The Big Weekend is soon upon us, the state Democratic Convention in Bozeman. It will be an exciting time. Democrats will continue to celebrate their success in state government, not only the electoral successes (four of the five state offices) but the policy successes that have brought record economic growth and job creation to the state, with historic investments in education, low tuition at the universities, a booming tourism industry, and many other good things with many more to come.
Hopefully there will also be some lampooning of the lunatic asylum known as the Montana Republican Party, as well there should be (what else is a Democratic gathering good for if you can’t have some fun talking about the bat crap crazies?). Speeches will be given by the Democratic stars Jon Tester, Steve Bullock and Angela McClean, and Linda McCulloch, Monica Lindeen and Denise Juneau, and of course the Party director Nancy Keenan as well as democratic leaders such as Chuck Hunter and John Sesso, as well as candidates for chair Jim Larson (incumbent) and Louise Bruce.
Bozeman is an interesting location for this event, as the home turf of the tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, who might (or might not) run for Governor with his billion dollars, and try to become the Outsourcer in Chief. Democrats may also discuss the outrage that Gianforte and his wife perpetuated locally, namely, actually leading the charge against a proposed Bozeman ordinance that would prohibit businesses from discriminating against LGBT people. He has even said publicly that the city would be better off without LGBT people altogether.
But the centerpiece item of business at the convention will take place on Saturday morning, the election of Party Chair. Two candidates are running. First is Jim Larson, an old union hand who has chaired the party for the last two years. His substantial contribution includes having gone out and gotten a world class executive director, Nancy Keenan, who has only been on the job a few months, as well tidied up challenges with good results. He will face off against Louise Bruce, who is a member of the executive committee. Bruce is the food service manager at University of Montana Western in Dillon, and is trying to mount an insurgent candidacy along the lines of what was accomplished at the GOP convention this past June, when Will Deschamps got run out of town by a crowd with pitchforks.
One interesting distinction: the GOP used a private ballot for that election, whereas the Democrats, according to national rules, must use an open ballot to elect officers. I predict that at the convention, Bullock, Tester and the other elected officials will likely speak their public preference for Larson, as will Keenan, whom I assume Bruce will release from duty if she is elected. But regardless of what happens, a person voting against Keenan and Bullock will have to do so publicly, and I think that’s a tougher vote than a GOP member who has ballot privacy.
One thing should be made clear, by example: If anyone is interested in how the disunion and ugly division within the GOP has been working out, please read yesterday’s Great Falls Tribune. The GOP is going after Tim Fox, alleging that his chief aide has committed “official misconduct.” That’s the equivalent of the Democratic Party making a similar accusation against Governor Bullock’s staff. It’s crazy. At this rate, Tim Fox might have to switch parties. The Tea Party clearly wants him out, and they are now in charge of the GOP.
Speaking of which, the GOP convention got a lot of press, but the word is that reporters are simply ignoring the Democratic Convention – presumably because we won’t be knifing each other. I certainly hope this isn’t the case. This would never happen if Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison were still around to explain to everyone that it is wrong to cover one and not the other.
Larson has a decent case for re-election. He will argue that the Party is moving on a very good track with him and Keenan at the helm, that the 2014 Senate and House losses (Zinke and Daines ,beating Lewis and Curtis) were pre-ordained. He will point to the popular Amanda Curtis’s support (she recently wrote an email publicly endorsing Jim Larson), and highlight his selection of a new and highly qualified executive director, as well as a mini-convention to replace Walsh which was widely praised, and big fundraising successes.
What case Bruce will make is not entirely clear, but we can assume that it will be “anti-establishment” in nature. The only missive that has been sent out has been not from Bruce but Dirk Adams, who is supporting her. Adams has complained in the past of excessive Union influence at the party, and also criticized the party for supposedly focusing too much on abortion rights, which is ridiculous.
My view is that Keenan needs breathing room to work her magic and that she’d do better with Larson. The thing that matters most in 2016 is the re-election of Steve Bullock. I’d ask people to envision what the party would be like if the entire state government were controlled by Greg Gianforte. How’s that look? As between Larson-Keenan on the one hand, and Bruce on the other, I think let’s stick with the former. They will get the job done in 2016.