When former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot told me this year’s election was the most important of his lifetime, I believed him. Our conversation a few weeks ago was primarily about Montana’s governor race, but his statement was all encompassing: Tester-Rehberg, Obama-Romney, Bullock-Hill. The list goes on. Tuesday night was a big deal in Montana and beyond.
But let me just say this: Now that it’s over, I won’t miss it.
For all its intensity and importance, the election season could be ugly, petty and exasperating. In Montana, campaigns devolved into lawsuits, complaints and endless accusations. When there was an apparent break-in at the commissioner of political practices’ office, I barely batted an eye. It seemed to fit the narrative.
Like never before, Montanans were subjected to big money, outside influence and unpleasant advertising infiltrating our airwaves and homes. I look forward to returning to a life in which scary voices on melodramatic TV ads aren’t constantly warning me of impending doom.
For too many months, those voices have lived in my head and haunted my dreams.
Yet through it all, there were signs that this odd little thing called politics has a shot at salvation. The process is flawed but the reasons still matter.
Over the course of five weeks, I covered 20 races and more than 40 candidates, either by compiling candidate questionnaires or writing stories after conducting interviews. I spoke with people running for seats ranging from local to state to federal. These conversations were important for the obvious reasons of information gathering and networking, both of which are imperative for a political writer.
But they were important for another reason: on many occasions these conversations provided evidence that there are still real people out there running for office with real concerns and a real desire to make their communities a better place. Their voices might have gotten lost in the babble, which is a shame, because they had something worthwhile to say.
In Montana, these folks are farmers and ranchers; law officers and nonprofit managers; retirees and small business owners. They are your neighbors and, just like you, they want the community to be a better place, even if their ideas about how to get there don’t always agree with yours. Many of them, especially at the local citizen Legislature level, were just as angry and bewildered by the mailers flooding our mailboxes.
Whether they won or lost, they’re probably as relieved as I am that it’s all over. Hopefully, if the circus continues in future election cycles, it won’t discourage good people from running from office. But that’s just it: I don’t think it will.
Naturally, some potential candidates may be dissuaded, and I wouldn’t blame them, but in the end there will always be Montanans willing to stand the abuse for a chance to uphold an idea – the idea that politics are an instrument of change and, most fundamentally, they are human. They aren’t just angry postcards and 30-second television ads. They’re made up of real people with real concerns. They aren’t even that scary.
Montana is a final frontier of human politics, a place where a politician answers my phone call when he’s doing yard work and voters bump into their senator at the grocery store. I hope we don’t lose track of that.
Whatever was taken from us this election cycle – like the sliver of humanity the scary television voices took from me – may not be gone forever. The postcards and TV ads will never give it back, but maybe your next senator will. Give him a call and ask him. He’ll pick up the phone.
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