Montana special election heating up, melting down, freaking out

Cowboy folk singer and Montana congressional candidate Rob Quist

Now that Commander Ryan Zinke is busy applying his knowledge of tactical combat to our nation’s parks, Montana needs a new congressman. The parties met last month to select their nominees for the special election in May; Republicans chose Greg Gianforte—whom Montanans awarded second place in the race for governor last November—and Democrats chose Rob Quist. Quist has served on various arts boards and initiatives, but he is best known as a member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band. Like Gianforte, he has never held elected office or served in the military. Unlike Gianforte, he does not have a lot of money. But he is famous, and the leaders of the Montana Democratic Party hope his name recognition will put him over on May 25.

It is interesting to note that these two political outsiders did not seize their nominations by harnessing popular disgust with the political class. The political class selected them. As products of internal votes among delegates rather than primaries, Quist and Gianforte reflect not what the public wants so much as what party leaders think we want. Given what happened in the general, it seems we want outsiders, ideally entertainers. But are those outsiders so likely to resist the party line, or are they more likely to toe it? This question is the subject of an essay feature in this week’s Missoula Independent, which I wrote. Lick it up, baby. Lick it up.

I also wrote the column as usual. It’s about the special election, too, which is all anyone can talk about around here. As of this writing, a bill to allow voting by mail has passed the state senate but appears dead in the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats are talking about blasting it to the floor, but nothing has happened yet. Probably, Judiciary shouldn’t have SB 305 in the first place. The Adminstration Committee is supposed to get bills pertaining to ballots and elections, but House Speaker Austin “The Boss Man” Knudsen assigned it to the one where it was more likely to get killed.

The state GOP doesn’t like voting by mail, for reasons party chairman Jeff Essman laid out in an unusually frank email. Democratic candidates consistently outperform Republicans in early voting and mail ballots, because what Essman calls “low-propensity voters” lean left. That’s true. But it’s hardly a reason to overrule a senate majority and county commissioners across the state, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process of making it harder to vote. Essman is in a tough spot, here, because his only argument is manifestly anti-democratic. You can read of my sympathies for him in the usual place. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

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  1. True. The idiots in both parties’ leaderships are waaaaay off about who/what we Montanans want. For instance: Amanda Curtis, dammit!
    [Also, please update to spell Essmann.]

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