Monday, July 04, 2005

Schweitzer backs rancher as next head of the Montana Democratic Party

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Senator Max Baucus have both announced their support for Dennis McDonald, a rancher, as the next head of the Montana Democratic Party.

This appears to be a somewhat controversial choice (read why in the Billings Gazette article) but it makes absolute sense on at least one level: the other candidates are a labor leader, a marketing businessperson and a consultant to non-profits.

Now I have nothing against the occupations of the other three individuals (they would all probably do a fine job) but ask yourself this: for those Montanans on the fence or wavering in their political leanings, what background provides instantaneous credibility?

Having a rancher head the Democrats in Montana would be yet another coup in the campaign for a political makeover in the Big Sky Country.

Plus, McDonald's political history of bipartisanship (again, read the Billings Gazette article, is actually another plus. Not that the other candidates agree.

Horse sense: Baucus, Schweitzer back rancher
Charles S. Johnson
Billings Gazette
July 3, 2005

HELENA - In an unusual move, two of the state's leading Democrats - U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and Gov. Brian Schweitzer - have thrown their weight behind Melville rancher Dennis McDonald to become the next chairman of the Montana Democratic Party.

In addition, three veteran Democrats - labor leader Gene Fenderson of Helena, marketing businessman Pete Talbot of Missoula and former congressional candidate Tracy Velazquez of Bozeman, are vying for the post at the party's convention in Great Falls July 15-16. Bob Ream is stepping down as Democratic state chairman after eight years and helping restore the party to power.

Although the other three candidates all have more Democratic Party experience, Baucus and Schweitzer praised McDonald for offering new leadership that can attract what the governor called "fresh blood" to the party.

It's rare for top elected officials to openly try to influence the rank-and-file's choice of party chairman, and it can backfire as it did four years ago at the state Republican convention, embarrassing some top GOP officeholders.

'Hard to say no'

McDonald, 61, is president of the Montana Cattlemen's Association and a founder of R-CALF. Raised in Montana, McDonald received a law degree in San Francisco and practiced law there until returning home to Montana as a rancher in the late 1980s.

"I think I can help reconnect, or maybe better said, continue the connection between rural Montana and farmers and ranchers in the Democratic Party," McDonald said. "Governor Schweitzer has certainly created a model for that. What I want to do is seize upon the momentum that's been garnered."

McDonald said he wouldn't be running without Baucus' and Schweitzer's blessing, adding: "It's pretty hard to say no to Montana's senior senator and governor."

Schweitzer called McDonald "a true Montana hero and success story" and a national leader on cattle issues. He said McDonald grew up poor on a small farm in the Bitterroot, worked his way through California colleges and saved enough to return home.

"I think he has demonstrated the kind of leadership that will deliver what I believe the Democratic message is," Schweitzer said. "We are the party of small business. We are the party of those aspiring to own their first business."

Baucus is proud to join Schweitzer backing McDonald because "he has demonstrated the kind of commonsense leadership the party needs right now," spokesman Barrett Kaiser said. "He will provide a strong Main Street voice for Democrats representing Montana's No. 1 industry - agriculture."
For the rest (and do read it all, go here.

-- Kevin McCarthy


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