FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from







Hope in Red State America:
Lessons from the Big Sky Country (Part 2)

by Joshua Frank
March 19, 2005

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


Billings, Montana -- There is a lot to be said for nowhere. Snow is falling with the glimmer of the Crazy Mountains in the distance. A frigid wind cuts through my thin jacket. I notice that ice is beginning to form on the brim of my hat as I race to my warm car. My body heat has melted the fallen snow, and now the moisture is fast turning to ice. It was warm out earlier in the day and I thought I could get this little hike in before sunset, but this storm -- which will soon turn into a blizzard -- has darkened the Big Sky. Welcome to Montana.

Some things rarely change out here, the unpredictability of the weather being one. There are, however, aspects of life in Montana that the public can help determine. The Red State label that the politicos have given to places like this is not etched in stone. Things can and do change.

Indeed things out here changed a few decades ago, but sadly it wasn’t for the better. Before the rightwing takeover of the state in the late 1970s, Montana was thriving with progressive politics. Take Democratic Senator Lee Metcalf, who had a strong environmental record during his tenure in DC and would likely be considered an eco-terrorist by today’s standards. On the heels of the great Bob Marshall, Metcalf became a relentless wilderness advocate; where he attempted to make Marshall’s vision a reality. He stood up against timber barons, big oil, developers, and rarely backed down from a fight.

Truth is Montana has a long history of voting against the conservative grain, which shows just how ridiculous the Red State/Blue State distinction truly is. Along with voting for Metcalf, Montanans also elected liberal Democrat Mike Mansfield to Congress and the Senate nine consecutive times. Perhaps Sen. Mansfield’s greatest accomplishment came while he was serving as Senate Majority Leader where he engineered the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mansfield, using Senator Hubert Humphrey as his floor manager, quietly rounded up the necessary votes and broke the Southern filibuster, which cleared the way for the passage of the monumental legislation. Although both Mansfield and Metcalf had plenty of flaws, there is little question that when compared to the Democrats of today, they were remarkable.

Of course we can’t talk about progressive politics in Montana without mentioning Janette Rankin, who in 1916 became the first woman ever voted to the US Congress. A social worker by trade, Rankin was a tireless defender of the underclass. She was also one of the first elected officials to speak out against child labor. But her opposition to war led her to her most remarkable accomplishment. Only four days after taking office Rankin voted against US entry into World War I.  She violated Congress protocol by speaking during roll call prior to casting her vote, where she boldly announced, “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war!” 

During the rest of her term in Washington, Rankin fought for many political reforms including civil liberties, women’s suffrage, birth control, child welfare and equal pay among sexes. But Rankin's vote against World War I sealed her political fate. She later was gerrymandered out of her Montana district, ran for a Senate seat, and was overwhelmingly defeated.

This brings us back to the Red State/Blue State dichotomy. With a brief look back at Montana’s progressive political history, it is clear that Red States do not fall within the conservative preconceived boundaries. An electoral map does not do justice to what has actually taken place on the ground politically or historically. The contradictions are not much different in Blue States where right-wingers run rampant and dominate state and local governments. One needs to look no further than Gov. Pataki in New York or Gov. Schwarzenegger out in California. We’d all do well to abandon such divisive and inaccurate Red/Blue labels, and unite behind common causes.  

Even with the recent small victories last November (see Part One in this series) it is not likely that Montana will be hailing its progressive past anytime soon. The right-wing still has a stranglehold in the Big Sky country. But it is important to recognize the few victories, and follow their winning formulas. If things are to change likeminded citizens will have to come together and fight for the issues that matter most to them. Because, unlike the weather, political winds can be directed by we the people.

Joshua Frank, a native of Montana, is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be released in April by Common Courage Press. He can be reached at:

Other Recent Articles by Josh Frank

* A Red State Paradox (Part One): Montana on the Cusp
* Protecting Campaign Coffers, Not Nature: The Trials of Max Baucus
* Diagnosing the Green Party: Narcissism Runs Rampant
* Farewell Hope: The Hogtying of the Deaniacs
* It Just Takes One McVeigh to Ruin Your Day
* The Distortions of Acumen Continued: More Liberal Trashing of Ward Churchill
* The Distortions of Acumen: Liberals Trash Ward Churchill
* Howard Dean’s Been Suckered: The Establishment Corrals the Deaniacs
* Democrats Support Bush’s Iran Policy
* Hope is Not on the Way: The Farce of the DNC Contest
* Privacy Piracy? What Howard Dean May Bring to the DNC
* Voter Fraud as Fundraiser: David Cobb and the Ohio Recount
* How the New York Times Misreports: An Interview with Howard Friel
* Liberalism and Its Bounds
* The Reelection of George W. Bush: A Possible Bright Side?
* Blame Kerry’s Loss on the ABB Crowd: An Interview with Kevin Zeese
* Face the Music: Time to Oppose Our Troops’ Actions
* Democrats Commit Suicide
* The Dems Should be Ashamed: Bush With a TKO
* For Kerry, It’s Not Easy Pretending to be Green
* Shooting From the Hip: Kerry Out-Guns Bush
* The Democrats’ Own Weapons of Mass Deception
* David Cobb, the Greens and the Sinking of the Left
* Interview with Green Party Presidential Candidate David Cobb
* Fear Mongering 101: Progressives Hit the Road for Kerry
* Swing-Along-With-Ralph: Nader in the Battleground States
* Bombs Ahoy: Iraq, From Clinton to Bush
* Too Many Cameras and Not Enough Truth: John Kerry Dodges the Press
* The Green Party Unravels From Within
* The Florida of the Northwest: Oregon Democrats Sabotage Nader...Again
* Partisan Protests: Not All of New York Rises Up

Greens at the Crossroads: Party Fights for its Future
Ralph Nader as David Duke? The ADL Wants You to Think So
Monkeywrench Hope: An Interview with Jeffrey St. Clair
* Why the 2004 Election Pretty Much Sucks
* The Outsider: A Short Interview with Ralph Nader
* The Greens & the Politics of Mendacity, Part II
* Greens Endorse Kerry: The Politics of Mendacity
* Logging is Not Restoration: Forest Battles Escalate in Oregon
* Donkeys Buck Antiwar Support: Unity a Futile Effort
* Kerry to Edwards: “Let's Lose!”
* No Time for Democracy: This is an Emergency!
* The Fall: Beltway Democrats Sink Dean
* My America
* Ralph's Revolt
* Forging Alliances
* The Anybody But Bush Offensive: Don't Back Down
* Homes Destroyed, Death Toll Mounts: Where's Kerry?
* The Lost Sierra Club
* Who Would Jesus Occupy? 10 Reasons to Oppose the US Occupation of Iraq