I enjoy numerology and each year I get a numerology calendar from the Numbers Lady.
This tells me if I’ll have a sunny day, or a cloudy day, or just in between.
Today is one of the sunny days. On days like these, I enjoy writing more, so that’s a big reason why I’ve put up so many posts today.
I also enjoy astrology. For over a decade, I’ve been getting monthly horoscopes from this woman. They’re pretty good.
I was wondering why I started working again on my seventh and final volume of Montana history this month - the planets are moving around in certain ways.
I put out the last volume four years ago, and said I’d put out the next one after the 2020 election.
Now I have to get to work on it again, which I don’t really feel like doing most days.
But some days I do, and I’ve managed to add quite a bit this month.
My biggest concern is that I’m missing too much. Here’s a look at my current table of contents:
Part I – The 1990s
- Train Kept a Rollin’
- Our Faltering Railroads
- The Rise of Montana Trucking
- American Infrastructure Breaks Down
- Running Into Trouble
- Education Gets Dumbed-Down
- Conrad Burns Comes to Town
- The Travails of Stan Stephens
- The Call that Changed Montana
- Marc Racicot’s Rise
- Montana Politics in the 1990s
- Losing a Seat
- The Deregulation of Montana Power
- NAFTA Comes to Town
- The Yellowstone Pipeline
Part II – The 2000s
- Election 2000
- The Mess in Florida
- Twin Towers and Twin Wars
- Montana’s Meth Problem
- Marijuana Gets the Green Light
- Montana Politics in the 2000s
- The 2008 Financial Crash
- The Wages of Decline
Part III – The 2010s
- Montana Politics in the 2010s
- Our Forgotten Railroads
- A Train Wreck
- Greg Gianforte’s Rise
- Shaky Minds
- The Children’s Future
- A Changing Media
- The Covid-19 Pandemic
- The 2020 Election
This is the book I wanted to write back in 2013 when I started the whole series, but I knew I wasn’t capable of doing so at that time.
First I had to learn the whole history of the state, and that’s what the first six volumes were for.
Very few people read the books, and fewer still read the whole series.
The first book has sold 427 copies, but the second is 154 and the latest volume detailing 1960 to 1990 has only sold 14 copies.
So no one cares.
Maybe one day they will. And I guess that’s what keeps me working on this upcoming volume.
It was clear to me long ago that biography was my greatest historical strength.
Here’s a bit of an excerpt that I worked on recently about Congressman Rick Hill and the '96 election:
Rick Hill graduated from Aitkin High School in 1964 and then attended St. Cloud State College in Minnesota. He got a job pumping gas for $1 an hour to help pay the bills. He earned his BA in 1968 in Political Science and Economics, and when he was only 20-years-old.
Hill had also gotten married the previous year, and had his first son the year he graduated from college. Following college Hill went to work for St. Paul Fire and Marine insurance company, becoming a bond manager. Then in 1971 he convinced his company to send him to Great Falls to manage a new office there.
“I was just 25, wanted to come to West and felt there was opportunity in Montana,” he said of the move. Other members of his family had come to the northwestern portion of the state in the 1940s and 1950s, and Hill’s father always regretted not making the move themselves.
Hill had an affair with a cocktail waitress in Great Falls in 1976, something his wife said “essentially shattered their marriage,” though Hill said the marriage “was already breaking up by then.”
By 1977 Hill moved to Helena. By the early-80s he’d divorced his wife and remarried a woman named Betti, a “Republican activist” that lived in an adjoining apartment unit from him. “Hill remembers asking her out five times before she finally agreed.” They married in 1983, and Hill made it a point to send her a rose every Monday after that.
While in Helena, Hill continued to work in the surety bond and insurance business. Helena’s Dick Anderson remembers what this meant to him:
“I first got started in re-roofing after a hailstorm in 1975…I wore tattered work clothes, and a couple of bond agents I met with seemed to blow me off as not worth their time. But Rick gave me a lot of time and suggestions, even though his commission on my first bond couldn’t have been more than $50. He saw me as a young guy with promise.”
By the time Hill was running for office in 1996, Anderson’s construction company had grown into a $16 million business with 130 workers.
“Some people criticize him for being blunt,” Patti Scott, the owner of Scott Construction said of Hill, “but I appreciate him for telling it like it is.”
Hill sold his insurance business in 1990, working under the new owner for two years after that. The sale must have been good for him, as by the time he filed for federal office six years later he reported $1-3 million in assets, though some of that money also came from building and managing apartments.
Hill got elected as the Montana Republican Party state chairman in 1991, launching “an effort to rebuild the party after the disastrous 1990 election in which Democrats gained majorities in both houses” of the legislature.
With Hill’s help, the GOP regained the Montana House in 1992…though Hill wasn’t onboard to see it. He’d stepped down from the chair position that spring to run against Pat Williams for the western congressional district. He was then forced to drop out of that race two weeks later when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “Montana was entitled to only one House seat,” based on the 1990 Census.
Hill took it in stride, and became the chairman of the state worker’s compensation fund in 1993 when Governor Racicot called on him.
When 1996 rolled around, Hill was seen as a leading contender for the U.S. House seat as he’d already been planning to run for Congress four years earlier. Now the fight would be much easier, as the incumbent – Williams – wasn’t running again. The man who was running had a bit of baggage, and that looked like it might play into Hill’s favor going into November.
Hill had drawn Bill Yellowtail as an opponent. Yellowtail was a Crow Indian that’d grown up near where Custer was killed. The family was so poor they had no electricity, telephone or even running water. Yellowtail had bathed in a creek during those early years.
He did well in school, though, so much so that he was able to attend Dartmouth. He’d go on to work for the EPA, served in the legislature from 1985 to 1994, and styled himself an “Indian cowboy.” He won overwhelmingly in the 4-person primary that June, taking 56% of the vote to the nearest challenger’s 22%.
This despite revelations just weeks before the primary that Yellowtail had struck his wife during an argument twenty years before, and then after they were divorced, had failed to pay over $7,000 in child support. Another story had him stealing from a camera store while in college in 1967.
Yellowtail admitted both stories were true, the press forgave him, and Democratic voters did as well. But how would Republicans and Independents feel that fall?
In the end it wasn’t even close. Hill took the race with 212,000 votes to Yellowtail’s 175,000, or 52% to 43%. Third-party candidate Jim Brooks – running with the Natural Law party, which had been formed four years earlier to espouse the principles of transcendental meditation – wasn’t a factor in the race, taking just 4%, or 18,000 votes.
Nationally that year, Clinton won his second term with nearly 3 million more votes than he’d taken four years before. Congress was still firmly in the GOP’s hands, however.
And Rick Hill would be joining them.