Prairie Lights: Glimmers of good sense in election results


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Goodbye to all that.

Three weeks ago in this space, I urged readers of Last Best News to vote for Gov. Steve Bullock and Montana Supreme Court candidate Dirk Sandefur, and in favor of Initiative 182, loosening restrictions on medical marijuana.

I won’t claim one iota of credit, but I will admit that on an otherwise dismal Election Day, I was buoyed by the victories of Bullock, Sandefur and the proponents of I-182.

Ol' Ed

Ed Kemmick

I based much of my opposition to the candidates defeated by Bullock and Sandefur—Greg Gianforte and Kristen Juras, respectively—on their apparent desire to act upon their strongly held religious beliefs, but I doubt that issue had much influence on the outcome of those races.

A large proportion of the people in Montana, maybe even a majority, hold similar views. I don’t begrudge them their beliefs, but I will always be opposed to candidates who think my life should be governed by those beliefs.

I think what sunk Gianforte’s candidacy was his decision to spend a little more than $5 million of his own money on the campaign. Bullock may have received huge support from the Democratic Governors Association, which spent $3.35 million on advertising, but the idea of a rich guy trying to buy his way into office just doesn’t sit well with Montanans.

I still don’t think Judy Martz, a Republican from Butte (I mention that every time, because it still amazes me), would have been elected governor in 2000 if her Democratic opponent, Mark O’Keefe, hadn’t dumped almost $2.2 million of his own money into the race.

The voters might have been even more put off by O’Keefe, since he was actually spending his wife’s money. His wife, Lucy Dayton, was an heir to the fortune her family made in the department store business.

And O’Keefe, when confronted with charges that he was trying to buy the election, made precisely the argument made recently by Gianforte, that he was forced to blow his own money to counter spending by outside special-interest groups.

For good measure, Martz loved to point out that O’Keefe was born in Pennsylvania, just as so many pro-Bullock ads referred to Gianforte as “the New Jersey millionaire.”

What goes around comes around, right?

In the case of Juras, a true-blue Montanan who didn’t have a fortune to blow on her run for the Supreme Court, I’d like to believe that voters reacted negatively to the stream of ads attacking Sandefur, a district judge in Great Falls, on the grounds that he was soft on crime.

Some good reporting cast serious doubts on those allegations, as did Sandefur’s demeanor. Anybody who listened to the man—a former cop with a blue-collar background—had trouble believing he was somehow a friend of criminals.

And if people were paying even closer attention, they would have discerned that the outfit bankrolling all the bull about Sandefur—the Republican State Leadership Committee—didn’t give a damn about the disposition of criminal cases.

What the people on that committee wanted was a reliably reactionary justice who would favor corporations over individuals, wealthy landowners over recreationists and the Bible over the Constitution. That same committee went all in two years ago to support Supreme Court candidate Lawrence VanDyke, who appeared to be much more conservative than Juras and not nearly as likeable.

VanDyke lost, too, but I don’t expect the Republican State Leadership Committee to get the message. The next time around I’m sure it will again spend millions to spread untruths against good people. I hope the voters of Montana will show the same good sense when that day comes.

As for I-182, it’s possible that Montana voters favored it because they believed it was the right thing to do for people who suffer from debilitating illnesses and who argued convincingly that nothing gave them the relief of marijuana, with few of the perils that attend opioid use.

It might also be, though, as in the case of the Republican State Leadership Committee, that an expensive ad campaign backfired. In this case, I think enough voters began to question the motives of Steve Zabawa, the car dealer who seemed strangely obsessed with fighting marijuana, and who was the main funder of all those ads.

Let’s see, am I forgetting anything? Oh, yes. There was also that presidential election, about which I now acknowledge I am not qualified to comment. In that same column three weeks ago, I predicted confidently that Hillary Clinton would win.

I was completely and utterly wrong.

And I would gladly give up everything I own to be wrong about Donald Trump.

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