Democrat to Watch: Steve Bullock

Lessons from Montana for "detached national Democrats" - promoted by hesterprynne

Nearly 20% of Montanans split their ballot between Donald Trump for President and Steve Bullock for Governor. Here’s how he did it according to the Prospect which asked him what he thought about this crossover appeal:

It was his story.

“I think Montanans knew that I was fighting for them. I spoke about public education, public lands, public money, and those are things that affect us all. We hunt, we fish, and I asked whether we are promoting all Montanans’ interests or only narrow special interests, and how we are going to build folks up individually.”
Justin Gest and Tyler Reny

Perhaps realizing that this doesn’t exactly coincide with most people’s impression of the president, he added, “If there is overlap, it’s making people know that I will fight for them, and that I work for them. I’m not sure that the values are that different in Manhattan, Montana; Manhattan, Kansas; or Manhattan, New York. People want to feel safe, have good schools, and want their kids to do better than they did.

Period. Good schools, good jobs, strong families. That’s literally the three things voters want. They want to make sure they’re are jobs and investment in this country. Trump talked about jobs constantly, he talked about rebuilding this country constantly, and he talked about fighting opioids in the country and gangs in the city. The proof is in the pudding-he was talking out of his ass and didn’t have an agenda. We won the popular vote talking about ours. That said-we won’t win the presidency again without converting this 20% of winnable white working class voters. The NY Times data confirms this. So reaching out to them is an important and vital part of the progressive project.

Instead it is to look to the future-how do we sell our policies to people who haven’t been listening to us-since we haven’t been talking to them-for a generation?

Keep it simple, stupid. Voters don’t want details-they want the broad strokes.

In interviews with locals, I found exhaustion with detached national Democrats, and a pervasive appreciation of straight talk. Bullock is connecting with his brand of progressive populism—a focus on providing solid public education to level the playing field, protecting access to public lands, and maintaining public services without increasing taxes or instituting a sales tax.

Bullock and Montana Dem Chair Nancy Keenan seem to get this:

when I asked Bullock what national Democrats need to do, he said: “They need to recognize that there are no such things as national issues; they’re all local. It’s not about pigeonholing issues to score votes. Rule number one is to show up, and if you’re just going to write off parts of the country, your success will be limited. I think that we need to have a 50-state strategy. In 2008, you’d be tripping over Obama people [in Montana]. President Obama brought his wife and kids to the Butte Fourth of July Parade. They lost Montana by 2 points, and he came after the primary.”

And it includes a great quote from Nancy Keenan-no right wing Dem-she once headed NARAL, but she hits the nail on the head with why Hillary failed to connect:

“The Democratic Party is full of these damned do-gooders,” Keenan carried on. “A lot of the people who run as Democrats think that if we could just get into the depths and detail of the policy and make people understand it, then we’ll get elected. Oh, hell no! The detail doesn’t matter, people! What’s the first rule of politics? Show up. Everywhere. The second rule is: Show up where they didn’t want or ask you to come. I used to show up at the stock growers’ convention or the Chamber of Commerce conventions, and they’d all ask, ‘What the hell is she doing here?’” She guffawed. “And I’d tell everyone how terrific it was to be with them.”

Now this Bullock has to be awful on guns, the environment, and choice right? He isn’t.

Bullock has earned that trust by first identifying with Montanans, and that has lent him the credibility to veto 124 bills in the 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions—more vetoes over two consecutive sessions than any Montana governor in more than 40 years—and also pass progressive litmus tests without alienating too many social conservatives. He has voted against broadening access to guns, enrolled Montana in Obamacare, pushed for universal preschool, new funding for infrastructure, and was honored with an award from Planned Parenthood while I was in town. Meanwhile, bills like the apprenticeship tax incentive serve veterans and Montanans without university educations, and keep business owners happy.

In so doing, Bullock eases his constituents into a progressive future by weaning them off the past instead of insisting on a sharp break.

Is he my first choice for President? No. But he is the kind of Democrat we have to start recruiting in the states that have been tilting against us for awhile. And frankly, I could trust he would carry Montana, the Rust Belt states we lost, and still support progressives to the Court. He even led a statewide assault against Citizens United. This is the right kind of mix for the future. It’s the new form of centrism-economically populist, socially progressive but in a more libertarian way, and focusing on easing the transition to the info economy. Jobs, schools, families. That’s it. And it builds on the bottom up model that Paul Simmons talks about. Get local people to be the messengers for progressives policies who can spin them to the local culture.

Coming Up: Beto O’Rourke and Jason Kander.


3 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Bumping

    Please discuss

  2. Also from Montana...

    …I took notice of Gov. Brian Schweitzer when he spoke a couple of national conventions ago.

    • I liked him too

      He’s interviewed in this piece-he had a few gaffes and financial troubles which kept him out of the 2016 race. And his record on guns and coal would’ve been good fodder for Clinton. Bullock is a bit more disciplined and consistently Liberal. Though Schweitzer is a phenomenal public speaker.

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Wed 26 Apr 5:52 AM