Montana, Let’s Make Voting Great Again

Guest Post by Dan West

Jan. 20 was my last day at work. Under the Obama administration, I served as a political liaison for NASA on Capitol Hill. I watched up close while 2016 revealed the strengths and weaknesses of our democracy. As the American West opens up before my windshield on the drive home to Montana, I am compelled to say why I pledge to vote in Montana’s upcoming special election.

I pledge to vote for many reasons, but this year, I am mostly concerned about the state of our democracy. The Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in its 2016 Democracy Index. People want reassurance that our elections can be free and fair, and that the leaders we elect have the best interests of the nation and our future generations in mind. If voters don’t turn up, those things won’t happen.

I pledge to vote for many reasons, but this year, I am mostly concerned about the state of our democracy. The Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in its 2016 Democracy Index. People want reassurance that our elections can be free and fair, and that the leaders we elect have the best interests of the nation and our future generations in mind. If voters don’t turn up, those things won’t happen.

When it comes to making democracy work, Montana is a model for the country. We often travel long distances through harsh conditions to get to our polling places. Despite these obstacles, Montanans consistently have one of the highest voting rates of any state.

Montana voters are also intriguingly independent. We often split tickets between parties. In 2016, we voted for a Republican president and a Democratic governor. This shows that we care less about party affiliation and more about the values individual candidates stand for.

This combination of independence and high turnout reflect Montana values – rugged self-reliance combined with fierce patriotism.

And when national politics tilt precariously, Montanans help balance the country. In 1916, at the height of the women’s suffrage movement, Montanans elected the first woman to Congress. In 1972, while Watergate shook America’s faith in federal government, Montanans updated and strengthened the state Constitution. During the nauseatingly expensive 2012 election, Montanans challenged the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow unlimited campaign spending by outside organizations.

In 2017, as allegations of election hacking and fraud dampen voter enthusiasm, Montana can remind America about what makes voting great.

At a time like this, there is no better place than Montana for a bellwether election. To me, Montana is the best place in America, hands down. Its land, people, and way of life are second to none. I am a minority, but I always proudly identify as Montanan first. I never question my identity because I always feel like I belong in Montana.

During the drive home, I pass my birthplace of Bloomington, Indiana, I imagine what my parents were thinking when we moved to Montana. My dad grew up on a farm in northern Indiana. My mom moved from Korea to attend Indiana University. She has lived in America as a naturalized citizen for nearly four decades.

They were probably nervous about moving to a faraway state, but it quickly became home. My parents loved raising my younger sister and me in the Missoula community. We attended public schools, played music and sports, and always had friends over for dinner, excited to taste mom’s cooking.

Through Montana’s acceptance of us, we love the state in a special way. It may be hard for some to understand if they’ve never experienced being a minority. But let me tell you, if you find yourself in a place where you are different from everybody else, it’s nice to be treated as an equal.

And so, it’s for equality’s sake that I also pledge to vote this spring. Equality is our nation’s founding principle and most basic unifying concept. It is what made my life in Montana possible.

This spring, let’s make voting great again. If anyone can do this, it’s Montanans.

Activate your voter registration. Educate yourself about our candidates and engage with them. Drop the identity politics and negative labelling. We have too many external threats to face right now to turn against ourselves. During your conversations, speak to others in a way that will invite a handshake instead of a punch in the face. By doing these things, we will ensure the voice we send to Washington is our strongest.

So, Montana, I look forward to coming home. I’m ready to wholeheartedly engage in politics again. I hope you are too.

Dan West grew up in Missoula. He worked in Washington, D.C., for two Western senators and at NASA under the Obama administration.

Click here for voter registration information: Montana Women Vote

 

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10 Comments on "Montana, Let’s Make Voting Great Again"

  1. Make America VOTE again!

  2. Very intelligent words from someone who cares deeply for Montana and for our democracy. I wish him well.

  3. I never liked ‘Debbie and Donna’, too full of themselves and outright BAD messengers!

  4. Good idea, except for the whole Electoral College thingy and also gerrymandering. But in MT its way easy to vote. You can do it by mail!

  5. Welcome home Dan.

  6. Self Promotion Police | January 30, 2017 10:35 PM at 10:35 PM |

    So is the main point here that voting rights are important or that “I was a political liaison for NASA on Capitol Hill?” Funny, one is the thesis and the other is the supporting essay.

    We should stick to issues, not promoting ourselves, or doing the latter under the noble guise of the former. It’s like Cowgirl hosting Josh Manning waxing on about his progressive special ops intel liberal deltaforce bernie recon navyseal mission 1 land nav experience… Or Evan Barrett’s posts that end with “… spent decades at the tippy-tippy top of the montana pyramid of important sounding stuff.” Just saying… sht is ostentatious and painful on the intellect.

    We can’t dump on trump when we’re mimicking his narcissism.

    • Mr. Policeman, have you considered that not every reader of this blog has access to the resume of every writer who contributes their thoughts here? Establishing credibility is not bragging, I would hope that an article about installing a light fixture would begin with the author revealing that he is an electrician who has installed hundreds of such light fixtures.

  7. My stock response when people tell me “thanks for your service” is an admonishment that if you want to thank veterans for protecting your Rights, exercise them as fully as you can. Yes, vote, please vote, but also volunteer at your local school or library, join the PTA, run for city council or other public office, after all, paying your taxes and voting really are the LEAST you can do as a responsible citizen. We veterans offered up just a little more and now is the time for all of us to offer a little more as well. the Tea Party had far less support than we have now, it’s time we all became warriors for a #AJustAmerica.

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