Montana appears well down the road to becoming a one-party Republican, deeply conservative state, like the states that surround us. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s survival was an anomaly best explained by his personal popularity and his opponent’s weakness.
In the late 1960s and ’70s, when I was first cutting my teeth in politics, the Democrats were Montana’s dominant party. They controlled the statewide offices, including the entire congressional delegation, the Legislature and the office of governor. At Republican state conventions in that era, Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Great Falls native Sen. Bill Roth of Delaware performed the keynote functions because there were no big-name Montana Republicans to do so.
While some beneficial and historic reforms resulted from that time, Republicans were too weak to provide an adequate check on the Democrats for nearly a decade. For part of that period, outnumbered by better than a 2 to 1 margin, Republicans were unable to even prevent Democrats from changing parliamentary rules in the Legislature. Unchecked power is never a healthy thing in a representative democracy, no matter who’s in power.
What a difference a half-century makes. Montana is now a Republican red and increasingly one-party state.
That, and his personal grudge against Tester, is no doubt why President Trump kept returning to Montana to rescue the shaky Matt Rosendale candidacy. While the Trump strategy failed to defeat Tester by a whisker, it might have succeeded in revealing the power of the red tide now rising here.