Three potential Democratic candidates to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont ., spoke at the Hill County Democrats annual fundraiser Friday, although only one spoke as an actual candidate.
Dirk Adams, who ranches north of Livingston in Park County outside the town of Wilsall, has announced his attention to run for Baucus’ seat.
Baucus, who started his career in the Senate in 1978 after previously serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Montana Legislature, announced in March he would not run for re-election.
Also speaking at the Pasma-Peck Dinner Friday were Lt. Gov. John Walsh and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, both of whom have said they are considering a run for the Senate seat. Neither announced Friday that they would run.
Walsh focused on the work he and Gov. Steve Bullock have done in their first year in office, and the need to elect Democrats to the Legislature to support their agenda.
But Bohlinger talked directly about the U.S. Senate seat, saying it is crucial for Democrats to retain the seat, especially with expectations that freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Daines will run on the Republican ticket.
Bohlinger cited Daines voting for a Republican-backed measure in the House to cut food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“Congressman Daines voted to support that,” Bohlinger said. “That’s taking the food out of mouths of needy people. We cannot let that person win a Senate seat here in Montana.”
Bohlinger said people may wonder why he, a 12-year Republican state legislator, is looking at running for the Senate as a Democrat. He said Havre Democrat Ray Peck suggesting to Brian Schweitzer — and Schweitzer taking his suggestion — picking Bohlinger as lieutenant governor on a bipartisan ticket was because he always supported a progressive agenda while in the Legislature. That included sponsoring bills to prohibit students from bringing weapons to school, to making it a felony to lead people into a job as a prostitute and strengthening human rights laws regarding sexual orientation.
“I don’t think people make a choice about that,” he added. “We are who we are as God created us.”
But, he said, the Republican party has been invaded with Libertarians and tea party members.
“There is no room for a moderate in today’s Republican party,” Bohlingers said. “Those moderates have either become independents or Democrats.
“I chose to become a Democrat,” he added to applause from the audience.
He said several issues pertinent to the Hi-Line need to be pushed in the Senate, including funding the rehabilitation of the St. Mary Diversion that supplies much of the water in the Milk River each year — a project for which he co-chaired the working group as lieutenant governor.
Bohlinger said another is expanding the operation of the Port of Wild Horse north of Canada to increase economic opportunity, and strengthening the work of Montana State University-Northern, which he said is giving direction to the nation with its work on biofuels.
“I know how important to this region is the college we call Northern, now MSU-Northern,” he said.
Adams talked of his history, as a third-generation Democrat on both sides of the family, of being raised by parents who both were teachers and as a teacher himself, as well as an attorney and in the banking industry.
He said his mother was a founder and the first executive director of Southeast Texas Planned Parenthood — “That was back when Texas was sane” — and that he chose to join a teachers union when working in a right-to-work state.
“But the most important thing I have done is I decided early I was going to be a rancher,” he said.
Without an inheritance and without any land, he started his ranch near Wilsall, Adams said, with 160 acres and three head of cattle.
“It’s not polite to say how many you have now, but it’s a whole lot,” he said.
He said probably the most important issue for him as a candidate is a desire to make the federal government efficient and effective.
“Because when the federal government is sloppy and inefficient it creates the kind of openings the tea party has seized, and the result is they feel emboldened enough to now talk about attacking Medicare Medicaid and Social Security,” Adams said. “They feel emboldened enough to attack nutrition programs. We simply can’t have that. …
“We need to think about what we can do to make the federal government more effective and create less of an opportunity for the tea party,” he said.