I don’t remember folks paying much attention to Lou Ann Crowley’s decision to run for House District 94. That’s a shame, because I think this Democratic primary race will be quite telling as to the future of the party in Western Montana.
In the race to replace political consultant and potential poster boy for the revolving door of Montana politics, Dave McAlpin, Lou Ann is facing Ellie Hill. And the contrast couldn’t be greater.
Ellie is somewhat of a political newcomer, but has garnered the support of the liberal rump of Missoula politics. This is not surprising given her longstanding commitment to the town’s poor and homeless, and her engagement with a raft of progressive issues. The blogosphere’s jhwygirl blogged about Ellie here and here. Ellie’s a lawyer from Idaho, a part-time business woman (although I don’t know what company she owns), and downtown resident in the Wilma.
Lou Ann, on the other hand, has a long history of local politics. Most of us know her from ten years on City Council, where she earned respect for her patience, genuine care for her constituents, and her fair-mindedness. Look around Missoula and there’s many a community organization (from MUD to the farmers market to Garden City Harvest to Kiwanis to Adventure Cycling to Hospice) that Lou Ann has been a driving part of. She’s more independent than most and while her Democratic credentials are solid, she was occasionally a swing-vote on Council. That Jon Wilkins would endorse her speaks volumes, perhaps reflecting Lou Ann’s ability to listen to and represent the concerns and problems of neighbors of many stripes.
Recently, Lou Ann was up against John Engen in the race for Mayor of Missoula. While John had political consultants, poll-testing, media campaigns, endorsement by the current Mayor and a sizable war-chest, Lou Ann campaigned the hard way – knocking on doors, attending community forums, and taking phone calls directly on her own cell phone. Lou Ann campaigned on the public having open lines of communication with city government. She lost.
Perhaps Lou Ann is running up against the same political machine that defeated her last time? I suspect she will run an honest, somewhat naive campaign – relying on the folks she has gotten to know over the 30 years she have lived and worked in Missoula. I like Lou Ann, much as I respect Ellie. But, I think the battle is not between these two impressive folks. It is, rather, a battle between an independent, grassroots campaign and a little-too-well-organized insider.