• Reilly Neill

Reilly Neill: Continuing to Work to Make a Better Montana

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

As soon as I heard Greg Gianforte was running for Governor, I was the first Democrat to file for the office. I knew a long list of candidates would make a line behind me to stand up to this bully and now, in January, we have a full field in the race. Already, Democratic primary candidates have raised over $1 million to take on the GOP challenger.

$1 million is a lot of money for Democrats to contribute in Montana. Although Mike Cooney raised nearly half a million from our citizens, challenger Whitney Williams needed to seek nearly all of her money from outside of Montana to be a solid contender in the race. Unfortunately, issues and connection to voters don’t seem to be taken into consideration in modern political campaigns. The race all comes down to the money.

Whoever has the most money is the favorite to win, not the candidate who might be best equipped for the job or the best representative of the people or the issues they champion. Changing this dynamic appears nearly impossible in Montana or anywhere else in the country.

Regardless of the dollars each candidate is able to raise, we need to be united and inclusive in the Democratic Party in order to expose the dark money behind the GOP and especially gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte and his lack of integrity and accountability, disbelief in basic science and insincerity of concern for Montana voters.

My filing for Governor may have been a long shot but so far but I’ve worked for months to expose Gianforte to his constituency as a poor representative with questionable motives for seeking office. I've worked hard to elevate the discussion of climate change in Montana.

While I may not be able to “switch” anyone, I’ve found that listening, being invested and being completely straightforward will foster conversations. Open discussion based on facts is a first step and one we should not cease attempting.

When I filed for office, I knew I would be facing many systems aligned against me, including the corporate influence and dark money forces that actually determine the outcome of deliberations in Montana’s State House and Senate. Our state government contains bodies of civil representation intended to be for the people, not corporations, regardless of how much money is spent in our state to influence legislation.

When the fossil fuel industry is spending $500,000 a day during an election season to influence consumers, we need to pull back the curtain on where this money is being spent and how it effects voters and citizens, especially in our political campaigns.

GOP politicians desperately want a “yes” vote from the Governor on some of their more heinous legislation, like sending millions of Montana tax dollars to the Federal government to build a southern border wall, excavating dinosaur bones from Makoshika state park for profit (in violation of the Federal Antiquities Act), or getting their legislative salaries paid in gold bullion.

Bullock and Schweitzer made sure these bills never became law but a GOP Governor would be only too happy to appease the dark forces that helped get them in office. They will care nothing for facts, integrity and will even likely disrespect and disregard our Montana and United States Constitutions.

I faced these same forces in my service in Helena, in my campaigns for State House Representative and in covering issues of public representation in the media for decades.

Standing Up for Montanans' Rights

Since early June, I’ve worked on a campaign in Montana to elevate awareness of climate change and human rights. I’ve crisscrossed the state talking to citizens and voters about this and other issues and have crafted a solid proposal for a Montana 2035 Sustainability Plan to continue addressing climate change in Montana state policy. During this same time, in my professional life as an editor and publisher of the Montana Press Monthly, I’ve spearheaded efforts to support independent journalism about these and many other issues. My primary goal is being inclusive, fair and non-judgmental in order to facilitate discussion, something all political candidates could stand to do more of in 2020.

Montana will be devastated by coming climatic changes, there is no doubt, but the press across the state is largely silent on the issue as is the state Democratic Party. Imagine if we knew the science behind the next major eruption in Yellowstone but we were choosing to ignore it in order to focus on issues of statewide economics or party politics.

Eventually, science cannot be ignored; Montana will be facing the reality of climate change daily and we will be woefully unprepared for the certain crises of our future.

At every event for Democratic candidates I’ve attended in the past months, the first question always asked is about climate change. Still, the Dems focus on rural growth, public lands or healthcare. These are important issues, to be sure, but the core issues affecting everything else right now are climate change and human rights.

There is enough solid science available for Montana press outlets to utilize and report in order to present climate change as irrefutable but a quip from a GOP politician makes it in the news instead, or the president’s unremarkable son paying a visit to our state. We have real issues to face in Montana and we need to be working diligently to educate voters and raise awareness, especially as most of the Montana press is dropping the ball on the issue of global warming and its effects on the state and the region.

The complete lack of press coverage from the very start for my campaign to battle climate change is an example. Last week, a member of a major Montana outlet reached out for an interview with me, finally, after six months of my being in the race. In fact, the AP "story" circulated about me in June 2019 after I filed (a story then republished across the country) contained glaring errors that could have easily been corrected with a quick phone call or a few minutes of research.

No member of the press covered my campaign except an intern from Montana Public Radio who called after I filed and only asked me about fund raising in a two-minute brief. A few months ago, a reporter interviewed me about the other Democratic candidates for governor and then printed complete inaccuracies. This reporter never issued a correction, even when I provided sources for them to check. This last experience confirmed what I had gathered about the press in Montana since launching a statewide publication: they are insular, biased and absolutely unable to consistently expose truth. We can do better.

One of the greatest eye-openers in my campaign was the reality of the male-dominated, science-denying press in our state, most of whom want to uphold a self-congratulatory status quo rather than working to objectively cover all issues equally and fairly. In a dying industry, they would do well to increase diversity in their press rooms and work to give equal coverage to all political candidates and issues. Climate change, backed by the same science reported in other articles, is not a subject for debate or deserving equal representation from "both sides" of the discussion. The discussion over existence or causation is over. It's happening and we are woefully unprepared for the impacts.

While I can only do so much to elevate awareness about climate change and human rights as a candidate for Governor, I can do much more as a woman who is also an editor and publisher of a statewide publication.

