TRAHANT REPORTS— Denise Juneau had the perfect answer. At a debate in Great Falls each of the congressional candidates were asked, what would you do to protect the rights of gay, bisexual and transgender individuals?
“Number one, get elected,” she said.
That’s right on so many levels. This country cannot be the country it wants to be, the one that it says it is, or the one that’s changing fast, without including more voices who are as diverse as the country.
Montana figured this out a century ago. Sort of. As Juneau pointed out Montana elected the first woman ever to Congress, Jeanette Rankin in 1906 as a Republican (who was on and off the state’s ballots through 1940. A pacifist, she was the only vote against both World War I and World War II. She was courageous to the end, campaigning late in life against the Vietnam War.)
And, no state has ever elected a Native American woman to Congress. “With me at the table, in Congress, the discourse changes,” Juneau said. “We make sure that everybody’s looked out for.”
Rankin won office before women had the right to vote. And, perhaps, that’s important to think about in a country where the demographics are rapidly changing faster than the Congress which remains 80 percent male and nearly 80 percent White in the House (and even more than that in the Senate).
Juneau, of course, is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and grew up on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. She also happens to be gay. And, as said in the debate, these are voices that are too often missing from our national conversations.
But then there’s Juneau’s answer ringing true: “Number one, get elected.”
Juneau’s fundraising and polling remain on track.
She raised more than $875,000 between July 1 and September 30 and her total has exceeded $2 million. That’s more than any other Democrat who has ever run for Congress from Montana.
That money shows that Juneau is competitive against an incumbent, always an uphill climb. A recent poll by Harstad Strategic Research of 403 likely Montana voters, showed that Juneau narrowed the gap between herself and Rep. Ryan Zinke to just 3 points (42-45), well within the margin of error of 4.9 percent. The Libertarian candidate drew 3 percent of the vote, with 9 percent of voters still undecided in this race. A Republican commissioned poll shows Zinke ahead by 11 point, 49 percent to Juneau’s 38 percent (with a margin of error of 5 percentage points).
What this tells me: This election will be about who can get their voters to the polls.
This should be especially daunting for Zinke because he has to convince disillusioned Trump supporters to turn out and then split the ticket, while at the same time, holding on to the folks who still like Trump. (Gary Johnson and the Libertarians could have been a factor, until, well Johnson failed the test of being presidential.)
Juneau needs strong turn out from the urban areas and from every Native community across the state.
You have to be tough to run for office in Montana because elections are often that close. Juneau won her last race earning 235,397 votes, a winning margin of four-tenths of one percent in a pool of 468,563 ballots.
Remember: “Number one, get elected.” Then the discourse can change for the better.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.