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!

Eugene Graf IV, less humorous candidates vie for Zinke’s seat

Congressional candidate and caricature of a rich grandson Eugene Graf IV

Since Donald Trump announced his plan to appoint as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Montana’s sole representative in the US House, no fewer than six Republicans have threatened to campaign for his seat. Six! One of them is Eugene Graf IV, the scion of a Bozeman real estate fortune pictured above. Graf: He doesn’t remember shoving you into anything. As much as I would like to see Montana politics return to old-school corporatocracy, Graf is a long shot. He has not previously run for elected office, and his work experience is limited to working for his family business and, as past president of the Montana Homebuilders Association, lobbying for his family business. Yet he is sure to meet one qualification for office: the $1,740 fee the Montana Republican Party is charging each candidate to run.

That fee—set by state law at 1% of the salary of the office sought—is designed to defray the cost of organizing statewide primaries. It seems a little odd to charge it for candidates in this special election, where a nominee will be chosen not by primaries but by members of the state Republican committee. The food at that meeting is going to be great, I guess. Assuming he ponies up, the most likely nominee seems to be Ed Buttrey, a moderate Republican credited with orchestrating the compromise that allowed Montana to accept federal Medicaid funds last session. Among conservatives, of course, that’s a debit. But they have yet to put up a candidate of their own who can plausibly threaten him. This makes Buttrey’s run a barometer in the ongoing conflict between moderates and the right wing in Montana’s GOP. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

Why read about the recent past, though, when you can focus on the future? This week marks the Indy’s annual Bold Predictions issue, in which various people including me speculate on what 2017 will bring in Missoula, Montana, and the world. My first two bold predictions, made in 2013 and 2014, crushed it: Missoula really did set out to buy the water works in 2014, and conservatives in the legislature really did overplay their hand in 2015. Last year’s prediction—that Uber would put at least one of Missoula’s two taxi companies out of business—has yet to come true. But there’s still time! Keep watching this space or even some more reliable news outlet for updates on my prediction for 2017, which is that Republicans will become staunch defenders of Medicaid until they can blame someone else for taking it away. I also predict we’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Friday links! How dumb are the fascists at my door? edition

Like so many photoshops, it really makes you think

This obvious Photoshop really makes you think.

As near as I can gather from the markets, Britain has voted to break off into the sea. The British pound sterling—or “kwat,” as the Cockneys call it—plunged to its lowest value in thirty years last night, after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It was widely perceived as a victory for white nationalism, after pro-exit politicians stoked fear of Muslim immigrants streaming into England on EU passports. “Brexit,” as leaving  became known, was so popular among assholes and so vehemently opposed by those who understood it—market analysts and journalists, mostly—that it came to symbolize the destructive ignorance of nationalist populism. This morning, the Washington Post reported that The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it. They’re dumb, is what we’re saying here. But the events actually reported turn out to resemble what you’d expect from any major event:

At about 1 a.m. Eastern time, about eight hours after the polls closed, Google reported that searches for “what happens if we leave the EU” had more than tripled.

If such phenomena prove the stupidity of our neighbors, we’re going to run out of dunce caps. Also, our neighbors will eventually train dogs to smell books and find our secret hiding places. Today is Friday, and it’s the dumbs against the smarts. Won’t you assume which side you’re on with me?

Continue reading

2016 is the year conservatives rejected institutions

Ben Carson poses with his policy platform.

Ben Carson poses with his policy platform.

The most striking feature of the Republican debate last week was the candidates’ hostility to CNBC. In the course of not answering a question about the debt ceiling, Ted Cruz won cheers by saying no one trusted the media. The same audience booed Carl Quintanilla when he followed up on a question about Ben Carson’s involvement with the sketchy supplement company Mannatech, causing Carson to remark smugly, “they know.” The candidates were so upset about CNBC’s perceived hostility that they met Sunday to demand more control over future debates. Nearly all of them were mad at cosmic imp and Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus. The RNC had organized the debates so far, but according to one anonymous campaign manager, “Major question is if the RNC should be involved at all.” It would appear that the conservative Republican candidates of 2016 have lost faith in an institution.

Continue reading

Trump a lock for GOP debate; Perry, Santorum, Jindal miss cut

Donald Trump explains an idea so obvious an idiot would agree with him.

Donald Trump explains another truth so obvious an idiot would agree with him.

The first Republican National Committee-sanctioned debate of the 2016 campaign is only three days away, but not every candidate will make the cut. Fox News announced that it would only invite the ten best-polling candidates from the field of 16, which sounds like maybe too many anyway, unless you happen to work for the Bobby Jindal campaign. “Whatever happened to the idea of freedom?” Jindal consultant Curt Anderson wrote of Fox’s plan. “Or democracy?” Soon every sentence uttered by a Republican on any subject will contain the word “freedom” and be in the past tense. Possibly coincidental to the demise of robust argument, Jindal, Lindsay Graham, and Ricks Santorum and Perry are all out of the top ten in NBC’s aggregate of the last five weeks’ polling. And Donald Trump is in the lead.

Continue reading