Gazette opinion: An open letter to Montana's Democrats

2014-08-15T06:00:00Z 2014-08-16T21:22:10Z Gazette opinion: An open letter to Montana's Democrats The Billings Gazette
August 15, 2014 6:00 am

Dear Democrats of Montana:

We’ve all endured our own little embarrassment on the national political stage as lame-duck Sen. John Walsh was hobbled by his own plagiarism, unable to lead a competitive race against Rep. Steve Daines.

Walsh did about the only thing he could — back out and at least not waste money on the losing effort.

While Walsh resigned alone and clearly committed the academic fraud on his own, the Democrats as a party bear much responsibility for this mess.

Noticeably silent now, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was so insistent that he pick the next senator his way that it appeared he may not have fully vetted Walsh, a dark-horse political player in the state. While it’s hard to say that Bullock should have dug deeply into Walsh’s academic history, studying his paper required for his master’s degree, it demonstrated the danger of appointing such an unknown candidate. Furthermore, Bullock has been in politics long enough to know not only that Walsh would have been a formidable challenger in Daines, but also that Walsh’s entire background would be placed under intense scrutiny.

The Democrats should also do some deep soul-searching within the party. How much have they done to promote the next generation of political leaders? With all due respect to Pat and Carol Williams, John Bohlinger and Brian Schweitzer, these are the Democrats of yesterday.

Granted, it may seem like we’re saying two conflicting things — don’t appoint has-beens and don’t appoint unknowns. But really the problem goes back to before Max Baucus became Beijing-bound.

The Democrats have not developed the next generation of up-and-comers in the party well enough. If the Democrats want to stay competitive, they must be more prepared for the big races when the time comes. What is the party doing to groom its next leaders? To support them? To make sure they’re ready to run a race, even if it is against a more formidable candidate like Daines?

For now, the party will be left to scramble for a candidate and pray for a miracle. Not to mention funding — that will have to begin now, too.

Looking forward, we hope that Democrats do a top-notch job vetting candidates. If the race is going to be competitive, it has to be a race focused on the issues, not on the questions of the candidates’ pasts. The party needs to have a better screening process.

Voters deserve a competitive race. That can’t happen when candidates don’t have at least some political experience, and when their past becomes a liability. Moreover, if voters aren’t given viable choices, then no one is served well.

Politicians are made better when they have to run competitive races. They become more attune to the will of the voters, and listen to more voices than just their bases of support. Voters win when the race is competitive.

Right now, the race is not competitive in the Senate. We only know one thing: John Walsh will not be our next senator.

We hope the Democrats find a rising star who can move us beyond talk of plagiarism and military reprimands and into a discussion of the issues that matter most.

In the midst of all this distraction and spectacle, how many other issues have we missed an opportunity to talk about?

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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