Addressing a left-leaning group Tuesday during a daylong conference that included a number of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock talked about the importance of showing up and doing what you say you’ll do.
“That’s just Montana simple, I guess,” Bullock told the Center for American Progress, which held its Ideas conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and heard speeches from Bullock and other politicians who may be considering a presidential run, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; and Terry MacAuliffe, the Democratic governor of Virginia.
Bullock, who followed Warren’s keynote address and spoke for about 15 minutes, said he was there to talk a little about how he turned back a well-financed opponent, Greg Gianforte, in the November 2016 election, “but more importantly, how do I govern?”
“It’s about showing up,” he said. “As a Democrat in Montana, I don’t have the luxury of spending all day talking only to people who agree with me. At first blush, I spend time in a place where a Democrat is as rare as a tweetless Twitter feed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the early-morning hours,” a state where the term Obamacare “is as popular as root canal.”
Bullock detailed an appearance he made in Choteau during the successful effort in 2015 to expand Medicaid.
“There weren’t a lot of Bullock supporters there for sure,” he said. But people there to visit with the governor “also knew if they lost their community hospital, the community was soon to follow.” Bullock noted that, because of Choteau and other small communities, Montana is the only state since 2014 to push Medicaid expansion through the Legislature.
“It’s profound to have people stop you on the sidewalk and tell you that your actions saved their life," he said.
Bullock took national Democratic Party officials to task for a strategy that helped do in its presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, and put dozens of Republicans in Congress. The strategy — and party expenditures — focused on “finding people who always agree with us so we could drag them to the poll on Election Day. Little attention was paid to places that might be difficult to win.”
“Democrats need to do a better job of showing up and making arguments even in places where people are likely to disagree,” he said. “It’s good for democracy and it’s good for our Democratic Party.”
Ignoring entire states during an election is “silly and it’s actually dangerous,” he said. People on all sides of the political divide want the same things, he said — a safe community, a roof over their heads, good public schools, clean air and water, a decent job, “and the unwavering belief they can build a better future for their kids and their grandkids.”
“Dang near everyone in this room would agree that the campaign finance system is broken,” he said, which is why he worked with legislators in both parties in 2015 to pass what he called “a progressive disclosure law” that requires dark-money groups to “disclose their spending and who is giving the money. Even the Koch brothers stayed out of our election cycle last November.”
Even with a Democrat in the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats “did nothing to fix” the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision removing campaign contribution limits, he said.
“Washington has become a place where talking is often a substitute for doing,” he said, where people talk “not to solve problems but to raise money or get more followers on social media.” He called that “a cynical approach,” but one that’s fixable if Democrats “will stand up for mainstream America” and “fight for the public good.”
“We have to do things, not just talk about them,” Bullock said. “And we have to show up.”