It’s been 70 days since my last post.
I told you back in June that I was taking time off to focus my efforts on running for City Council.
Ward 4 is not the easiest of Missoula’s six election wards to run in. It’s hilly. Houses are spaced far apart. Yards are huge. The distance from the sidewalk to the front door is considerable.
There are 5,400 homes in Ward 4 with 12,300 people living in them. Just over 4,000 of them voted in last year’s midterm while 3,800 voted in the last City Council race.
Last time the Dems got 2,100 votes and the conservatives got just over 1,700, though the votes were split between four candidates and that’s how Jesse Ramos got elected
Today I’d like to tell you about that race.
I’ll be a little long-winded in that telling, as I’ve been adding bits and pieces to this post for the past two months.
So we’ll divide it up into sections:
Let’s get started.
Filing ended June 17. A week or so later we learned that we had ‘too many candidates’ in many of the wards, so a $51,000 primary was called to winnow ‘em down.
My Ward 4 race had a primary, then it didn’t when the GOP candidate was kicked off the ballot for failing to get his paperwork filed on time. The next day he was back on, and our primary was set again.
So in a couple of days, I went from having 145 days to campaign to about 75. That hurt.
Then a week or so after that I learn the GOP is having a forum for “Jesse’s team” of candidates, which is about 4 of the 16 people running. Later this group became known as “Team Liberty.”
I was never invited to the GOP event, and I suspect many others weren’t, either. When I emailed the local GOP about this, I never got a reply.
It really felt like Jesse Ramos stuck a knife in my back this election cycle. He knew I was running since March, but never supported me because he never liked me and never wanted me to win.
That forum was set for July 10. The Democratic forum was set for July 9, and they invited all 16 candidates.
I had no shot at getting the Dem endorsement, as most of the major Missoula Dems had already endorsed my female opponent. The GOP was set to endorse my male opponent.
So in the nonpartisan race, I was the only true independent...and that’s only because both other parties hated my guts so much that one wouldn’t endorse me and the other wouldn’t even tell me they had a forum.
It was depressing. On top of it, campaigning was harder than I thought. The issue was time.
With a new 4-month-old baby girl, an 8-year-old son, a wife with her own business, and two jobs of my own, I just wasn’t finding the time in the evenings to knock on doors.
Alas, with no money raised and barely any personal donations in my candidate bank account, knocking on doors was my only real option.
I wanted to quit, or at least just give up and do nothing.
But I didn’t.
I held on tightly to the faintest glimmer of hope, the tiniest speck of a chance.
So I decided that for at least one day a week, I’d get out there and try.
Sunday was my main day, where I’d hit up over 100 doors in the afternoon. I started on June 23.
Here's the flyer I wrote up, folded into a tri-fold brochure, and handed out:
Knocking on the doors gave me hope. People were receptive. I doubt many knew we even had three candidates. Surprisingly, some people knew who I was already, typically through my letters-to-the-editor.
I got good some good conversation on the doors, too.
“Is DiBari running?” an older gentleman asked me one day.
I shook my head. “No, it’s an open seat.”
“Good, he’s a real piece of shit.”
Another gentleman, one that had one of those old ‘Vote Republican’ signs propped up against a back shed, told me he’d campaigned for Baucus back when he’d first started for the Senate in ‘78.
One woman was upset that the city had nixed the vehicle fleet’s GPS trackers. Another was unhappy about sidewalks. One man didn’t like how much taxes had gone up. Someone else was pissed that the snow wasn’t plowed. Several women up in the hills told me they were fed-up with urban deer. One woman seethed about bike paths.
It was fun watching the race change, and how the media reported on it...or didn't. Most of the time they were too busy following the statewide races set for next November to focus on the local races happening this fall. Go figure.
For the life of me, I just couldn't understand why anyone would be excited about these statewides so soon, or at all. Take Mike Cooney, who announced on July 4.
On July 9, one of the Ward 5 candidates dropped out. She said that having a primary would create too much of an added cost for her.
I chuckled, knowing exactly what she meant - more printing, more signs, more junk mail. Mainly, a bunch of stuff that no one cares about.
I just kept printing out my flyers 50 at a time. I’d fold them then get out there to hand them out.
