Archive for the ‘Melinda Gopher’ Category

by Pete Talbot

The numbers were already in when I arrived, late, at the Union Club. It doesn’t take long to tally votes in a primary.

Tyler Gernant was there and had mixed emotions about the outcome. He did much better than he could have hoped for when he first launched his campaign, but it wasn’t enough. The Democrat’s standard bearer, Dennis McDonald, had a 14 point lead. Gernant, with 15,724 votes, received 24% and McDonald, with 24,134 votes, had 38%.

It wasn’t a shock but I predicted closer numbers in the Gernant/McDonald contest.

Melinda Gopher with 13,287 and 21% came in a close third (which surprised both me and Gernant since she didn’t have a strong field operation). She did well with tribal voters and I’m guessing women, too. She definitely pulled some votes from Gernant.

As did Sam Rankin, who also raised very little money and didn’t really have an organization, but pulled an amazing 16% (10,233).

I and other Missoula area bloggers have been accused of being “Missoulacentric.” After all, Missoula is the center of the universe. But being here in the Garden City, one’s point of view can become a bit jaded. Tyler seemed to be doing so well in Missoula and he did capture 1143 more votes than McDonald in Missoula County. So, obviously, McDonald worked hard in other Montana counties. This shatters one of my long held opinions that if you can win Missoula County in the Democratic primary, you win the state.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Gernant, though.

Another race I thought would be closer was Teresa Henry’s loss to Tom Facey by 26 points. Tom’s door-to-door work is unparalleled, they say, and as a Missoula area teacher for decades, he has good name recognition. Still, Ms. Henry has a fine track record in Helena and has served more recently than Facey. I thought this race would go down to the wire but Facey ended up with nearly 63% (1190) to Henry’s 37% (708).

Ellie Hill’s victory received a rousing round of shouts and applause at the Club when her numbers were announced. She beat Lou Ann Crowley by almost 100 votes (Hill, 712 or 53% to Crowley’s 618 or 46%). Ellie ran a textbook campaign — fundraising, the doors, targeted mailing, GOTV — she did everything it takes to win and she pulled it off. I thought this race would be closer, too, but some of the yard signs of the many I saw for Crowley were in Republican yards and those folks probably voted in the Republican primary.

And on the Republican side, congressionally, voters went big for the right (incumbent Denny Rehberg got 86,271 or nearly 75% of the vote), followed by the far, far right (Mark French, 21,989 or almost 20%). Not a lot of moderate votes cast (A.J. Otjen, 6668 or close to 6%).

Some other noteworthy observations: Republican voters went to the polls at twice the number of Democrats — 129,165 to 62,811. This does not bode well for the fall general election, especially in the congressional contest. The Democrats have their work cut out for them.

And the petition gatherers for CI-102, the “amoebas are human beings” constitutional initiative, showed real class. They paraded around outside Lowell Elementary School with posters of dead fetuses.

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by Pete Talbot

The federal deadline for the final campaign finance reports before the primary election was yesterday and there are some interesting numbers.

In the congressional contest, the far right and the far, far right did pretty well.

Of course, Republican incumbent Dennis Rehberg has an obscene amount of net receipts: $913,941.

Next up on the Republican side is Mark French at $58,068. That’s a nice chunk of change for a guy who makes Mussolini look progressive.

The moderate in this race, A.J. Otjen, raised $23,013.

On the Democratic side, Dennis McDonald has the highest net receipts but Tyler Gernant isn’t too far behind: McDonald, $167,716; Gernant, $124,565.

Sam Rankin of Billings made a showing at $8639.

Unfortunately, Melinda Gopher didn’t report, so she either didn’t raise the $5000 needed to require a report or she just didn’t report. Neither of these is a good sign for her campaign.

This is too bad. For a while there I was leaning toward Gopher but unfortunately a candidate needs more than passion and a progressive platform to take out the likes of Denny Rehberg.

Sam Rankin seems like a decent guy but like Gopher, his campaign lacks the organization it will take to give Rehberg a run.

Gernant seems to be gaining momentum while McDonald looks to be treading water. Add to that McDonald’s nebulous stand on coal development … well, unless something new breaks, I guess I’m leaning Gernant.

 
“Rehberg has shown to be diligent at one thing–avoiding accountability. “
–Melinda Gopher, candidate for the Democratic House nomination

By JC

Well, it was just a matter of time until Melinda Gopher unleashed part of her strategy to unseat incumbent Denny Rehberg for Montana’s lone House seat: attack Rehberg’s vulnerability created by his drinking and poor decision-making abilities during last year’s near fatal boat crash:

“Montanans want answers. Since August 27th, there has been a veil of secrecy around Rep. Rehberg regarding the boat crash in which all occupants of the boat were injured, one very seriously. Were it not for rescuers delivering life-saving aid; Dustin Frost, a then-Rehberg staffer–would be dead…

I challenge all of my Democratic opponents to state their position on this; they want to seek offices requiring judgment and leadership–their opinons must be known because Montanans have a right to know where they stand on this issue.”