My experience running for Governor has been invaluable in recognizing the challenges we face. I've been able to share important information across the state and make connections with citizens and organizations who value the science of climate change and are working to prepare and educate Montanans on the issue.

Issues should be driving our political discourse. Sadly, this is not the case. Money and social status appear to be the deciding factors in the coverage of political campaigns creating a no-win cycle for many individuals qualified and ready to serve. The horse race reporting about campaigns in the state disenfranchises candidates and voters.

Since the press in our state is biased and stretched thin and doesn't give the voter an adequate basis for decision-making, the statewide Democratic party needs to strive even harder to be inclusive and attempt to elevate all kinds of candidates who actually plan to tackle issues of importance and not just the ones with the biggest social networks and fund raising circles. We will need all citizens informed in order to keep our state safe from people like Greg Gianforte who can manipulate so many Montanans who feel unheard and without representation by using a weak press to lie to the populace and tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth.

Local parties need to work harder to represent all incomes and social strata. I won my first election by motivating a base of people often ignored by my local party, the true working class of Montana who still have not received justice for the environmental pollution which has poisoned them in Livingston. I beat the incumbent by hundreds of votes. Conversations with all voters, not just Democrats, are essential.

I see Kim Dudik running a phenomenal race for Attorney General, running twice as hard as her primary opponent. I know she is used to the extra work by now in her career. She and I are not women born into influential families or working with wealthy clients in our professional careers. She has had her shoulder to the wheel of public service for decades and her background is truly more impressive than her opponent’s as far as a connection to state issues, work in the courts, and affiliation with regular citizens. But voters will be more inclined to choose the man with the education, family wealth and political legacy to represent them. Why?

For being the “liberal” party supposedly championing women’s rights, the Democratic party in Montana party often lacks inclusiveness and perpetuates the pervasive discrimination against women and low-income individuals embedded in our Western culture. I'm glad to see Dudik's message being covered by press outlets, even if they are outside of the state, in order to speak to our citizens here.

The time to break free of this discrimination in Montana is now. It’s 2020 and a new day is dawning where we need all people working together to fight corporate tyranny.

The anemic press in our state will not be fair in this election season. Even the so-called “progressive” news outlets in Montana are male-dominated and regularly report with bias and underreport on issues dealing with women, minorities and individuals in lower income brackets. I know because I just ran a race in Montana where no press outlets were interested in interviewing me about policy or background and in fact printed blatant lies. We can do better. Without fair coverage, how can we have fair elections?

Building a Better Montana

We need to build a better Montana where all individuals have the same right to run for public office and serve regardless of gender, race, wealth or affiliation. We need to expand our party, the Democrats, to be inclusive and reach beyond our base to educate and inform. I’m a Dem in Montana and I often feel like I am not welcome in my own party because I work primarily on climate change. How must voters feel? The Democratic leadership in this state would do well to ask.

I attended an event, a festival in a rural area of Montana last summer and, although we were invited as guests, we paid our own way in and looked for the Democrats who invited us. They were separated from every other person at the festival and one could assume from their stance as a small group that they would like to keep it that way. I had come to meet all types of people in the area so I strayed from the insular group who were talking amongst themselves and looking smugly at the rest of the crowd. These were Democrats in a red county and for the life of me I’ll never understand why so many continue to practice this us-against-them personal politics.

I went about the crowd meeting other people and finally sat down to talk for about 20 minutes with a Republican and a Trump supporter. We managed to have a good conversation, find common ground and then, like has happened now all over the state when I reach across party lines, I got their vote based on a shared desire to hold corporations accountable for keeping pesticides and poisons off private land.

We can do better. We can strive for a more balanced party, press and political system. Political campaigns will wear on and continue but slowing the pace of climate change and preparing for impacts in our future are humanity’s greatest tasks in the modern era and how we approach this issue will determine our collective fate as a society.

It is with hope for greater change that I am stepping away from work on this gubernatorial campaign to work instead through the media to educate, inform and report on issues of climate change and human rights.

Our society in Montana has not yet evolved to cover all candidates with fairness and the moneyed primary makes running an independent campaign without any coverage nearly impossible. Although the Democrats across the state have in all cases been largely welcoming and inclusive of my campaign, without any press coverage and without $300,000 from wealthy out-of-state donors, I realize my time and efforts will be more effective returning to my career as a publisher. In this capacity, I will continue to host Climate Change Town Halls and elevate the science of the issue across the state.

I will continue to run a newspaper that works to be inclusive and we will not shy away from tough issues at the risk of losing readers.

Thank you to all who have helped and supported my campaign and who have been working on the issues of climate change and human rights for decades. I urge you to support candidates who do not shy away from discussing climate change.

We will need all hands on deck in 2020 to defeat corporate-sponsored candidates like Gianforte, Rosendale, Scott Sales and Donald Trump and the threat to our well-being on the planet.

I work every day to raise awareness of important issues across the state and I will not stop this work. We will all need to pull together to fight the truly unspeakable evil which is now taking hold across our country as con men, criminals and those who care for nothing but their own gain threaten to overtake us. We must resist, fight back and give support to those who are on the front lines of this engagement but we can do this with compassion, kindness, fairness and equality and we can do this with everyone, not just the voters in our own party.

I believe in Democracy, even if those in our highest offices deny its existence anymore, even if our press in this state has fallen down and is only a shell of the force it may once have been in fighting corporate rule and reporting earnestly on individuals working to make a difference. We must inform the discretion of the populace in order to preserve our Republic and I pledge to keep trying to do my part.

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