The same night we had that dropout we also saw the Dems holding their nominating convention. 7 of the 9 people that were invited showed up.
I was not one of them, and the Missoulian made sure you knew I was a “no show.” What they didn’t report on were the 50 or so doors I managed to knock on that evening when all the Dems were making it seem like they hadn’t decided on their endorsements weeks or even months before.
Most of the major Dems in the city had endorsed my opponent back in May.
The next day it was the same story...sort of. This time the Missoula GOP had their meeting, but didn’t invite anyone they thought might not be a Republian.
The GOP forum was interesting to me, in that every single candidate was parroting issues I’d been talking about for years.
- The MRA? Discussed it in April 2017.
- Our bonding debt? I dove into it back in June 2016.
- Even most of the ideas that Jesse Ramos was pushing...yep, I’d been talking about them for years already on this website.
On July 15, four of the people on “Jesse’s Team” of GOP endorsed candidates appeared on the KGVO radio show. Listening to most of them, it was clear they had little idea of the issues, and were mostly just full of talking points. I could tell why Ramos wanted them - he’d say ‘jump’ and they’d say ‘how high?’
I began to embrace the ‘Independent’ label in the campaign, telling people when they asked that I was indeed the only true independent in this race.
People were receptive. “I’m an independent, too,” one woman said to me with a smile. I knew I had her vote.
When I began to talk like this, more and more people opened up that they leaned more independent as well. “I’m just so sick of them doing nothing all the time,” one man said, hinting at how both parties ‘work’ in Washington.
I figured my Democratic opponent gave up. She got the Dem nod, then pretty much gave up posting on Facebook. Got the nod on July 9, made her last Facebook post on July 10, and then...nothing.
By that point in the election, she had 118 likes on her candidate Facebook page. Her posts typically got around 10 or so likes, though sometimes as much as 30.
In her opinion, that was good enough to win the primary. After knocking on 800 doors, I still hadn’t met a single person that had met her.
Mostly, she was using Dem printers in Billings and that was costing her time. By July 22, she’d finally got her walking cards and put an image of them up on Facebook. Displayed prominently were her Dem endorsement and an endorsement from outgoing council member, John DiBari...the same man many on the doors were telling me they couldn’t stand.
It was becoming quite clear to me that, like most of the people on the City Council, my Dem opponent didn’t care about common Missoulians. If she did, she’d be knocking on their doors. She wasn’t doing this. Talk about a leader.
I kept knocking on doors.
Many votes I talked to wanted to get rid of “King Engen,” while a lot said how much they liked Jesse Ramos, “the only one with any common sense,” as one man put it.
The vast majority of people were just happy that someone had knocked on their door. Many were surprised that was even done anymore.
“I thought people raised so much money so they didn’t have to do what you’re doing,” one older man said to me.
“You hit the nail on the head,” I replied.
He nodded. “Well, you’ve just earned my vote.”
I got those types of reactions a lot more than I got the negative.
“Hi, I just wanted to come by and introduce myself. My name is Greg Strandberg and I’m running for-”
“Oh, I know all about you,” one woman replied after my opening spiel. “You’re a Republican. I’ll save you the cost of a flyer.”
A few doors down from her a man asked, “Are you a Democrat, Republican or Independent?”
“I lean a bit more to the right, myself,” I said with a smile.
“Oh, wrong answer,” he said as he began closing the door.
I took it in stride, just like the other two dozen or so comments I’d heard that were the same. Instead of getting upset or angry, I just hustled over to their neighbor’s house, then that neighbor’s house, and that neighbor’s house. By the time I got done with a street like that, I’d have more people voting for me than against me.
At least it seemed that way. How do you really know?
On July 21, the Missoula County Democrats had their summer picnic. It was a Sunday, and my was it a joke.
No one but the faithful went. A huge circle-jerk would be an understatement.
I felt bad for both Melissa Romano and Kathleen Williams. Made the trek all the way to the Garden City...for this?!?
There’s a reason you’ll never see images of the crowd at MT Dem events - there is no crowd.
By that point I’d knocked on 800 doors. No one was telling me how much they liked the Missoula County Democrats. If anyone did mention the Democrats, it was usually to complain about the mayor.