Invoking a House ethics investigation would be a great way to drag Denny out of the shadows over his abuse of power that night on Flathead Lake. I’m not going to get into the details of the accident and aftermath, it’s been chronicled to a great degree here at 4&20, and elsewhere outside of the mainstream media.

What I will say is that I admire a political candidate who is willing to speak truth to power, and raise the issues that neither any of the other candidates or the media is willing to tackle: Rehberg’s fitness to hold public office. Here’s the meat of her argument:

“Rehberg has shown to be diligent at one thing–avoiding accountability. It is time to call him on this. I am asking for four things:

1. State Democratic party leaders call for his resignation from office and an ethics investigation into Rehberg’s role in this criminal matter.
2. Join my demand that Rep. Rehberg give full disclosure of the night surrounding the incident; including his time spent those very sequestered two hours at the Kalispell hospital.
3. It took two full hours to obtain BAC samples from all involved, given the seriousness of the accident. What sort of atmosphere was created in the hospital, was there an attempt to conceal, destroy, or tamper with evidence–or otherwise mislead authorities? Unidentified sources claim the hospital went out of its way, far beyond normal procedure–to lock down the facility. There was a great deal of secrecy the night the crash victims were brought in–this is unusual given these are public servants. It would be prudent to review the entire manner the hospital handled this event.
4. Because of the nature of Rep. Rehberg and Sen. Barkus’s public offices; it is crucial the U.S. House look into the misleading public statements made by Rehberg. His statements had the effect of misleading an official investigation where multiple crimes were committed, people’s lives were greatly imperiled, and state laws were broken. This rises to the level of the need for an ethics investigation.

As a candidate for this office, I want Montanans to have the benefit of full and complete information of the night of the incident–to make their choices on June 8, and in the general election. We are not running a government of secrecy–it is our right to know. With the latest delay to postpone the trial until after the general election; not only Rehberg but Republicans are attempting to circumvent the fallout that full public disclosure will bring to Montana voters. To continue a pattern of secrecy and denial suggests there is something to hide.”

I like what I hear coming out of the Gopher campaign: a well written and cogent attack on Rehberg, and an understanding of the big issues before us today. If you haven’t yet, hop on over to her new campaign website. It is very appealing, full of lots of information, and regularly updated! I like her approach, taking on Rehberg and the issues at a time when other candidates are trying to build name recognition or define their campaigns before the Rehberg attack machine does it for them.

I’d love to see a contest between Rehberg and Gopher. Denny has two basic approaches to that matchup: ignore her, or attack her. He isn’t capable of running a campaign on the issues. He is a long term incumbent running during an election when incumbency is a huge detriment. And what is he going to do? Attack a native american woman with a wonderful biography, and a history of working hard for the people? Go negative on a person who the average Montanan can see has risen up out of abject poverty to succeed and take on a silver-spoon politician in an era of ideological purity in the teabagger-dominated republican party?

If I were Gopher, I’d say bring on the attack machine, and we’ll turn it right around on Rehberg, and let the people see him for who he truly is: a drunken rich-boy bully. And if Rehberg chooses to ignore her, that would be a big mistake when the public mood is 2 to 1 against incumbents this year.

We need a candidate who is willing to run hard against an ethically challenged, incompetent, and do-nothing incumbent. The more I see what Gopher is doing, the more that I see she is that candidate.

“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!

by Pete Talbot

(Before I get into the meat of this post, I must say this to all Democratic congressional candidates: Spend your campaign dollars in Montana. A quick look at Denny Rehberg’s campaign expenditures shows the majority of his money going to consultants in Virginia and Tennessee, a researcher in Philadelphia, a phone bank in Arizona, direct mail in Utah, etc. Granted, a chunk of Denny’s change goes to Missoula’s own Erik Iverson for political consulting and to Huntley, Montana’s Tyler Matthews, Rehberg’s campaign manager, but the bulk of his money is being spent out-of-state. And I don’t care what party you’re in, few things disappoint me more than Montana campaigns spending their dollars out-of-state when there are businesses right here that can do the same job.)

OK. One would hope that the 2010 race for Montana’s lone congressional seat would remain civil. Fat chance; this is, after all, politics.

