As is customary every two years, the first U.S. House and Senate debates coincided with the Montana Newspaper Association’s annual convention. And this year, that convention was held in Butte. On Saturday, June 14, newsmen and women from across the state filed into an auditorium on the Montana Tech University campus. And the general election season began in earnest.
As is often the case in early debates in Montana, a Libertarian candidate was also on stage for each of them. And as is often the case, they delivered the most memorable remarks.
First up, Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Roger Roots, who has a checkered and controversial biography (which you can explore by simply Googling his name) and who acknowledged to the panelists at the debate that he used to be a “right-winger” and a “racist.” But according to Roots, he now teaches race relations at the college level and, at one point, said, “I believe I’m the highest educated person in this auditorium,” citing his multiple degrees.
While the other candidates in the race, Republican Rep. Steve Daines and Democratic Sen. John Walsh, established their opposing views on a multitude of issues, Roots called them one in the same, using his allotted time during the first question to refer to the senator and congressman as members of the “government supremacist party.”
At this point, someone in the audience yelled, “bull—-!” And the cameras continued to roll.
Daines and Walsh did trade barbs with one other and disagreed on a number of issues, ranging from Obamacare to raising the minimum wage. But then Roots would intervene, comparing the two major political parties to the Ku Klux Klan and repeatedly arguing that “releasing the power of capitalism” would solve just about all of the world’s problems.
Some of his were basic, free-market, Libertarian beliefs. He called the minimum wage the “worst idea in the world” and said there is no wage gap between males and females.
Others were more outlandish. He said legalizing “everything” would allow people to go to Walmart during their lunch break to get a kidney transplant for $69.95 and live to be 300 years old.
I understand why Republicans and Democrats often don’t want third-party candidates at debates. After all, Libertarians often chide Republicans as much as Democrats, just as Green Party candidates criticize Democrats as much as Republicans.
Next up was the U.S. House debate. On stage was John Lewis, Democrat, Ryan Zinke, Republican, and perennial Libertarian candidate Mike Fellows, who was far more reserved than his counterpart running for Senate. But Fellows also disrupted the flow of the House debate, which was largely boring and riddled with a series of clichés.
That’s not to say Fellows and Roots should be left out of future debates. Again, it is to say I understand why some candidates would prefer the stage to themselves and the other major party candidate, while others think including a third-party candidate offers certain benefits.
There are certainly going to be more debates in the months to come, and likely a few in the Flathead. In each of those, the candidates will negotiate the format and must agree on who should take part. How that plays out, especially among the U.S. Senate candidates, will be interesting.
As is often the case at debates, in Butte the third-party candidates at once provided answers of substance and some comic relief. The question is whether these candidates, Libertarian or Green or Independent, provide the voters with a viable alternative and articulate viable positions.
During previous elections – like those including former presidential candidate Ross Perot and even former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura – that was the case. That was not the case in Butte.
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