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  Talk Elections
  Other Elections - Analysis and Discussion
  Gubernatorial/State Elections (Moderators: Brittain33, Gass3268, Virgini)
  Democrats decide new state party leader in Montana
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Poll
Question: Who would you like to be the leader of the Montana Democratic Party?
#1
Gene Fenderson
 
#2
Dennis McDonald
 
#3
Pete Talbot
 
#4
Tracy Velazquez
 
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Partisan results

Total Voters: 12

Author Topic: Democrats decide new state party leader in Montana  (Read 998 times)
MissCatholic
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« on: July 11, 2005, 09:26:16 am »

Coming off their best electoral showing in 20 years, Montana Democrats choose a new party leader this week and there's no shortage of candidates for the job.

"It's a great time to run (for party chair); it's an exciting time to be involved in the party," said Gene Fenderson, a veteran labor organizer from Helena and one of four people vying for the post of party chair.

Democrats gather in Great Falls on Friday and Saturday for their biennial officers convention, where more than 250 delegates will elect the party's chair for the next two years.

Bob Ream, the party chairman since 1997, is stepping down, and four people from all walks of political and Montana life are running to succeed him:

Fenderson, 63, a longtime labor organizer and leader of a coalition of progressive groups and union locals.

Dennis McDonald, 61, a Melville rancher/attorney who has the support of the state's two top Democratic officeholders, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.

Pete Talbot, 51, who grew up in one of Montana's most famous media families and is a partner in a Missoula communications company.

Tracy Velazquez, 40, a Bozeman consultant who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., last year.
Like Fenderson, each of the candidates says a new enthusiasm exists among Montana Democrats, and that they want to help the party build on its surprising success in the 2004 elections.

"My goal is to see more Democrats get elected, because they do a better job of running the state; they do a better job of running the country," says Velazquez. "The end is a stronger Montana, a stronger America."

Last November, Schweitzer became the first Democrat since 1984 to win the governor's seat in Montana. Democrats also broke 10 years of Republican control of the Legislature, winning a majority in the state Senate and forging a 50-50 tie in the House.

The party chair candidates say Democrats must continue to be aggressive in showing voters that Democrats support working Montanans on issues from health care to education to jobs.

"We're not here to represent the corporations, the gated communities in Montana," says Talbot. "We represent working-class Montanans."

The new party chair will be the point person for raising money, maintaining the party profile and rallying the troops to repeat Democrats' campaign success next year.

McDonald, who grew up in Kansas and Montana and practiced law in California before returning to Montana 15 years ago, says a key to Democratic success is to make more inroads with rural voters. That's a major reason why centrist Democrats like Schweitzer and Baucus have won elections in Montana, he says.

"Montana agriculture and rural Montana is my passion," McDonald says. "I think I can make a contribution in taking the model (Baucus and Schweitzer) have presented and fortifying the partnership between the Democratic Party and rural Montana."

Democrats line up with rural voters on many issues, such as country-of-origin labeling on agricultural products, fair trade and rural development, he says.

McDonald is president of the Montana Cattlemen's Association and a founder of R-CALF, a national group that has fought the importation of cheap Canadian beef.

The lifelong Democrat says he'd like to reach out to Republicans as well, and is critical of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's recent comments blasting Republicans.

"I'm not going to be the kind of chair that goes out and says things about Republicans," McDonald says. "I want (Republicans) to think about the election and vote on the person and the issues, rather than their traditional thought process."

Dean, the former governor of Vermont, is the keynote speaker at the Democrats' convention in Great Falls, on July 16.

McDonald says he won't get his picture taken with Dean at the convention: "I just don't stand for the message that Howard Dean is trying to deliver."

Fenderson, however, says he'll pose with Dean for a picture "any day of the week."

"We need more Howard Deans," he says. "I don't want him to become quiet."

Fenderson, active in Democratic Party politics for more than 30 years, says the party chair should constantly remind the public and fellow Democrats about the party's values: economic development that provides jobs with a fair wage, maintaining our environment and education system, and taking care of the poor.

Fenderson says he'll use his background in labor organizing to continue to "decentralize" the party and get people excited at the local level.

"That means going out and meeting with those (local committees) on an ongoing basis," he says. "It means traveling the state and having coffee in the many coffee shops and finding out what's going on out there."

Fenderson spent many years with the Laborers International Union and most recently has headed up the Progressive Labor Caucus, a group of union locals and organizations that formed four years ago, as a counterbalance to the Montana AFL-CIO, which he said has turned too conservative.

Velazquez, who does consulting for nonprofit groups on a range of public policy issues, says she, too, wants to build the party from "the ground up," but that she also has a statewide perspective, having run for statewide office.

"I've visited with a lot of people all across Montana, to get a sense of what they want the party to do," she says. "I really want to try to reach out to new groups that have not been politically active before."

Velazquez says one of her emphases as party chair would be recruiting more female candidates for office. Women tend to be strong on Democratic issues, and they tend to vote more than men, she says: "Doing more to recruit women candidates will make us a stronger party."

She says she would "put a human face on the party" as chair, emphasizing the positive things that Democrats want to do: "You don't need to tear people down to build yourself up. Negativity just turns people off."

Talbot, who's been chairman of the Missoula County Democratic Central Committee, helps run WestRidge Creative, a media firm that has done consulting for political candidates, unions and nonprofit groups. His father is John Talbot, former publisher of the Missoulian newspaper, and his grandfather is Don Anderson, who helped persuade the Anaconda Co. to sell its four company-owned newspapers in Montana to Lee Newspapers.

He says he'd use his media skills to market the party's message, which would help translate into electoral victories.

"I want to be out there advancing the Democratic message all year long, not just during political cycles," he says. "If we can raise the money, you're going to see TV ads about Democrats all year long."

Democrats need to maintain the momentum of the 2004 election and make more gains in 2006 and that's really what the chair's job is all about, Talbot says.

"The most important thing that the chair can do is help win elections," he says. "That's what is all boils down to. ... If we can pick up a couple more seats (in the Legislature) and do well in the federal elections, it really will be a new day in Montana."
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jfern
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« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2005, 09:28:45 am »

McDonald since Schweitzer endorsed him.
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TheresNoMoney
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« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2005, 10:04:38 am »

Great article. I'm looking forward to following Montana politics in the future, especially the 2006 Senate race.
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MissCatholic
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« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2005, 10:10:09 am »

Great article. I'm looking forward to following Montana politics in the future, especially the 2006 Senate race.

Me too. I really hope we find a really strong moderate to tackle Conrad Burns.
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AuH2O
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« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2005, 10:13:57 am »

you
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TheresNoMoney
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« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2005, 10:15:31 am »
« Edited: July 11, 2005, 10:19:40 am by Scoonie »

Me too. I really hope we find a really strong moderate to tackle Conrad Burns.

We already have a very strong candidate in Jon Tester (as well as another good candidate in John Morrison).

www.testerforsenate.com
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