Democrats outline party priorities leading up to election season

By: - August 7, 2022 9:00 am

The Montana Capitol (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

Montana Democrats hammered out the details of their party platform, outlining six core tenets candidates will be running on this November, spanning from affordable housing to access to protecting the state’s constitution.

This meeting comes two weeks after Republicans met to discuss their party platform, which brought with it more in-fighting as opposed to the near unanimous agreement to the platform from Democrats.

Democrats are on the brink of potentially handing Republicans a supermajority in the fall, with just two seats standing between them and a GOP two-thirds majority, opening up the possibility of constitutional amendments with no need for support from Democrats.

The platform spans 17 planks, ranging from a commitment to investigate human rights violations in Indian Boarding Schools, with the Department of Interior listing 18 sites in Montana, to promoting responsible gun ownership.

The party also included new language surrounding protecting the right to abortion in the state, currently protected under the 1999 Montana Supreme Court Armstrong decision, but has been cited by both the Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Gov. Greg Gianforte as a decision worth revision in light of the overturning of federal abortion protections under Roe v. Wade.

While the platform explicitly outlines protecting the right to abortion as a priority, it does not outline how to do so in the current political landscape.

Convention Chairwoman and former State Senator from Great Falls Mary Moe said that’s in part because of the “undefined territory” of the current moment.

“It’s kind of hard to have an action plan when our court has ruled, and our constitution backs that up, that women do have freedom in Montana, to control their bodies,” she said.

The party decided to distill the wide ranging platform down to six key agenda items, intended to be used by candidates as key issues to run on this election cycle, calling it the “Core of the Platform.”

Moe said that distilling the platform down helped bring focus to the message.

“You can’t talk to voters about 25 pages of stuff,” she said.

One of the core messages, championed during the convention by Sen. Diane Sands D-Missoula, surrounded the protection of Montana’s state constitution, charging the party to “resist any partisan effort to repeal and replace” the document. Last fall, Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, referred to the document as a “socialist rag.”

Democratic candidate Melissa Smith, running to represent HD-23 in Great Falls, said she thinks the state’s constitution would be in jeopardy if Republicans were to achieve supermajority status this fall. 

“It’s a slippery slope,” she said. “We’re going to lose a lot more than just our right to privacy if the constitution is overhauled.”

Smith, who is running her second campaign in Montana after losing to incumbent Republican Fred Anderson in the 2020 election in HD-20, said she feels the platform reflects the issues she was already campaigning on, namely public education, conservation of natural resources and public safety.

“I think the plank appeals in a broad sense to every person in my district. There’s something in that platform that they can relate to and understand and know that it directly impacts their well being,” she said. 

Smith is running in Cascade County, which has gone from purple to red in recent years. Smith said that the Democrats’ message at times gets drowned out, but she said it’s just a matter of reaching out to voters. 

“When we talk about values with voters, we are on the same page and we’re not that different, and we can come together and work together and make Montana a thriving place,” she said.

In the platform, Democrats outlined support for union membership and in their plank outlined opposition to efforts to undermine prevailing wage laws, sometimes referred to as the “minimum wage for construction workers,” and support requiring prevailing wage on every public project in the state.

Housing for a stable workforce was outlined as a priority, with a wish list item for additions to increase state investment in affordable housing. Democrats are also looking at property tax relief as a way to avoid displacement due to “inequitable property tax burdens.” This comes in light of Republican measures to upend the tax system like C1-121 failing to get the signatures needed to get on the November ballot.

Other priorities outlined in the “Core of the Platform” included access to Mental Health Care Access, reinvesting in care especially in underserved communities, as well as access to child care, seeking to attract and retain workers to the field and reducing costs for working families.

The party’s platform comes weeks after Democratic party leaders outlined their plan for $1 billion of the state’s budget surplus, which included many of the same goals outlined in the platform.

“I think the Democratic platform echoes the philosophy that the Montana Democratic Party’s always had, that we are the party for people,” Moe said.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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