Montanans saw sweeping victories for progressives from across the state today. And while it is yet to be seen whether this will translate into a wave of momentum for the Dems next year, one thing is known. The TEA Party legislature proved itself guilty of a major overreach during the last session. In turn, TEA Party Republicans were soundly rejected by voters.
Nowhere did the phenomena manifest itself more dramatically than in the Flathead, where the TEA Party candidates backed by Chuck Denowh, John Sinrud and the Realtors, Ricky Lynn Blake and a slate of developers and self-funded shadow PACs spent big bucks on attacking their opponents–and were all defeated.
Congratulations to John Muhlfeld, John Anderson, Richard Hildner and Frank Sweeney and the large numbers of voters who turned out to defeat a well-funded crew of special interest nutjobs. The victories weren’t limited to Whitefish either. The only openly self proclaimed Tea Party candidate in the Flathead County elections, Erik Jerde, garnered a soul-crushing 34 votes out of 1275 cast in Kalispell. Those whom supported Tea Party poster boy Derek Skees in 2010 also all lost…Askew, Vail and Wise. Tea Party candidates lost in the Flathead Valley Community College Trustees election as well as the municipal elections.
In Great Falls, a woman who refused all donations beat the leader of the Cascade County TEA Party, Cyndi Baker. As the Great Falls Tribune reports, the TEA Partier had the most campaign signs of any candidate and the second largest campaign war chest. Baker blamed her defeat on teachers, despite losing by a margin of 84-16.
In Helena, the conservative candidate was defeated by Matt Elsaesser, who was re-elected by a wide margin, and newcomer Katherine Haque-Hausrath. Progressives also had major victories in Missoula including Caitlin Copple, Cynthia Wolken, Alex Taft, and others, as D. Gregory Smith at From Eternity to Here writes.
Billings also had a big win against the TEA Party, where the Billings “Montana Shrugged” TEA Party leader Jennifer Olsen was easily routed by Ken Crouch. Progressives Brent Cromley and Becky Bird also won handily. Denis Pitman, the conservative minister of Fuji Spa fame, is still in (proving the power of incumbency). However, Pitman’s opponent probably succeeded in halting his higher political ambitions now that voters know he checks his family man-of-God morality at the door once profits are on the table, and for that, we can be thankful.
UPDATE: In Bozeman, progressive Cyndy Andrus defeated Bill Fiedler by a whopping 4,289 votes to 2,209 votes. Fiedler was a member of the developers’ crew–he’s a member of the board of directors of the Southwest Montana Building Industry Association.
So, even though TEA Party Republicans won a legislative majority in 2010, they made a mistake in interpreting their one-time wins as a go-ahead to let voters know their true beliefs and goals. So it appears that focusing on nutjob bills over jobs was indeed a bad idea. They paid for it in the off-year elections. The progressives also won because they fielded some terrific candidates–people who actually cared about their community and its people more than getting a platform on which to scream TEA Party platitudes and shut down government. They worked very, very hard on the doors, raised money to get their message out, and voters responded well.
Congratulations to the winners! Here’s to a repeat of this in 2012.