Playing chicken

With Zinke out of the picture, who'll rep Montana? 

Last week, President-elect Donald Trump selected Ryan Zinke, Montana's sole representative in the U.S. House, to be Secretary of the Interior. That's great news for Zinke, who can apply the expertise he acquired during two years in Congress and 22 years as a Navy SEAL to the management of America's public lands. But as is so often the case, what's good for the nation is confusing for Montana.

Assuming Zinke is confirmed, we will have to select a new delegate to the House. State law calls for a special election between 85 and 120 days after the seat is vacated. The same law authorizes the governor to appoint a temporary representative in the meantime, but Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, agrees with Republican Chairman Jeff Essman that that's probably unconstitutional.

"We are headed toward an election, and that is not only the law, but the U.S. Constitution," she told Helena's KXLH. "Even though there's a little bit of variability there with what the state law says, it's not consistent with the U.S. Constitution."

That's the kind of hard-nosed negotiation that has become synonymous with Democratic politics. With their governor in office and state law on their side, the party has agreed with Republicans' interpretation of the Constitution and opted to save us the hassle of a lawsuit. Montana will simply go without representation in the House between Zinke's appointment and the special election.

Such razor-sharp instincts might also explain why many Democrats have suggested running Denise Juneau again. I believe Juneau would make a fine representative. As Montana's superintendent of public instruction, she has experience forging compromises among constituents with competing interests. She is also a woman and an American Indian—two groups that are badly underrepresented in the U.S. House. The only reason I can think of for Democrats not to nominate her is that she lost an election for the same office six weeks ago.

Maybe she only lost because of Zinke's awesome power as a candidate, but Democrats should not test that hypothesis by re-running a candidate who just lost by 16 points. The question of whom to run in her place is not easily answered, but there has to be a better prospect.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN
  • photo by Alex Sakariassen

The Republican field is more fun to consider. Unlike the Democrats, the GOP is short on recently defeated candidates, but possibilities remain. Some have suggested Greg Gianforte, whose unsuccessful bid for governor has given him name recognition and the ready opposition research that goes with it. Art Wittich is also available, since the campaign finance violation that would have removed him from office had he not lost his primary still allows him to seek office in the future.

As much as I would welcome Wittich's return to public life and the lively prose that would come with it, there's a candidate who would serve my interests as a columnist even better. Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who takes credit for coining the term "alt-right" and lives part of the year in Whitefish, told the Huffington Post that he is considering a run for Zinke's seat.

"If I did this, it would not be some eccentric campaign that no one talks about and is a footnote to history," Spencer said. "It would become a major conversation around the country ... just because of my profile in the alt-right. Again, I would only do it to win it."

As a 38-year-old man who "works" at a think tank of his own invention, Spencer would definitely only run for Congress to win, and not just to spend another few months without getting a real job. He wants to do something about the difficulties facing the white man, which he understands firsthand. Spencer strongly identifies as white, despite rumors that his father is a tube of chicken semen that his mother accidentally sat on at the fair.

I encourage him to run—Spencer, not the rooster—so that the voters of Montana can hear his vital message about the importance of being born to the right parents. But even if the Republican Party winds up nominating someone who doesn't support the ideology that lost World War II, it's going to be an interesting spring. If 2016 has taught us anything, it's that we just can't get enough elections.

Just think: A few months from now, Montana might send the first Native American woman to Congress—or the 3,457th husky white man with rich parents. Maybe Wittich will come back and make our politics funny again. The important thing is that the process of campaigning and voting that started last year will go on, a beautiful dream from which we cannot awake, no matter how we might try to scream.

Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture, and the forbidden love between woman and poultry at combatblog.net.

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The original print version of this article was headlined "Playing chicken"

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