I remember a political operative telling me, years ago: “if you’re trailing in the polls, go negative.” It left a bad taste in my mouth.

Now, Denny Rehberg is hardly trailing in the polls but he’s already gone negative. His “mafia ties” campaign against Democratic candidate Dennis McDonald is in high gear. That’s unfortunate, but I suppose it’s easier than mounting a campaign based on substance. Seriously, Denny, how about a discussion on how Wall Street should be regulated, or how to fix the health care crisis, or how climate change should be mitigated, or how to grow sustainable jobs and the Montana economy? Although, again, it’s easier to just follow the party line and vote “no” on any legislation offered up by Democrats than to work toward solutions.

There’s also A.J. Otjen, a moderate, and Mark French (who should have filed as a Constitutionalist), running in the Republican primary.

On the Democratic side, well, this is a tough one for me. I want the candidate who has the best chances of unseating Rehberg. Period. I’m not sure who that is yet.

Jhwygirl has a post up on Melinda Gopher that has generated a plethora of comments — a couple from one of Rehberg’s primary challengers, A.J. Otjen. I really like Ms. Gopher. Her straightforward campaign is quite refreshing and her enthusiasm for progressive issues is contagious. 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.

Then there’s Tyler Gernant. This sharp, young fellow has mounted a quality campaign and is only slightly behind McDonald in the fundraising category. As opposed to Gopher, though, and even McDonald, his campaign lacks the inspiration that would fire up an activist like me. He’s being tentative and I don’t think that serves a candidate well in the primary. Here’s a quote from Helena progressive Frank Kromkowski to Mr. Gernant in a recent email blast:

From what I can tell, your campaign platform has very little substance and nothing bold and progressive that will help Montana get beyond the superficial conservative Rehberg line … Say something significant, for example, about the illegal and disastrous US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan — such as “Bring the troops home” and “no more money for war” — and use the dollars wasted on military adventures that have no real value to US security for jobs, housing, health care, protection and improvement of the aging water and wastewater systems in Montana’s cities and town. We need a progressive Democrat to replace Rehberg (not just another Baucus).
On the other hand, Tyler has been hitting the road and working the counties and the media. And underneath his rather soft message, I believe beats the heart of a progressive.
The third Democratic candidate, Melville rancher Dennis McDonald, is the one the party has been grooming for this race. That’s both good and bad. Having support of party leadership gets one lists and funding and organization. But it also proffers the title of “insider” or part of “the machine.” I’m not so sure that’s a good title to have these days. I’ll give McDonald credit, though, for bucking our Montana Senators and coming out early for single-payer, universal health care. It should also be noted that a frequent Republican commenter at 4&20, Pogo Possum, and other conservatives I’ve talked to believe that McDonald is the strongest Democratic candidate in the field. McDonald also has the Montana AFL-CIO endorsement.
There’s a fourth candidate, Sam Rankin, out of Billings. I like what I saw on his website but otherwise know nothing about this fellow. Better get your butt up to Missoula, the county with the most Democratic voters in the state, and get your message out if you expect to be a player at all. And feel free to get a hold of us at 4&20, we’d be glad to post your talking points.
So who gets the nod? The inspirational, refreshing and candid Ojibwe woman — who’s underfunded and not well-connected (outside of tribal politics) and is a party outsider? The other new face — the policy-smart, well-organized and politically savvy candidate with a potentially great future in Montana Democratic politics (but has a less than passionate campaign thus far)? Or the established, out front, Montana rancher who is the best known and may have the best demographic appeal but, is also considered a party insider (and has received the most press, both positive and negative)?
Consider this an open thread. What are your insights into this race, gentle reader? I haven’t made up my mind, yet, and there are only seven weeks left until the June 8 primary election.


by jhwygirl

That, from Democratic primary candidate Melinda Gopher:

There is one intractable fact and I will hammer this home: Dennis McDonald is not electable. I am hearing it from Democrat, Republican and undecided voters alike. His advancement in the June primary will most assuredly guarantee another Rehberg win in the fall. A.J. Otjen is not convincing as a credible Republican challenger, she has not put the effort into it. Mark French is on the extreme right fringe. At the same time, long time Republican party veterans already concede this seat will fall in the Democratic aisle.

Melinda Gopher has some guts. She titled her post “Melinda Gets Tough with Montana,” and truly, she is saying what plenty of people have been pondering…but none have put in print.

(I don’t know that I’d write off A.J. Otjen as unconvincing or not credible, but I believe Gopher is being kind describing Mark French as being “on the extreme right fringe”)

Her most recent blog post, published yesterday morning, takes Dennis McDonald (and others) to task for a number of things…but mainly she “gets tough” with McDonald on a number of issues, including his AFL-CIO endorsements, his associations with mobster “Jimmy the Weasel”, and his handling of the 2008 congressional race (as head of the Montana Democratic Party).

