Bozeman businessman and environmental activist Steve Kelly may be running for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean he’s not disgusted at the influence that corporate money exerts on both of Montana’s major political parties, as well as on most of its media Institutions.
“Montana has always been a state where external forces dictate who represents us,” says Kelly. “At some point, we have to take our government back from these vested interests.”
With a war chest of just $17,000, Kelly has run a campaign that’s so low-profile as to be off many people’s radar screen entirely. In stark contrast to Max Baucus, Montana’s other Democratic candidate for national office, who’s been raising and spending money like it’s going out of style (a cool 6.3 million dollars at last count), Kelly has received no soft money whatsoever for his campaign. Nor does he want any.
“Soft money comes from the top down” he says. “It doesn’t originate in Montana, and it doesn’t reflect the views or interests of ordinary Montanans, who are the people I want to represent.”
If Kelly’s views sound like a page torn from a Ralph Nader speech, it should come as no surprise to learn that he participated in the Montana Green Party’s founding convention in 2001, and helped draft its platform. Why, then, would Kelly choose to run as a Democrat? His answer seems more pragmatic than principled: “The Greens don’t have their act together yet,” he says frankly. Moreover, Kelly asserts that his views are classically progressive, and match up closely with those articulated in the Montana Democratic Party’s platform.
So if the Dems’ platform isn’t the problem, what is? According to Kelly, it’s the fact that Democrats at the national level have succumbed to the temptation to chase big money, and have sold the party’s soul in the process.
“If money is being channeled from large corporations that have a stake in policymaking decisions, to other large corporations that own the media, and if a politician becomes caught up in that, then who does the politician work for?” he asks not-so-rhetorically.
Whether Kelly’s independent-mindedness and status as a maverick will play well enough to get him elected in the face of Republican incumbent Dennis Rehberg’s million-dollar plus campaign budget remains to be seen.
But one certainty is that Kelly’s refusal to play the game of politics-as-usual is steadfast. “I don’t play golf,” he says with a chuckle, “and if I’m elected, I won’t learn.”