Questioning the Montana Democratic Party’s Commitment to the Principles of Democracy

by jhwygirl

Because my idea of democracy is a system where the unwashed masses actually have a voice.

Democrats hate primaries. Ask a democrat active in the party who they support and the more active they are the more likely they are to waffle and squirm their way out of saying who they’re going to vote for. Openly endorse one and really watch the daggers fly – something I experienced from 50 iterations of the two bovine bloggers who together call themselves the Montana bovine something-or-other blog when I endorsed a candidate during the 2010 congressional primary.

It’s a funny thing I’ve observed over the years – the pre-selection of candidates by the elite few. Here at the local level, most city council candidates have been pre-selected for a number of years. I wonder how many of the unwashed masses – the commoners – realize that? Hell, this last go around, at least one sitting councilperson actively recruited a candidate to run against a sitting (same progressive camp) councilperson even before said councilperson had decided whether they would run again!

So we’re not talking about the party recruitment of candidates for a seat that looks like it won’t have someone from the Democratic party running – there may be an incumbent, or there may be candidates lined up for running……….the truth is the elites of the state Montana Democratic Party (or, locally, the select few of the Missoula County Democrats) have pre-selected who they want to run.

From the pre-selection process, regardless of whether there’s a primary, the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) messaging goes out regarding who’s “going to win” or “who’s the best candidate.” Plan to disrupt that serendipity and you better have a flak jacket.

What it comes down to is that if anyone thinks you can run for office in this state and have an even playing field in terms of treatment from the Montana Democratic Party, they are – sorry to be blunt here – delusional. Or naive. Or ignorant. Or all of the above.

For example – I wonder how many people are aware that the Montana Democratic Party changed its rules in 2009 to allow it to endorse a “proven incumbent” by a 2/3 vote of the executive board. That’s a 2/3 vote of a bunch of people that would include – get this – the “proven incumbent.” Rule X of the Pre-primary policy is where you can find this.

This was done with purpose and intent to protect one particular candidate from having to face one particular rumored challenger sometime in the future. With everyone happy and still giddy from their 2006 victories.

Party of inclusion? Party of “the people”? Sure doesn’t seem like they trust the citizens of the state pulling a Democratic ballot in the primary to make that decision.

They have elections in China, too. You get one candidate to choose from. We decry that…but really, if you consider yourself a Democrat, how is the party elites of the Montana Democrats choosing the Democrat for the ticket (whether by that formal 2/3 or the informal overt and covert bullying that goes on pre-primary) much different?

What, precisely, is the purpose of a primary? Isn’t it so the public that cares picks a candidate for the party to get behind?

Yesterday, Montana Democratic Party’s executive director Ted Dick sent out a nice email to all its subscribers, under the Montana Democratic Party’s letterhead, endorsing Attorney General Steve Bullock for Governor.

Friend —

It’s hard to believe, but Steve Bullock is already under attack from right-wing organizations, who are running TV ads against him as we speak.

Powerful special interests are putting Steve in their crosshairs because they know he’s standing up to unlimited corporate money in politics.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen dishonest attacks like these on the air, and it won’t be the last. That’s because Steve won’t give up the fight against Citizens United — the law that lets big corporations spend as much as they want to buy elections.

In Montana, we have a different tradition — for 100 years we’ve made sure Montana’s elections are fair and transparent, because we’ve put responsible standards in place.

While some want Montana to go back to a time when the ‘Copper Kings’ bought the politcians they wanted, Steve Bullock is fighting for a fairer vision for Montana.

That’s why we’re standing with Steve.


It was followed, on the bottom as all political media is tagged, with a “Paid for by the Montana Democratic Party” message.

Now – let’s dissect this just a little to say that the “attack from right-wing organizations” is directed at Bullock not because as AG he filed suit against Citizens United, but because he’s a candidate. A candidate for Governor. And they are running ads against him because they prefer that someone like Rick Hill or Neil Livingstone win that gubernatorial office.

While it doesn’t mention Bullock’s run for governor, it also doesn’t mention that he is “standing up to unlimited corporate money in politics” because he is the state’s attorney general, either. (That court case having yet to be rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, though they have put an injunction on any enforcement of prohibitions to corporate money here in Montana.)

The Montana Democrats are unequivocally “standing with Steve.”

Could Bullock, as a currently elected state official, request television or air time or newspaper print to discuss the impacts of Citizen’s United? Now that he has filed, it is most likely that if he did so any of his opponents would probably be entitled to equal time. He couldn’t do a PSA about it without facing an ethics charge from our oh-so-effecitive Office of Political Practices, that’s for sure.

And, as a reminder, Steve Bullock does have two opponents in the Democratic primary. Heather Margolis and Steve Nelsen of Helena are still in the race.

And – as another reminder – a 2/3 vote of the executive board is necessary for the Montana Democrats to endorse a “proven incumbent” – Bullock is not an incumbent for the office of Governor and a 2/3 vote has not occurred.