While she somewhat unfairly blames the lack of support for Jim Hunt on McDonald’s leadership (Hunt lost the Democratic congressional primary in 2008, and the state party wouldn’t help a candidate until after they win the primary), she does allude to him having made decisions in the past that brought him to an advantage in this year’s race:

“I have another question,” she asks. “Did Mr. McDonald manipulate the state party strategy in 2008 to position himself for this race? I would have to say, based on his statements on the campaign trail; yes he did. As he likes to say; “this office is the only statewide race we (Democrats) did not win, so I wanted to come back and finish the job myself.””

Gopher doesn’t stop there – she then goes on to highlight Montana’s hugest disappointment – Representative Dennis Rehberg, Montana’s 10-year congressional do-nothing:

We cannot deny history, this is a pivotal race on the national stage. This race is where the tire meets the road for the Democratic electoral strategy in 2012. It is where–for too long; the person occupying the seat of this nation’s largest geographic district has been literally “drunk at the helm.” This is why Montana is at the bottom in disposable income, we cannot afford to educate our children, we cannot retain those fortunate to receive an education. We have a disjointed leadership in D.C., while passing three bills in his entire nine years–as Tyler Gernant points out—all to name federal buildings: Rehberg is the 12th wealthiest member of the U.S. House. His response to largely his own failure to lead, disguised as faux right wing earmark rage, just stated this past week: we are all on the Titanic.

Her piece is lengthy, so really – go read it. Melinda is a pretty straightforward speaker who I’ve yet to see mince words. Clearly, she does the same with her writing.

by Pete Talbot

Knowing nothing of Melinda Gopher before the forum, I was impressed by her depth, her knowledge of the issues and, mostly, her passion.

When asked why she hadn’t filed yet and why her campaign was, at this point, lower key than the other two candidates’ campaigns, she responded, “I’m building intrigue.”

I wouldn’t call her the “winner.” All three Democratic Congressional candidates showed their strengths but Gopher gets the inspiration award. And, of course, any one of the three would be so superior to our current Congressman.

Dennis McDonald talked about his credentials, his ranching experience, his support from organized labor and his ability to work across the aisle. He also emulates the Schweitzer/Montana populist style in his campaign persona.

Tyler Gernant billed himself as an outsider — a young newcomer who touts “life experience over political experience” and “represents everything that isn’t Washington.” He called himself “the anti-incumbent.”

This was the first forum to be held where all three candidates attended. It was sponsored by the Missoula County Democrats and about 75 people showed up for the 90 minute presentation.

Gernant seemed to me to have the tightest policy proposals, from taxation to trade to the deficit. A Republican fellow I ran into at the forum said the he was the most impressed by Gernant, for what that’s worth.

McDonald had a strong opening stump speech. He’s the party’s highest profile candidate and is adapting to his role. But he also wasn’t above questioning the party status quo — he had problems with the Tester wilderness bill and was aggressive on health care reform.

Gopher talked about growing up on Hill 57 in Great Falls (I’d never heard of it — doesn’t sound like one of the Electric City’s most prestigious neighborhoods). The sixth of seven children, she called herself a “scrapper.”

All three were strong pro-choice supporters. All three opened with jobs being a priority. All three expressed disappointment with our current energy policy.

And all three were gracious toward each other, although Gopher, sitting in the middle, said with a smile that she was ready to take on Rep. Rehberg, “as soon as I dispatch these two guys sitting next to me,” which got a chuckle.

Here’s some other info I gleaned: Gopher said she wanted to “steer the Democrats back on track.” McDonald made local references to the closing of Smurfit and Macy’s — always a good move. Gernant touted a pay-as-you-go policy to rein in debt.

Gernant spoke of this being a “transformational time” to change how business is conducted in Washington, and that he’s poised to take on the challenge. He said it’s time to “move away from divisive politics” and become actively involved in finding solutions.

McDonald mentioned that he’s visited all 56 counties in Montana, shaken a lot of hands, and his work effort and “lifetime commitment” to Democratic policies make him the best candidate to take on Rehberg. He also said his main platform would be “empowering people.”

Gopher advocated for single-payer health care, tackled immigration reform and disparaged our continued role in questionable wars. She also called herself “the most improbable candidate.”

A final note. As I’ve said time-and-time again, I am not a reporter. If you want more accurate quotes, a more objective view and more depth, tune into MCAT’s channel 11 on Sunday, March 14, at 8 p.m. for a replay of the event.




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