Yes, Missoulians were fed up with their Democrats. I knew it from the ‘crowd’ at that picnic, I knew it from the people that were looking me in the eye and telling it to me on their doorstep.
It got hot that last week of July, real hot.
My Democratic opponent finally started knocking on doors on July 26...34 days after I started, which put her 800 doors behind me.
She knew she was losing. Whether she’d make up that lost ground in time remained to be seen. Personally, I figured she’d get burned out and head back to Facebook.
On July 30, someone finally got around to writing a letter to the editor in support of my Democratic opponent. I’d done 5 by that point.
Mostly it was full of generic sayings. Fluff.
On the same day in Ward 3, the incumbent there said she’d clamor for a local option sales tax to help Missoula property taxpayers.
No one asked her what she’d do in the two years between now and when the next legislature meets. That’s the only way Missoula could even get a sales tax on the ballot - by having the GOP-controlled legislature approve it first.
Everyone in the state knows this isn’t going to happen. So in other words, in Ward 3 the incumbent has no ideas other than tired old talking points.
And people actually wonder why local government in Missoula is broken - because the people elected to that government don’t have ideas.
She informed me that the September 10 primary would not be mail-only as planned.
The reason for this was her office failed to file the necessary paperwork with the Secretary of State on time.
While she was explaining this to me I interrupted her and said the real reason for this was that her and her office were incompetent. She admitted this was true.
When I inquired about the cost to taxpayers to open three polling places on September 10, she informed me that this would be in next year’s budget.
When I pressed her on the cost, she admitted she had no idea.
Later that day she sent out a press release to the affected candidates, informing us that her mistake would cost between $8,000 and $10,000.
On top of this, the date that ballots would be mailed out was pushed ahead from August 21 to August 16.
Not only would Missoula’s unelected officials waste an additional $10,000 on these elections on top of the $41,000 they were already pissing away, but they’d effectively eliminate 5 whole days of campaigning that candidates could have done as well.
On Sunday, August 4, I saw my GOP opponent putting up yard signs on a busy street. I’d knocked on all those doors weeks before, and even had one offer to put a yard sign up. Alas, that house was now taken by my GOP opponent. I wasn’t surprised by this; had been expecting it.
The next day my C5 campaign finance report came out. I filed it early, as my spending was done.
I’d raised $435.78, all from myself. I’d spent $435.76, with the largest expenditure being the $155.78 filing fee.
After that I had just 4 items - two purchases of printer ink for $70 to $80 each, and then two trips to a copy shop for 1,000 brochures, which cost $120.
I had 2 cents left in my account.
The day after that my two opponents had their finance reports come out. The Democrat raised $7,165 and had spent $4,531. She had over $2,600 in the bank still as the last few weeks of campaigning began.
Most of the major Democrats in Missoula donated to her campaign, including the mayor and many of the people on the City Council.
Nearly all of her money went to Jim Parker’s WestRidge Creative, located here in Missoula.
Jim ran for County Commissioner back in 2015 when the Dems were choosing from a pool of their own. He lost out, but this year he’s received $4,460 from the Democrat in this race. I bet most of that is profit.
From what I can tell, the Dem spent all that money with Jim to get 2,500 campaign cards, 1,500 remittance envelopes, 800 fundraising letters with the mayor’s signature on them, as well as a big banner for events. A whopping $2,000 of her total spending with Jim was just for creative design, letterhead layout, editing, formating, photos and list management.
Seems like a big rip-off to me.
Now, to the other side…
My Republican opponent raised $1,310 by the August 6 filing deadline, and had spent $600 by then as well.
Half of his money came from loans to himself. The rest mostly came from retired people and housewives.
His spending consisted of $545 for door fliers, $30 for cards, and $12 for a nametag.
That first week of August saw me pick up my efforts substantially. I began going out in the mornings, while my wife and daughter were at her work and my son was at the Y.
I got an older woman in her 80s one day.
“Are you Democrat or Republican?” she asked.
“Well, I’m an independent,” I replied, “though coming from a more conservative perspective. I think your taxes are too high and-”
“You’ve got me, you’ve got me,” she interrupted.
Another vote my way.
That same day I had an older man sitting out in his front yard, watching the day go by.
