I think the answer is simple – the GOP.
The only progressives ever elected in this state were from the GOP.
Happened a hundred years ago.
Jeannette Pickering Rankin was born in Missoula on June 11, 1880. She was a bit of a tomboy growing up, taking part in ranching and building sidewalks. She attended the University of Montana and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1902 and from there had no idea what to do with herself. She tried dressmaking for a time and even tried to make furniture, all the while turning down several young men’s hand in marriage.
Finally in 1908 she decided to leave Montana, attending the New York School of Philanthropy for a year before moving back out west to Spokane. She got into social work, attended the University of Washington, and then started organizing for New York Women’s Suffrage Party local branch as well as the National American Women Suffrage Association’s offices in Washington and Montana.
It was clear to many that Rankin should try a run for office, and none supported her more in this than her younger brother, Wellington Rankin. Wellington was born in Missoula on September 16, 1884 and became a lawyer before getting involved in politics.
He’d first run for office in 1914, running for the U.S. House of Representatives on the Progressive ticket, earning 20,000 votes fewer than the Republicans and 3,000 to 6,000 fewer than the two Socialists.
It wasn’t enough to move past the primary, but it was the kind of motivation his sister needed to realize that she stood a chance, especially if she ran on one of the major-party tickets.
To her it seemed that Wellington’s political career never really took off, and she saw what running on a third-party ticket did to him in 1914 and Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. She vowed not to repeat those mistakes and when the time came for her to run in 1916, she ran Republican and stuck to the national issues.
Wellington managed Jeanette’s campaign in 1916 and the two headed out to the far reaches of the state in their bid to meet as many common voters as they could.
She spoke wherever she could – on train station platforms, from street corners, at picnic lunches on prairie farms and cattle roundups on far-flung ranches. Her resolve, dedication and determination were evident to Montana voters and she won the heavily-contested June primary, earning 33,549 votes, more than 18,000 votes more than hear nearest challenger, George W. Farr.
In November it was John Evans with 84,499 votes and Jeanette Rankin with 76,932. Coming in third and fourth were Harry B. Mitchell and George W. Farr, with 70,578 and 66,974 votes, respectively. We still had two House seats back then, so the top two finishers were heading to Washington.
The first woman elected to Congress in the history of the United States had come from Montana, and on March 4, 1917, she took her seat in the nation’s Capitol. Although women didn’t yet have the right to vote nationally – about forty states were allowing them to do so, many times just for local and not national races – a woman in Congress told them it wouldn’t be long. Montana gave the women of America hope, and also sent a clear message to Washington and the rest of the country that it needed to get its act together.
Women had a good showing in Montana in 1916, primarily because they were organized and ready to take power in the state. Following their right to vote in 1914 the Montana Good Government Association was formed, which would eventually become the Montana League of Women Voters. Women now had organizational power behind their political bids, and it paid off. That November in 1916, Emma Ingalls – a Republican – and Maggie Smith Hathaway – a Democrat – took seats in the legislature while the Office of Public Instruction went to May Trumpeter.
When the time for war came in April 1917, Montana’s Senator Walsh voted for it, unlike his colleague in the House, Jeanette Rankin, who voted against.
That vote may have come back to haunt Rankin when she ran against Walsh in the 1918 election. The year 1918 was the first that would see an election in a time of war since the Civil War fifty-four years earlier – no one much counted the Philippine-American War as anything. Voters were weary of fighting, especially with death tolls beginning to filter back from Europe.
It was clear to Rankin that year that politics in Montana had shifted, mainly because district lines had been redrawn and she was now facing a stiffer Democratic challenge. What’s more, the Speculator Mine disaster in Butte in June of 1917 had drummed up support for the Socialists in the state, while also increasing calls to suppress them.
Instead of trying to run for her seat again, she switched over to the U.S. Senate race, going for Democratic-incumbent Senator Walsh’s seat. She lost in the primary to Oscar M. Lanstrum, 18,805 votes 17,091 votes, with two others taking more than 9,000 votes between them.
Rankin wasn’t going to go down that easily, and when the National Party offered her their nomination she took it.
The National Party was nothing more than disaffected Socialists that were looking for another option. The general election in November was an identical matchup, pitting her against Senator Walsh and her nemesis in the primary, Oscar M. Lanstrum. It wasn’t even close for Rankin, with Walsh taking 46,160 votes over Lanstrum’s 40,229 to keep his seat. Rankin got just 26,013 votes, or 23% compared to Walsh’s 41% and Lanstrum’s 35%.
Nationally, Republicans picked up twenty-five seats to take over the House while in the Senate they picked up six, giving them a slim 2-vote margin of 49-47. Walsh continued to support Wilson’s policies from the Senate including the League of Nations, which was ultimately defeated in the Senate in September of 1919.
Jeanette Rankin had only served until March 3 of that year and then headed back to Montana. The defeat must have hurt, doubly so since the gap between her and Lanstrum had been so wide.
Montana, it seemed, was not ready to send another third-party candidate to Washington like they had in 1900 with Caldwell Edwards.
