Campaigns Matter

Zac Perry’s win sends a signal to Democrats on how to campaign

By Mike Jopek

Big-data pollsters were right: Election Day was a Republican wave. It mimicked the last midterm elections with some remarkable differences. The Montana delegation in the 114th Congress includes former Whitefish state Sen. Ryan Zinke.

Congressman-elect Zinke can serve Montana well. Having served with Zinke in the past state Legislature, I knew him to be quite moderate on many issues of importance.

In the Legislature, Zinke was instrumental in securing funding for Flathead Valley’s state parks. Zinke previously served with me on a nonprofit organization conserving the state public lands around Whitefish.

Zinke indicated that Congress must govern, to enact a plan for the biggest issues facing the nation. In the Flathead, many expect Congress’ ideological hold placed upon North Fork conservation to magically evaporate.

After being bashed by unfathomable amounts of out-of-state political cash and horrid campaign negativity, Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat was handily re-elected.

Wheat won the Flathead vote, and statewide garnered nearly 60 percent of the vote. Wheat took re-election seriously and campaigned the old-fashioned way. Wheat stuck to the issues, refrained from negativity, and talked directly to voters.

After his win, Wheat said, “What people want is real information; they don’t want all this negativity. The real key was, all of my ads were me, personally talking to people.”

Apparently, voters also appreciated the ideological ranking, which the 100,000-piece Stanford University live research mailer held; portraying Wheat as left of center. When it comes to justice, people simply want a fair shake.

The Wheat victory was a great testament to the power of campaigns over the fundamentals of a national midterm election. That’s super news given that in upcoming years, several more justices will seek re-election.

About 220,000 Montanans chose early voting as their means to cast a ballot. Absentee ballot turnout was traditionally high. But overall, 45 percent of registered voters chose not to vote. That hasn’t happened for over a decade.

Early voting was part of the law enacted during the 2005 Legislature that also gave Montanans the right to register on Election Day. Fifty-seven percent of voters rejected the Republican legislative effort to ban same-day voter registration. That sends a clear message to lawmakers who repeatedly try to make it harder to vote.

By less than a 50-vote margin, Columbia Falls’ voters chose substitute teacher Zac Perry to represent the area. Rep-elect Perry ran an excellent campaign that illustrates the changing political nature of the north valley.

Perry, a substitute high school teacher, unwittingly mimicked the campaign approach of Wheat; he spoke directly to voters and refrained from negativity. Perry took back the legislative seat previously held by Democrat Doug Cordier.

Perry’s win sends a signal to Democrats on how to campaign. The 36-year-old Perry joins Rep. Ed Lieser in the 2015 Montana Legislature.

Lieser handily defeated his Republican opponent with 55 percent of the vote. Lieser, a retired forester, has been instrumental on public lands conservation and can serve Whitefish homeowners well during this cycle’s property tax reappraisal.

Lieser garnered more votes than Zinke in downtown Whitefish and Perry did the same in downtown Columbia Falls. Justice Wheat won both downtowns by over 60 percent. All four candidates ran impressive campaigns for their districts.

Especially in the face of national trends and big money political spending, campaigns matter. Lieser, Perry, Wheat and Zinke can do great things for all Montanans. They have each earned the trust of the Flathead and Montana. Given what I personally know about these public servants, I expect great things to come. Do us proud.

Politics is the art of compromise. Too often we have lost this old-fashioned trait to hyper party politics. It’s time to acknowledge that campaigns matter and real people craft real solutions.