I want to get this down while it is still relatively fresh in my head. These are my impressions of the Candidates I met at the Jefferson-Jackson Democratic Dinner here in Dillon.
I want to preface this by saying that I am not going to make any sweeping endorsements (with one notable exception). My purpose in going to this dinner was to meet these candidates and form my initial impressions of them – before I start researching their record, their campaign or their issue stances. I have spent a lot of time focusing on the Presidential election but now it is time to start focusing on the elections closer to home.
My overall impression of the evening was that the Beaverhead Democrats did a wonderful job arranging the get-together. It was well attended (for Dillon) and the overall evening was noticeably friendly and upbeat – even between rival candidates. Some of the candidates made small, hidden digs at their opponents, but these were VERY understated and there was also a lot of respect expressed for their opponents. I was happy to have attended tonight and I actually look forward to getting a better look at most of these candidates.
All that said – here is my take on the evening…
The get-together before the dinner was informal and I was able to speak personally with all but two of the candidates. I was able to speak to the other two after the presentations, so I actually got to speak personally with all the candidates by the end of the evening. This is important because it is one thing to read about a candidate’s resume or issue position, it is quite another to shake their hand, look them in the eye and ask them a question. I did a lot of that – asking questions – and I got some surprising answers.
The Dinner was excellent. I had the Chicken Breast and it was tender and tasty. According to my wife, the prime rib was equally excellent. The service was great and I have no complaints. We were also lucky enough to get a seat at the same table as Monica Lindeen and her husband. They are both wonderful people.
The first speaker was the Democratic State Party Chairman, Jim Elliot. I make no bones about it, I did NOT like his predecessor McDonnald – not one bit. He came across as a used car salesman and that is the quickest way to turn me off in politics there is. Jim Elliot is just the opposite. He seems personable, reasonable, and approachable. Moreover, when you talk to him, he is REALLY talking to you, not as a potential voter, but as a Human Being. In short, I liked him. He also has a natural humor that came out pretty strong tonight.
The Keynote speaker was Senior Senator, Max Baucus. This is a tough one for me. Max was the very first Montana Representative I voted for when I reached voting age. I used to love to hear the idealistic and passionate younger Max talk. He did things, he kicked butt and he took names. I continued to vote for Max for many years.
The Max Baucus I saw tonight was somewhat of a disappointment. He seems disorganized and made a lot of sweeping statements I know to be factually incorrect. I also had a problem with him taking credit for the incredible things Jon Tester has done for Veterans. Yes, he waxed eloquent about Jon and his dedication to veterans and voters in Montana, but he also took joint credit for them.
Part of the reason I wanted to hear Max talk was I wanted to know if he was here tonight to drum up support for the Democratic Candidates running or if he was actually here to campaign for himself. Sadly, the answer was both. He actually spent more time tonight talking about himself and his own accomplishments than he spent convincing us to support the candidates who were actively running for an office.
Next, a letter from Jon Tester was read, and while it was a nice letter (and I do understand that Sen Tester has other commitments), it would have been nice to see him and hear him speak for himself. I don’t think even he realises just how much support he has in the area due to his unfailing fight for the rights of Veterans. I really hope that Sen Tester makes it to Dillon at some point.
General John Walsh spoke next. It is obvious how much support he has in Dillon based on his support of the Montana Youth Challenge Program. You can also tell he is – at his core – a military man by the way he speaks. I was pretty impressed by him and I think that his selection by Bullock was genius. Steve Bullock is an intelligent man with an impressive record of standing up for the rights of Montanans but – so far – he has the appeal of watching paint dry. General Walsh is very charismatic and speaks from the heart. They will make a wonderful team for the Governor’s office. I don’t need to endorse this pair as that election is all but over. Bullock and Walsh will destroy Hill in the General.
Next came the candidates for the US House. Some impressed me, some not so much. I won’t comment too much on those races as I have done ZERO research on the candidates other than to say that both Franke Wilmer and Diane Smith impressed me with their passion and commitment to serving the people of Montana. Count on more impressions on this primary race as I learn more about the candidates. If I do end up voting in the Democratic Primary, it will be because of this race.
Pam Bucy and Jesse Laslovich – both candidates for the Montana Attorney General’s office – were in attendance. On line, the supporters for these two candidates have had some heated and sometimes nasty exchanges. I did not see that in the two candidates themselves. They are certainly different. Bucy appears competent and well qualified but her presentation was stiff and somewhat contrived. Laslovich was passionate, eloquent and personable but I am not sure he has the background that Bucy has. I will have to do a LOT more research into this race. Both would do the job better than the Republican Candidate wanting the position, so for me, it will come down to which one of the two Democrats I like better in the primary.
One of my distinct pleasures of the evening was seeing Monica Lindeen. I have devoted a LOT of pixels to our current Commissioner of Securities and Insurance (State Auditor). I have met few political representatives that I would – without question – support. Lindeen and Tester are such representatives. She is personable, knowledgeable, hard working, smart and she has served the people of Montana faithfully in every public endeavor she has taken on. Her office has seen the return of quite literally millions of dollars from fraudulent security scams and denied insurance claims. Monica Lindeen has my complete endorsement.
Next came the two Demcratic Candidates for the Montana PSC District 3 – Mark Sweeney and John Vincent. I have to admit that early on in the evening, Mark Sweeney kind of pissed me off. As I said, I wanted to ask certain candidates a few very pointed questions about concerns I had about the positions they were running for. One of those questions was for the PSC candidates. I wanted to know if either candidate had an answer for the ongoing destructive behavior of certain members of the current PSC (if you don’t know what I am talking about, I will explain it in the upcoming post about the race). I had no idea how either candidate would respond but I wanted to see if either one would even admit that the problem existed. Mark Sweeney knew exactly what I was referring to but his response was canned, seemed insincere, and contrived. Worse, in the middle of his response to me, he started another conversation with someone standing at the counter next to us. In short, it pissed me off.
His presentation to the assemblage did little to convince me that he was any more sincere about representing us. He did the usual resume thing and the entire time, he sounded like a used car salesman. I won’t go so far as to say I wouldn’t vote for him but he certainly didn’t impress me. John Vincent, on the other hand, did. He wasn’t as polished as Sweeney, but he talked at length about the importance of what had to be done. He talked about working with the legislature to give the PSC actual “teeth” to protect the citizens of the state.
My impression of John Vincent only increased when I was able to get him one on one after the presentations. I asked him the same question I asked Mark Sweeney, and without missing a beat, he said that the only way a situation like what is going on now could be resolved is if Montana were to work the PSC like quite a few others states – an appointed board. He was clear that he was not advocating such a move (it would be difficult to turn the PSC into an appointed position) but it would certainly prevent a situation like what we have now. My appreciation for John Vincent increased further when – to my surprise – I found that he was more than willing to talk about some non-traditional energy production methods – including Nuclear Power. He said that we have to address the energy problem with all the tools we have available to us – even if it means exploring new technologies or technologies that have traditionally been ignored as difficult or unpopular.
Richard Turner (running for State Senator for Senate District 36) and Norma Duffy (running for State Legislature District 72) both gave presentations. Neither were polished like many of the other candidates but both spoke openly and honestly. One of the biggest laughs of the night was when Richard announced that he was running against Debby Barrett because “she pissed [him] off”. I loved it (in part because her wing nuttery has pissed me off too).
I am glad I went and I look forward to learning more about the Candidates for all the local, state, and national offices I will have to choose from.