“What do you think of all the city’s treehugger projects?” he asked me after my introductory spiel.
“Well, I think it’s a huge waste of money,” I replied.
He nodded. I knew I had his vote as well.
By August 4th I’d passed the 1,000-doors mark. A few days later I made it to 1,100. It would prove to be my last day on the doors.
It wasn’t always days of wine and roses. That day I knocked on a woman’s door, introduced myself, gave her my flyer.
“You’re not on the side of Jesse Ramos, are you?” she asked.
“Well, I actually agree with him on a lot of issues,” I replied with some hesitation.
“Then you better just save this paper,” she said, handing my flyer back to me.
Instances like that were rare. I got a lot more support than blowback. Sometimes I just got the cold shoulder.
“Are you Democrat or Republian?” an older man in his late-50s asked me the same day. I knew he wasn’t going to like my answer.
“I’m an independent...conservative-leaning,” I said. He gave a ‘harumph’ and walked back into his apartment.
Like I said...that was my last day campaigning.
On August 13, the Missoula Current ran my candidate Q&A. I thought it was the most informative of the Q&A’s that’d appeared so far, but I suppose I was a bit biased.
I decided to do something I rarely do, and that’s go onto Facebook to see what the reaction was. The Democratic response was to be expected:
“Lordy no, nope, never, make it stop.”
“Anybody good at statistics? How many times will Strandberg need to run for the odds to be on his side?”
“Greg loves to write letters to the editor , but when he has an opportunity to really talk to people , like at the democratic city council candidate forum , he was a no show . He filled out all the forms , but he no showed . Not good”
That last one was from Sue Orr, who ran for the seat I’m running for back in 2015. She lost.
I was happy that some of the more conservative-leaning folks aren’t afraid to go onto the liberal Missoula Current’s Facebook page and put their thoughts out, too:
“Everybody in Helena reads his blog. This guy digs through numbers and finances like no other. The legendary Greg Strandberg!
“I like Greg Strindberg. He has done some great research into city finances.”
That last one was from Jerry Ballas, who served in the seat I’m running for for 8 years. Yeah, he might have spelled my name wrong but at least he knows I understand the issues.
August 16 came along a week or so later. That was the day that ballots were sent out. The next day my wife got hers in the mail, along with a flyer for my Dem opponent. She probably spent upwards of $2,000 or more to send those out to every voter in the ward. Good strategy. I wondered if it would work. Probably.
By that point people were voting. Both of my opponents had a ton of yard signs out. In fact, on August 23 my Dem opponent ran out and had to order more. All I could hope was that my early work getting out there making direct voter contact would be enough. Sadly, as the days went on and we got closer to September, I didn’t think it would be.
Even though I had a few hundred flyers left, my election was over and I stopped knocking on doors. My campaign was done for the year. Now we have just two weeks until ballots are due back.
By the end of August I’d written 5 letters to the Missoulian, while my GOP opponent had written one and my Dem opponent hadn’t written any...though my Dem opponent had a few people write some for her. My GOP opponent didn’t have a website or a Facebook page, while my Dem opponent only had the latter.
I figured both would try to skate by on their endorsements, perhaps some last-minute mailers to strong partisans in the ward, and maybe even a radio ad...if they had that much money.
For me, it was always going to be one thing and one thing only - the doors.
I think my election season is over, and I’m happy with the work I put in. With little in the way of resources, and virtually nothing in the way of support, I got out there when I could, looked people in the eye, and told them I was ready to work for them.
If that doesn’t win an election, then I don’t want to win one. Because if you can’t do it by looking someone in the eye, you truly do need the massive campaign cash so you can dull their senses with junk mail, TV attack ads, meaningless yard signs and social media spam.
I just don't have that kind of support in this state, and never will.
I fully expect I’ll lose this election when they get done counting the ballots sometime on September 10 or 11. But then I’d figured that’d be the outcome before I’d even filed to run.
What I didn't count on was that I'd work so hard to win, but I’m glad I did. Might as well go out with a bang, eh? And who knows, by some odd quirk of the universe, I might win.
Yeah...then it’s 55 days of more campaigning, and I’m about beat already.
But that’s a story for another day, if that day ever comes.
Thanks for reading, and voting.