Does this matter? In my opinion, if there are going to be rules they really should be followed. And enforced. Or don’t have the rules at all.

And geez – really – shouldn’t that apply to all sorts of rules and laws? Not just those of the Montana Democrats?

Look – Bullock is a nice enough guy, I suppose. I have some issues with him over his vote against Otter Creek (I may, eventually, explain that) – but to have the party endorsing a candidate that is currently being primaried is wrong. When he doesn’t even meet the criteria of being able to be endorsed is another.

Not only that, it just feeds into the rumble from the right that Margolis and Nelsen where somehow “fake” candidates who ran for office to ensure Bullock had access to more money because he is able to accept contributions in both the primary and the general.

If the Democrats are going to have rules, they should damned well follow them.

Otherwise, where does it stop? Or where does it begin?

  1. yer right, of course: but montana ain’t oregon…this cycle. thx for keeping us honest.

  2. Foolslayer

    Yet another compelling reason to make all elections non-partisan.

    • Steve W

      I strongly disagree, Foolslayer. There is no compelling reason to make elections non-partisan.

      What we need are multi-partisan elections. That would encourage parties to attract more members by being more responsive to their members.

      • Foolslayer

        Steve, non-partisan elections ARE multi-partisan by default. Any party or other interest group can lobby the electorate just as they do now. A non-partisan election just makes it a bit harder for a voter to vote a straight party ticket for candidates they know nothing about.

        • Steve W

          I will associate freely and politically with those I choose to associate with and attempting to limit my freedom to do so won’t improve things for me or for you.

          Making it harder to vote isn’t progress.

          Our problem isn’t parties, it’s lack of parties and the pluralism that promotes.

  3. Rev. Timothy Gordish

    Right on jhwygirl!

    Almost sounds like the Democrats of Montana need to keep on the fight against corruption in politics reminiscent of Tammany Hall. The hardest part of true populist politics is fighting the tendency of shrewd politicians misleading the mob for their own personal benefit.

    I believe the best antidote would be to democratically select a party platform on the issues, and then make the elected politicians who deviate from the platform accountable at the next election. That would be power to the people!

    But, alas, that would mean that Democrats would have to give up the party “spirit” of attacking everyone who has ideas like jhwygirl which fight corruption, or go against the party bosses.

    Democracy is hard work.

  4. evdebs

    I’m afraid this sounds a bit like “panties in a bunch” criticism.

    Granted, I hate to see some candidates file endlessly for elective positions when they couldn’t get their own families to vote for them. There’s one in Alaska, Frank Vondesaar, who is a perennial candidate whose only plank is based on a program to identify the space aliens among us, or something like that.

    “Dennis Rodman?” “Not much of a disguise. ” (From “Men in Black”)

    At least Harold Stassen had been elected to something in his life.

    So Bullock got $600 from what appeared to be one person. I hate to tell you, but it’s easy for two contributions from the same joint checking account to be counted as coming from the same donor. Also, most jurisdictions allow contributions from the same donor to be made at the same time for primaries and general elections. At worst, he needs to send $300 back.

  5. Chuck

    Good post J-grl.
    Not news to me but thought the mayor and the Blowhard’s pic was nice. Sorry to PB.

  6. d.g.

    Fresh and well written. For a “liberal” town, Missoula is codified to near petrification both left and right. It may seem (and, in fact, be) a digression, but after a ten-year informal investigation of Missoula’s appointed boards–parking, parks etc. etc.–it is somewhere between Doonesberry and Kafka that board appointment takes place. First, a potential applicant must be in the habit of reading the “legals” (get your Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass at the ready). Next, one must accept that an “opening” on a board is only an “opening” if the currently seated (but term timed) board member does NOT choose to “re-up”. Re-upping is as automatic as spin after rinse. So, it is conceivable that an “opening” will occur on paper but you, dear potential applicant, cannot “apply” until the mayor has determined (based on recommendations by the commission chair) if the “opening” is real or ex-post-facto. Can you, oh, well-qualified potential new applicant, join the termed-but-still-interested board member in an interview face-off? No. Simply no. Should a currently-seated, appointed board member decide to continue (this goes on for literal decades in the Parking Commission), they (he/she) will never have their resume re-evaluated side-by-side with yours, oh dear new applicant. Hence, you may bring thirty years of parking experience with you from, say, Spokane, but you will never be interviewed should a twenty-year board member of, say, the Missoula Parking Commission, decide to continue having wine at the Holiday Inn Parkside with Ms. Guest and Friends.

  1. 1 Steve Bullock, Democratic Gubernatoral Candidate Joins the GOP in Anti-Equality Stance on Gay Marriage « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] I won’t hold my breath waiting for electeds and officers of the above to express any dissatisfaction with Steve Bullock’s comments. It is, of course, election season – when those electeds and officers abide by the democrat’s version of Ronald Reagan’s Golden Rule: Speak no evil of fellow Democrats. At least during election season. Something I spoke about that a little here in this previous post. […]

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