Clash of the Titans

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.

Grassroots politics

Congratulations to our new Missoula County Commissioner, Michele Landquist.    Today’s Missoulian has some nice quotes from Michele explaining the strengths of her campaign:

“I’m excited, but I guess I’m mostly excited that the people in Missoula proved that a person can still run a grass-roots campaign and make a difference,” she said. “I’ve said all along it shouldn’t be about how much money you raise. It’s about getting your message out there to the people, and I think I did that.”

I think she’s correct on this one. I’ve met Michele (we went to Campaign Academy together!) and she seems as straightforward, straight talking a person as you are likely to meet. She strikes me as the sort of person that Montanans like to trust. They can ask her a question and find out what she thinks. I don’t get the impression that Michele makes quick political calculations before explaining herself and her ideas. She’s a smart person, a person who cares about her community, and not someone who is always looking for an angle. No, I don’t agree with her on some issues. But, I sure appreciate her willingness to stand up and speak out. And, I appreciate her willingness to give over the next few years of her life to public service.

What I don’t understand is the title of the Missoulian’s article, Landquist surprises Anderson in county commission race. I guess that Anderson was surprised by his loss, but there is an ambiguity in the headline (as there often is) that suggests folks other than Anderson were surprised by the result. Pete over at 4&20 Blackbirds, for instance, called it an “improbable county commissioner outcome

What was improbable? That a GOP establishment candidate with the support of ‘notable’ Democrats, set up by the never-retiring Barbara Evans, crowned by the development crowd, endorsed by the railroad crew might actually lose? Shock! Horror! Scupper that thought! The voters might actually think differently! Particularly if it all appears to be a set up by all the same power brokers that usually think as though they might run the place.

No, what is surprising is their reaction. And, I suspect the lack of real, honest consideration of the stupid moves that led to Anderson’s demise. Perhaps the Democrats who supported the Republican candidate might get censored by their party? No, I doubt that will happen. Perhaps Barbara Evans will admit she miscalculated and instead of cueing up Anderson for success she set him up to fail? Nope, not likely. And I will forever hold out hope that the pro-growth-at-all-costs crowd will learn that the proud citizens who stand in opposition to their power plays aren’t evil. Those brave few are, in fact, representing the little guy and gal who don’t like being steamrolled.

So, I wish Michele well. She will provide a breath of fresh air into the somewhat stale air of the County boardroom. It may be a whiff of damp sheep that she brings, or maybe it is the wind of new ideas. Either way, it is the smell of grassroots politics, Missoula style!

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

In my local, rural community, we have no sewer system. We get our drinking water from the local lake, and the private land around the lake is filled with homes and septic systems. The septic systems drain into our lake. See the problem? So a Sewer Board has been developed with the purpose of bringing a sewer system to our town.

The Sewer Board has been around for over four years, and we still don’t have a sewer. I went to a Sewer Board meeting this week, and I discovered why we still don’t have a sewer: one of the four board members is (openly) vehemently opposed to a sewer system. He sits on the board specifically to block it from achieving its goal of bringing a sewer system to our town.

Yesterday, I was visiting with a colleague about national politics. We were discussing the senators from Oklahoma (where I grew up): Jim Inhoffe and Tom Coburn. Inhoffe believes the sun revolves around the earth (not joking). And Coburn filibusters every single public lands bill. Why? Because he thinks that government is the biggest problem in our country and works very hard to prevent government from accomplishing anything.

My experience at the Sewer Board meeting and my conversation with my colleague led me to wonder whether there is a self-fulfilling prophecy when you have someone serving in government who thinks government is the problem or someone serving on a sewer board who is dedicated to preventing a sewer system from being built?

Perhaps the reason our country is in such a shambles is because the people who have been running it for the past eight years (Republicans) operate under the philosophy that government is the problem and can’t be part of any solution. The truth is that our country cannot exist without government. We need government for infrastructure, military, public lands management, health care, etc. No matter how much someone may hate government, it’s not going away. Given this, wouldn’t it be better to put people in charge who will work to make government part of the solution to our country’s problems?