Cowgirl

        Also, I am not running for anything. I do think whoever said Melinda Gopher should run for legislature is onto something. We need that woman in office!

        • We need that woman in office!

          …just not in congress?

          • Kevin

            Gopher doesn’t have a chance at winning the congressional race, she won’t even win the primary.

            • problembear

              thus speaketh the insider party operative…..

              passion is fighting against all odds with no reason for hope.

              predictions of failure are empty words spouted by people who are used to failing.

              it becomes a habit after awhile.

              the only way to win is with passion, courage determination and confidence. melinda has more of those qualities than either the kid or the empty hat.

    • klemz

      I don’t think Bucknell beat Kansas by ignoring how the Jayhawks beat every other 15 seed they had faced before.

  9. klemz

    You say she’s scrappy. I think she has thin skin. Such a shortcoming is reasonable in a county commissioner (like Michele), but you can’t pick fights with the press – even bloggers – if you want to go to Washington.

    • problembear

      is that right? so working folks put a lot of stock in what the press and bloggers think?

      i think if you show some guts the people will follow…

      but then, with all the experience you have garnered in your own political career we should listen to you klemz because….?

    • So, let me get this straight. Being “scrappy” is bad, right? ‘Cause that means one is thin skinned? So, compliance good, effort bad. Well then, take it away Republicants.

      Klemz, I don’t give a f*ck what Gopher wants. I care about what I want. Now you bullshit your way into convincing others that you are some weak form of “independent”. And yet you can’t even imagine what being independent must look like while you spew about what makes others “want to go to Washington.” You’re just wrong here, dude.

      • klemz

        If it helps your understanding of the world that I be a Republican, then so be it. It makes no difference to me.

        Bear, perhaps I worded that poorly. I merely intended to state that it’s not a good idea to get on the bad side of the press’ collective caprice. I don’t say that as an experienced political operative, but as a former member of the army ant hive.

  10. problembear

    who are as thin skinned as they come, klemz. but also just as fickle as they are sensitive. the press will cover anything that makes news. courage and bravery make news.

    party politics make filler.

    • klemz

      I totally disagree with your second to last sentence. It’s hard to explain why this is true, but there really is sort of a herd mentality within the press. And, while competition certainly exists, it’s driven by economic rather than actual value of the sought information. Just the fact that nobody else wants something makes it significantly less appealing. Also, when you hear that someone is a pain in the ass toward your ilk, it’s only natural to think, “well, f#ck them.”

      This isn’t a political example, but Urban Meyer was the golden boy of the national sporting press until that combine outburst. He’s not Barry Bonds (or Sarah Palin) yet, but it really doesn’t take that much for the reputation to majorly swing.

      Whether its politics, sports or entertainment, once that combative (or dismissive) reputation gets around, negative coverage is practically all you’ll get.

      • problembear

        filler it is then. hence, the death of the press is further ensconced and hastened.

        the press better get some passion soon itself, klemz. people are voting with their wallets on that one and it ain’t pretty….

        so again i ask, what clout do these ants deliver to a working family who doesn’t read newspapers? courage and bravery still count in this world. when you never give up just because people tell you to it is called passion, and it is the stuff that real stories AND POLITICAL CAREERS are made of.

        • klemz

          Well, for one thing, it’s not just newspapers, but radio, tv and the interwebs as well. Second, working class families don’t know what they don’t know. Third, a politicians can be gutsy and passionate, but that should stop short of pissing off the media’s collective sensibilities.

          Finally, I’m not saying this as a matter of moral imperative, but just as one of common sense. It’s pretty easy to make passion look like, well, “bbiiiiyyyaaaaeeehhhh!”

    • klemz

      Make that your second to last sentence of your first graph. Third to last sentence overall.

      Also, army ants don’t hive, they bivouac. (Can’t y’all put an edit option on posts?)

  11. Thomas Paine

    A McDonald-Rehberg contest is one I sit out – there’s really no difference between the two; they’re both conventional tools of established corporate power who will use the position to serve their own personal interests.

    If there was ever a time to demand candidates with well-defined positions who will challenge entrenched power centers, it’s now. Those are the only candidates I’m going to support. We don’t need another Max Baucus in this state, unless, of course, you enjoy living in Corporate America.

    The letter after a Congressman’s name means virtually nothing if your name isn’t something like Sanders or Kucinich. The days of there being a substantive distinction, especially in terms of working for average Americans, are history. The Democratic Party no longer gets my vote simply because its candidate is the lesser of two evils. That means I’ll write someone in who deserves my vote before I’ll continue to allow Democrats to take my vote for granted because they assume I have nowhere else to go while they pander to right-wing corporate interests under the guise of “moving to the center”.

    So, if Gopher is a candidate who’s willing to kick ass and take names as she fights for the interests of common people, then I’ll sit up and take notice.

  12. In lieu of a live boy or a dead hooker, Rehberg will be re-elected.

  13. problembear

    that defeatist attitude is what got us a health insurance subsidy instead of reform.

    the democratic party’s passion for chasing lobbyist dollars instead of watching out for working folks is what has led to the vaccuum of leadership in the democratic party.

    it is time to finally vote for what we really want and ignore the defeatists who say it is not possible.

  14. Kevin

    um, the filing deadline has passed. so go ahead and ‘say’ anything you want bear.

  15. Moorcat

    Rehberg will do exactly the same thing this race that he did in the last two – he will fail to engage. The last two candidates didn’t “lose” the race in the traditional sense.. they didn’t even have a race. As long as Rehberg continues to refuse to engage the race, there won’t be a race.

    To break this cycle, you have to have an issue that is painful enough to Richie Rehberg to actually engage his opponent. Until then, he will sit back as the sitting incumbant to continue to do what he has always done – make pretty sound bites and do nothing.

    If any of these candidates want to win, they will have to do one of two things – engage enough of the voters so that Rehberg is actually pushed into engaging, or convince enough voters that Rehberg’s “do nothing” policies are detrimental to Montana that they overcome Rehbergs apparent popularity.

    Simple as that


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