Montana Democrats embrace new party platform ahead of election

August 1, 2022

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Montana Democrats gathered in their historic stronghold of Butte this weekend for the party’s 2022 Platform Convention, reaffirming support for positions critical to the party’s identity after a year of Republican control of the party. state that saw a rapid advance in conservative policies emerging from Helena.

Amendments to the Democrats’ platform were generally statements of principle. The party, for example, now explicitly supports the right to access abortion and contraception and declares that the planet is in a “state of climate emergency”.

But delegates endorsed several new policy goals, such as restoring the Judicial Appointments Commission, which was eliminated by Republicans last session; the creation of a commission to investigate human rights abuses at the state’s historic residential schools; and supporting support programs for workers “dislocated” through a transition away from fossil fuels, among others.

It was a relatively stable affair, especially compared to the GOP platform’s own convention a few weeks prior, and given the issues Democrats identified ahead of the November election: the loss of two Democratic seats between either legislative chamber could give Republicans a bicameral supermajority, allowing lawmakers to pass constitutional amendment ballots and other measures that require a two-thirds vote without Democratic votes.

There were no stump speeches from top candidates or party luminaries. Monica Tranel, the party’s candidate for Montana’s Western US House District and probably Montana Democrats’ best chance of electing one of their own to Congress this year, given the deep red hue of the state’s Eastern District , was absent. Faction fighting over personality or politics was minimal, or at least private, largely sidelined in favor of technical debates over syntax and semicolons.

“We are united this November,” State Party Executive Director Sheila Hogan said in a statement. “The recent Republican convention revealed internal strife and a radical agenda. This weekend, Democrats presented a very different vision for Montana.

The platform “is extremely important because these are our beliefs and our value statements,” Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, told the Montana Free Press. “We refer to our values ​​statements when working on legislation. When I again introduce a viable payroll for the Montanans, like I did for four different sessions, it’s in our platform.

As with the GOP convention, language is added to the party platform the same way a bill is amended or passed in the Legislative Assembly. Delegates separate into policy-specific board committees — outdoor recreation, health care and housing, for example — and then present the committee-approved amendments to the full convention. (Democrats’ board committees were open to the press; their equivalents at the GOP convention were not.)

Unlike the GOP platform, which, given the party’s near total control over state government, has a real chance of influencing or even becoming state policy, the Democratic platform is primarily ambitious and a statement of opposition to the conservatism that has come to dominate the state. Politics.

Indeed, the majority party has dominated the debates, with several amendments passed in direct response to bills or Republican votes over the past year.

In addition to new language on abortion and an amendment calling for the reinstatement of the Judicial Appointments Commission, convention delegates also passed an amendment calling for legislation to improve health care for veterans. “suffering injuries from toxic exposure during their military service”. Senator Jon Tester, Montana’s only Democrat to hold state or federal office, was a key driver of federal legislation to achieve this. But the PACT Act, as it is known, stalled in the US Senate last week after 25 Republicans, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, voted against the measure.

And the Dems adopted language supporting local control and the separation of government powers, the latter a response to a high-profile dispute between legislative Republicans and the judiciary last year, as well as an opposing amendment to the “ filling” of local boards — a response to recent political disputes that have consumed local health, school and library boards across the state.

Along the same lines, delegates voted for plank language against censorship in public schools and libraries. “I know there’s a few tips I’d love to wrap up, but I’m in favor of that language,” joked Art Noonan, a longtime Butte Democrat and former party executive director.

Dunwell was responsible for new language calling for a “just and equitable property tax system” that adequately funds government services while protecting “ordinary Montanans from unaffordable tax hikes”.

It’s one of the few areas where Republicans and Democrats in Montana share common ground, though their respective methods for enacting property tax relief differ. The tax board committee spent much of its energy working on the language of the amendment to emphasize that wealthy Montanese and vacation home owners should not receive relief proportionate to Montanese on fixed incomes. or weak — an effort to distinguish the Democratic board from, say, CI-121, the ballot initiative to cap property taxes backed by Republican state auditor Troy Downing, among others. This initiative was not voted on this year.

“It wouldn’t have been based on your income, so it would have affected everyone, even wealthy homeowners who can pay property tax on a half-million-dollar house,” Dunwell told MTFP. , referring to the CI-121.

The convention also approved language calling for increased investment in housing affordability without giving up on environmental or labor regulations.

Underlying several of the amendments was a broad statement of opposition to any partisan effort to repeal or replace the 1972 Montana Constitution, the state’s guiding document and benchmark for Democrats on issues ranging from abortion to access to public lands to judicial appointments. In particular, Republican efforts to restrict or ban abortion in the state would require the reversal of state Supreme Court precedent tying access to the procedure to the Constitution’s broad privacy protections.

“We are the most protected citizens in the United States thanks to our Constitution,” said Evan Barrett, a longtime Butte Democrat and former director of business development under Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Hunting, Fishing, and Outdoor Recreation Committee delegates have frequently invoked the Constitution when approving language affirming support for Montana’s waterway access law. .

“I want to see fire. I want to see a fight.

Gallatin County Delegate Alex Newby

“You should ask yourself, do you support public hunting opportunities? Do you support public fishing opportunities? Do you support the outdoor economy and the jobs and businesses it supports? said Jayson O’Neill, a public lands activist and consultant for the Tranel campaign who introduced the language, referring to Republican efforts to boost private hunting. “If you do, you should side with the Democrats.”

One of the weekend’s most substantial debates over election strategy arose during the discussion of the outdoor recreation board.

“To me, it’s a problem that Democrats, if we play our cards right, can turn a lot of voters away from Republicans if we just go out and present the bare facts to the people of Montana,” said Alex Newby, a delegate of Gallatin County attending its first convention.

But Democrats, he argued, have taken support on the issue for granted and are not doing enough to send a direct message to conservative voters who might align themselves with the party on access to public lands.

“The assumption on the part of the Democrats that all types of hook and ball are on our side is not true,” said Art Noonan, who chaired the board committee. “It is divided on other issues – how they hunt, where they hunt, the issue of guns. This is a question where we have to say it again and again and again.

Access to public land isn’t the only issue on which Democrats risk ceding ground to Republicans, Newby later told the MTFP. Democrats, he said, have never campaigned in the conservative farming community where he grew up and struggle to connect their messages with the hearts of voters — a pressing concern given the party’s ambition to win at least one Republican-leaning seat in Congress, avoid a GOP legislative supermajority, and ultimately reclaim at least one seat of statewide power.

“I don’t know what the Montana Democrats are doing other than asking me for money,” he added. “I’m like, I don’t have any money and I don’t want to send you money because I don’t really see a lot of results. So stop praising you for the values ​​you stand for. I want to see some fire. I want to see a fight.

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