Aside from a genuine effort, mostly the election was a flop for Montana Democrats. The President has taken responsibility for the national debacle. Here in Montana, all is silence. My concern is that Montana’s senior Democrats and strategists are now trying to figure out just how much further to the right they should be running. Will they become merely Republicans who support a woman’s right to choose? That may keep them in power individually (though I doubt it), but it does not move our state forward.
But I don’t believe that the lesson of the election was for Democrats to lean to the right. I believe Progressive ideas can win because Progressive ideas can also be populist ones. Such ideas can win because they speak to all of us and their aim is to lift all of us up.
Let me just name a few of these ideas.
This state is falling behind on high-speed fiber Internet connections. You want your children to stay in Montana? Give them high-speed fiber optic cable, not a coal shovel. High-speed fiber optic cable is to our nation’s economy what electricity initially was. Without it, children do not have the same education opportunities, medical care is far less robust and it is much hard to build a business.
Economic growth is so important and needs to be a Democratic focus. High-speed fiber optic cable helps lay the foundation for higher growth.
Another idea: most small businesses have a few key management objectives that they measure frequently — for example, how many quarts of milk sold today, did this week’s gross sales match this week a year ago? Montana’s state government is a huge enterprise that is supposed to operate for the people. Montanans should be able to access on the web what the three or four key measurable objectives for each state department and agency are and how they are doing against those objectives.
In addition to upgrading our Internet infrastructure and providing citizens with current data on measurable governmental objectives, we can also earn the public trust by talking honestly about climate change.
And another idea: agriculture is one of Montana’s most important businesses and yet all the intellectual ferment around agriculture and technology is occurring on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. There is not a single food scientist in Montana. How is this wise? Why can’t we have a value-added agricultural economy?
I also believe we should be embracing and fighting for the passage of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. Here in Montana, our magnificent landscape and environment is the economy. To protect it, we must acknowledge the science of ecosystems.
Another idea: we have 12 Superfund sites in this state, including the biggest Superfund site of them all, the Berkeley Pit — whose sludge, all 83 billion gallons, will ruin our state forever if it leaks. We need to insist that the bureaucrats test the alleged water cleansing system repeatedly pursuant to scientific standards now, not just when the Pit is precariously full.
We also need to do better when it comes to our treatment of the mentally ill. Putting them in prison is savage, in addition to being expensive and ineffective.
And, as I’ve said before, we must widen the conversation about women’s issues. We must continue to defend the right to choose, but it’s not sufficient. An effort to provide more broadly child care for infants to age 4 children is an excellent start.
Or another idea: why can’t we build significant, long-term tenure in the education and medical professionals who work in Indian Country?
Democrats need to talk about real ideas. If politics is not about ideas and implementing ideas for the benefit of all of us, then what is the point? Counting on Republicans to be “too weird” and “too radical” is not a winning plan.
Great ideas win elections if they are aimed at lifting everyone up. Let’s go forward together honestly, enthusiastically, open to ideas that improve the lives of all of us.