Republicans clung to violence, while the Democrats lost their way

Tom Winter

“Yep, that works, minus rape or incest.” – Rep. Jane Gillette, R-Bozeman, in a message to a staffer, removing protections for victims of sexual violence.

With that, the Montana GOP’s legislative priorities became clear. They will lead our state for the next four years like this: Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, shouting down a Rabbi in the Capitol while denying the existence of racism.

Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, gaming the legislature’s rules to target trans youth for discrimination. Older white men Senators mocking the pronunciation of a young Native witness’s traditional name. Rep. Gillette advocating for the parental rights of rapists. All this and we’re only a month into the session.

But they aren’t just coming after pregnant women, Native Americans, and trans youth – they’re coming for you, too. Now they’re targeting worker protections and housing you can afford. Next is another tax cut for the rich. Gov. Greg Gianforte sold us on jobs and a better economy. So far, all us working people got is a $1 (four whole quarters) tax cut while the rich bring home thousands.

Surprised?

Our governor made his name assaulting a reporter. Then, after failing to buy our governorship for $5 million in 2016, he flipped over the seat cushions in the ol‘ private jet and found another $7 million for the second try. Now he has another mansion – the governor’s – added to his collection. His former employee, Sen. Steve Daines incited a violent coup attempt against our democracy. His mob of traitors beat a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher in the U.S. Capitol. And then there’s Rep. Matt Rosendale, eagerly along for the seditionist ride, grinning like a 60-year-old-schoolboy anytime Fox News needs a lunatic talking head.

The through-line is violence. Against rape victims. Against trans youth. Against working families. Against reporters. Against police. Against democracy. Against truth. Against decency. And, ultimately, against you and me.

Republicans have successfully painted Democrats as the party of coastal elites. But who do they serve? They are deconstructing our state, rebuilding it in service to their out-of-state donors looking for their slice of Montana second-home-ownership: “Buy your very own trout stream that cuts through your untaxed trophy ranch right next to your private golf course!” To them, Montana is a commodity, and Montanans are just here to keep the grass clipped and top off their drinks.

But Democrats aren’t blameless. We forgot our allegiance to working families. We ignored the pain of voters suffering through decades of stagnant wages because “taxing the rich” is a tough sell to wealthy donors. What we called “moderation” in closed-door meetings looked like callousness to the voters. It was.

And then we lost. We lost bad – to very bad people. The voters saw our buzzwords, performative beer-drinking, and lack of substantive policy as what they were, condescension. Instead, they chose the Republican’s gleeful, “I got mine” violence – at least they looked like they had the courage to fight a broken system. And rather than examining ourselves and our motives, rather than asking if in our “moderation” we were supporting the exploitation of working Montanans, we turned on them.

After Gianforte’s election and the takeover of our statehouse by rich, cruel, bigots, I heard more than one supposedly thoughtful, rich, well-educated Democrat callously say “I’m moving to California.”

I wish them well in their move. The rest of us will be staying home to rebuild the Montana that Republican violence and Democratic condescension tore down. Remember, it was the unions of Butte, the cattlemen of Miles City, the miners of Libby, the hippies of Missoula, and above all the thousands of years of continued Native stewardship that built this place. We used to call those people Democrats. It will be hard work, but we’ve got to rededicate our politics to the needs of working people and the Montana we have built and will rebuild together.