In the People's Interest

Julia Shaida: Report from Helena

I attended my first Mansfield Metcalf Dinner last weekend. It confirmed for me a presentiment I have had for a while. Every part of the political cycle–the state legislature session, the declaration of candidates, the campaigns for office themselves–are opportunities to bring more people into the process, to bring awareness and shine light, and to build structures that make it possible to elect good people.

Those structures are human. Democratic policies–when offered on ballot referendums separate from party affiliation–are popular. A majority of people in Montana, for example, want a well-funded, strong Medicaid system. (Over 100,000 Montanans receive their health care through Medicaid.) Yet the Republican supermajority puts forward bills to kill Medicaid and has so far refused to fully fund Medicaid reimbursement to care facilities (Gallatin Rest Home loses $100/day for every Medicaid patient…this is why we voters were called on to approve a Mill Levy to keep the doors open in the one remaining nursing and rehabilitation center in Gallatin County.)

The Mansfield Metcalf dinner–for those of you who don’t know–is the annual main fundraising and networking event of the Montana Democrats. This year’s was abuzz with the news that Senator Jon Tester has declared to run for the U.S. Senate. Senator Tester is such a talented and charismatic figure, relaxed, natural, funny. He attended events throughout the day, and when he bounded to the stage the room roared with excitement. The Senator himself knows, however, that not all the interest and attention and national coverage will win him this election. 2018 was a squeaker for him–he won by 17,000 votes, less than a 4-point lead over newcomer Matt Rosendale–and with the Republicans in full control of our state government, 2024 will be a real battle.

Senator Tester knows the power of knocking on doors, of showing up–as a Democrat–and talking to neighbors. He called out to the people in the room to build strong ground campaigns and do the work that will be needed.

Earlier in the day, I attended the MFPE and AFL-CIO union rally. It was instructional. Amanda Curtis said that during the first half of the legislative session, the unions ran a membership drive. They went door to door, and one-on-one described to people the anti-worker legislation being pushed in Helena. So far this year, the unions defeated 20 anti-worker, anti-union bills. And they recruited 230 new members!

How do we build power for the future? Our systems are failing us. The enormous gap in income has led to land and housing being snatched up by the super wealthy. A no-government ideology is destroying what safety nets were in place and revealing how insufficiently we care for one another. How do we get past the sound bites and misinformation so that we as a community resolve to provide health care and housing for all, protect our public schools and teachers, address the climate catastrophe we are living into.

I believe that when we share our concerns, we find connection and we begin building for the future. Mansfield Metcalf confirmed our need for people power. This is what the Gallatin Democrats are devoted to doing. If you have not done so yet, please join us. Start a monthly sustaining donation. We have a pretty great U.S. Senator to re-elect.

– Julia Shaida, Gallatin Democrats Chair

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