Rankin went off to Georgia the next year and began organizing social clubs for children while advocating pacifism. Her brother Wellington would stay in Montana and continue to have a hand in Republican politics.
Neither of their stories was even close to being finished.
The dying remnants of Kathleen Williams’ campaign for U.S. House are trying to gain some traction with this supposed Rankin parallel.
I wish them luck.
Now, I bring all this up because over at ID they’ve been harping on progressives.
“Hey, Progressives. [Sic] How About We Use Our Energy to Elect Democrats Instead of Fighting Among Ourselves?” was a post the other day, while “What Makes a Progressive? Words and Actions, Trolls and Activists” was the post put up today.
Don and Pete over at ID are very keen on the idea of not officially endorsing any of the current U.S. House Democratic candidates until the June primary is over.
I think that’s commendable. I just wish they’d dig into the FEC finance reports to tell us who the money is supporting.
By ‘money’ I mean the Helena brass, or Helena mafia as they’re sometimes referred to. These are people like Nancy Keenan, head of the MT Democratic Party, and someone paid $5,900 a month for her ‘work.’
The post on ID today is a praise-post for Pete from Nathan Kosted.
Yeah, I know…the guy that has ideas that 99% of the state wouldn’t agree with. That’s Nathan.
One of the things I love about ID is that these people continually complain, but never run for office.
As I mentioned on Friday, it costs $15 to run for office.
And while I’ll admit all the races here in Missoula are crowded with Dems, if these folks really want progressivism, maybe they should run as an Independent, or a Green, or even a Republican. As we discussed, it was the GOP that gave the state true progressivism.
I mean, Don’s in Helena. Sure…he’s a teacher and that makes it hard to work for three months in the capitol, but other teachers do it all the time.
But then I know from experience that it’s easier to harp and complain than go out and knock on doors.
I think one of the reasons so many are paying more attention to ID these days is that Cowgirl has gone so far downhill.
We’ll be putting up our 3-month blog rankings post later this week, but you don’t need the numbers to know the obvious.
Cowgirl, with its reliance on cartoon-posts and anti-GOP diatribes – coupled with its oh-so-tiring anonymous status – went from one of the most popular political blogs in the state to one of the most irrelevant.
A clear sign of this is all the guest posts from established politicians that are now going up on ID and not Cowgirl, where they’d been going for years.
ID’s also began engaging in online polls, which I like. Their last one had over 500 votes, which is pretty impressive for a Montana political blog.
But its important we remember one thing:
It doesn’t matter.
ID and Cowgirl and sites like them can write whatever they want, but their candidates still won’t win.
We see this time and time again, whether it’s 2014 or 2016 or the 2017 special election.
Right now there’s a lot of excitement over the U.S. House, and the idea that one of these Democrats could beat Gianforte. We also see a lot of excitement over the fact that Daines doesn’t do townhalls.
While the 1% of the state that reads ID might get gung-ho over this, the majority of Montana doesn’t care, simply because they don’t even notice.
Yeah, they might read the papers or watch the TV news and hear about townhalls, but I don’t think they care.
Don and Pete over at ID care, they care a lot. That’s commendable. It doesn’t translate into wins at the ballot box, however.
And boy are they frustrated by this, as they have a right to be.
But does that frustration justify banning comments from their site, and banning certain commenters from their Facebook page?
RD is a site that often harps on this, but that’s a site that does the exact same thing.
I left a comment on RD yesterday, and it’s still awaiting moderation. Things like that usually set Travis Mateer off, spurring him to write one of his anti-ID posts.
So the hypocrisy cuts both ways…well, at least with those guys. I don’t give a damn what you comment on here, and usually don’t reply anyways.
ID is keen on the idea of progressives not fighting with each other at the moment, yet that’s about all progressives seem to do.
Perhaps this is because sites like ID are in constant fight-mode, always attacking the GOP.
Rarely do we hear about the issues, or what exactly Democrats in Montana stand for.
But then as we saw, Dems were never the progressives and probably still aren’t. It was the GOP that gave the state progressives.
And who the hell cares?
Who am I even talking to…who’s reading this? Probably people that are informed and have already made up their mind.
There’s no convincing on Montana political blogs, just reinforcing the ideas that people have already set their mind to.
And that’s why we see – after years and years of attacks – the GOP just continuing to ignore sites like ID and Cowgirl.
1% of the highly liberal portion of the state that’s not ever going to vote for you anyways?
Why in God’s Name should we give a damn about those folks?
And on top of their firm commitment to never vote for a GOP candidate, we know those liberal die-hards can’t ever get their way anyways.
$5,900-a-month Nancy Keenan makes out like a bandit, but the Party she ‘supports’ does not.
And this is a good thing.
I’ve become convinced that if the Democrats had any more power and sway in this state, all of our lives would suffer.
Maybe not if you’re on the dole, but if you’re a working stiff, most definitely.
So let the IDs and the Cowgirls of the world shout to the heavens.
Never gets ‘em anything.