Appealing to ‘Real’ Montanans

By Kellyn Brown

Former Constitution Party presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin moved to Montana a few months ago and has vowed to mold the state into what he thinks it should look like. The potential 2012 gubernatorial candidate also has an opinion about those who lived here before him.

“There are a lot of people that were born in Montana but are not Montanans,” Baldwin said recently at the Kalispell rally. “And there are a lot of people, like me, who were not born in Montana but we have been Montanans our whole lives.”

I’ve only lived in the state 10 years, but apparently that has nothing to do with how “real” my residency is. The majority of my staff was born and raised here, but that doesn’t matter either. The litmus test for becoming a “real Montanan,” according to Baldwin, is determined by whether you agree with him.

Baldwin’s argument for limited government and preserving liberties has broad appeal and, frankly, during this time of rising deficits, it should. But if he is sincere about his plan to run for governor of Montana, perhaps he should take a different tact than alienating a healthy chunk of the electorate.

During his recent speech, he pointed out the “church problem” and said, “some of our biggest enemies call themselves Christians.” Enemies of what? Your way of thinking? You would think that the area’s other religious leaders would be offended by Baldwin’s suggestion of an internal holy war. A pastor raised me, and I’m certain my father would take offense at the implication.

A good portion of Baldwin’s allure can be attributed to the endorsement he received from Texas Rep. Ron Paul during the 2008 presidential campaign. When Paul was running on the Republican ticket he enjoyed small but enthusiastic support in Montana. But Paul’s campaign was based on his policies rather than rhetoric: He opposed the Iraq war, rampant government expansion, spending increases and he had the votes to back up each of us those positions. Paul finished second in Montana’s GOP caucus and said his support in the state was the best he had received anywhere.

For Baldwin to tap similar energy, should he seek to succeed Gov. Brian Schweitzer, he should spend more time explaining specific job-creating provisions that he would propose and less on who he perceives as worthy, or “real,” Montanans.

For the pastor to be a contender on the state level, he will have to make inroads outside of Northwest Montana – in places like Helena and Missoula, which include large populations of both moderate Republicans and Democrats. Should Baldwin overlook those communities, he will lose badly, either as a third-party candidate or in the already crowded GOP primary field.

Baldwin could learn from Republican Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who after assuming office there told a crowd at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church that he did not consider non-Christians his “brother” or “sister.” Several members of Bentley’s own party criticized him for the comment, for which he eventually apologized. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck replayed Bentley’s comments for his radio audience and said, “Governor, you are sadly mistaken about your Christianity.”

Though Baldwin intends to bridge any differences between Christians and non-Christians, (so long as they agree with him, of course), it is the nature of a democracy that such exclusionary language is rarely heard from real leaders. Most learn quickly that not everyone sees the world exactly like they do and emphasize commonalities rather than differences.

Many Montanans would likely agree with Baldwin’s overarching, though quite vague, view that liberties and freedoms should be preserved. But it’s hard to take him seriously when, in the same breath, he berates those who exercise their freedom to disagree with his views.

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