The nasty flyers started showing up in the Rattlesnake about a week before Election Day. An image showed embattled Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as a pea alongside Democratic HD 92 candidate Bryce Bennett under the banner, "Two Peas in a Pod." The text linked liberals in the Montana Legislature to relaxed medical marijuana laws, abortion for minors and sex education in kindergarten. The bottom of the flyer read: "Liberal Bryce Bennett: More in common with San Francisco than Montana."
Why San Francisco? Bennett was aiming to make history as the first openly gay man to serve in Helena, and, at 25, become the youngest current legislator. On Tuesday, he won, beating Republican Don Harbaugh by 129 votes.
In what was already a typically off-putting election season brimming with contempt and cynicism, the local flyer offered just another example of the worst in current campaigning. It wasn't supportive of anything in particular—Harbaugh, it should be noted, wasn't mentioned on nor linked to the flyer—and instead relied on indefensible innuendo as its message.
Thankfully, Bennett's victory served as a reminder that old-fashioned hard work and ingenuity, regardless of party affiliation, usually win out on Election Day. A fifth-generation Montanan who grew up in the tiny town of Hysham, and a recent UM graduate, the precocious Bennett arrives in Helena with a mix of experience and new ideas. He's already worked for two state legislative committees, and lists job creation, education, the environment and anti-discrimination legislation as his top priorities.
Other races provided similar glimpses of positive change. Independent candidate Carl Ibsen won a wide-open race to replace retiring Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin. A 17-year veteran of the department, Ibsen fully understands what he's walking into—a department in full-fledged transition with the expected departure of many administrative officers within the next few months, as well as the exit of the divisive McMeekin. Ibsen's mapped out numerous different plans to improve the department's culture, not the least of which is specifically recruiting more women into a male-dominated force.
Ibsen's political background is also noteworthy. Tuesday's elections will largely be remembered as a Republican uprising against the Obama administration, with the GOP taking control of the U.S. House and both houses of the Montana Legislature (see George Ochenski's column on page 10 for more on this shift). But Ibsen didn't ride that wave of dissatisfaction to victory. Instead, he launched his campaign without any political affiliation, stating the sheriff should have no ties to either party, and work equally for everyone in the county. During yet another divisive election season, that sort of high ground is something we don't see often enough.