• Reilly Neill

Vote Your Conscience in 2020

As I prepare to vote by mail in Montana in the June primary election in the state, I consider the candidates down the ballot and the endorsements I would like to share with my fellow citizens.

In my unique capacity as the publisher of a state-wide arts and culture magazine who also recently ran for the statewide office of Governor, I make any endorsements in a personal capacity, based on personal experience serving in the Montana Legislature in 2013 and running for office in 2019 and 2020

Voting is a Cherished Right - Use it!

In our democracy, the vote still has tremendous power. A person's choice of leadership and/or representation is their choice alone and a sacred right developed by the founding fathers to craft a new form of self-governance.

This power to vote for our representatives is under attack across the country, as mail-in ballots are being suppressed in the time of a great health crisis hitting states beyond Montana hard. Here, we're lucky to have a robust absentee ballot system secured by decades of smart and solid legislation.

This year's elections, both in June in Montana and in November around the country, will certainly be marked with the drama of a nation suffering the worst death rate in the world from the COVID-19 pandemic.

So many lives have been lost and still more are projected to be lost. Continuing a campaign under such somber circumstances must be a challenge for all candidates in 2020.

When face-to-face contact became unsafe, every candidate had to make quick and often difficult adjustments to reach voters. Those who continued campaigns to connect with Montana communities have done so now with great effort. I can appreciate the constraints so many campaigns must have faced.

When I stepped away from the Governor's race in early January, I sensed a great change coming. Watching the early, movie-like videos of the tragedy unfolding then in Wuhan, I hoped the epidemic would be contained. The more I learned, the more I feared that under the current Federal administration of "Less Government," we would be woefully unprepared for what was to come.

The shift in focus to invest more time and energy in my work became essential to the survival of my business. Like so many small businesses have seen across the state, revenues shrank and regular practices became obsolete.

Through the economic experience I've had being a business owner during this crisis, I've seen how little such business owners can expect from Washington. My votes this year will be no-nonsense. I need to see public health prioritized and plans for economic recovery that include doubling down on local and sustainable systems.

My votes this year will directly reflect a response to the COVID-19 disaster, all the way up the ticket. I wish we could see a coordinated effort across the state to build a stronger public health information network but so far no candidates have been vocal about this issue. The sooner they speak to this, the better. We need to be sharing the most up-to-the-minute health information with the public in a time where the CDC is revealing their guidance is being repressed and politicized.

I'm voting for candidates who offer straightforward leadership, scientific curiosity and an ability to work with others during this time. While choices for candidates are intended to be private if one chooses, I'm choosing to share some of my top picks and reasoning.

The easiest vote on the June ticket for me is for Kim Dudik for Attorney General. Dudik has served four sessions in the Montana State House and in that time, she stood up tirelessly for her constituency without bias or partisanship. She has the experience of practicing law in the state and also interacting constantly with citizens and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. As a fellow Representative, I found her to be the best example of a lawmaker, a person imbued with the determination and integrity of a true public servant.

Kathleen Williams also displayed the same single-minded purpose as a legislator to get the work of the people done in a fair and timely manner. Williams would represent the interests of Montanans well in Washington as our congresswoman. Through her focus on policy, she makes wise and educated decisions to protect public lands and waterways for the hunters and anglers who represent a broad swath of Montana residents. We need this authentic voice protecting our rights at the Federal level.

Top leadership at the state level should reflect a continuity of the practices which have fostered the successful work of Governor Bullock and the legislative bodies. Having served in a dysfunctional legislative session where the seeds of cooperation and efficiency were apparent but not yet rooted, I know such bi-partisan continuity is essential to curbing government waste of resources and time.

While I continue to waver on my primary election choice for Governor, I know I want to elect someone who understands how much compromise and understanding must come first in leading such a politically divided system in Montana.

While Whitney Williams appears to be a good personal politician with an ability to connect with voters, I have concerns about her ability to authentically represent the broad range of Montana's citizens. Smart Democrats in Montana know our sometimes-deep Red state voters can be harsh, and we know what a picture of Hillary Clinton will do to a candidate's chances for high office here. People are still mad at Clinton in Montana for some reason, whether real or imagined, and Montana Republicans know how to buy votes using dollars loaded with fear and rage. Williams' association with Clinton will be a real liability in the general election.

Although I know Mike Cooney has been a successful statesman for decades, I would like to see more leadership roles for him in the coming months as we face an unprecedented health and economic crisis in the state. He has a platform for showcasing his ability and we should see him in action. Seeing more from him, even in the coming weeks, could solidify my decision to support his campaign.

As they say in Democratic caucuses, one should vote their conscience or their constituency and this mantra rings true for me for in this Governor's race. We must retain the power of veto; this is essential for Democrats. My conscience knows that Greg Gianforte must not be allowed to seize power for himself and his special interests through the Governor's office.

If current Attorney General Tim Fox somehow defeats Gianforte, a man run by Donald Trump, Fox may at least be hesitant to gold stamp extremist legislation for the first few years. If Trump's choice of Gianforte takes the primary, we will see a political nightmare of lies, disinformation, rejection of science and law - everything we've seen at a national level, up to likely using illegal operations to secure a win. This must be prevented at all costs.

A vote in the primary for the candidate for Governor's race should be for the person who can best defeat this potential threat to our state. The same rings true for the U.S. Senate race.

The leading Democrats in this race, John Mues and Governor Steve Bullock, both have endless merit. Bullock's run for president elevated his stature and visibility. Even my father in Memphis, Tennessee got a fund-raising letter from him last week and plans to send money. Bullock will have plenty of capital to face-off with another Trump pick: multi-millionaire Sen. Steve Daines.

Sen. Daines has thrown Montana a few bones during his first term but overall, he's supported the dismantling of our Federal democratic system in Washington along with an administration that's faced one investigation after another since being installed. Daines must be voted out of office to stop this trend of corruption.

Mues has worked hard traveling across the state to meet every possible constituent. The dedication he's had in getting to know the people he seeks to represent is truly admirable. Mues is an accomplished person, authentic and relatable and even in the light of Bullock's announcement to run for the seat at the eleventh hour has shown remarkable decorum. He would make a fine Senator.

Bullock is a Montana treasure. He's fought for the things so many Democrats hold dear while retaining the ability to compromise. His desire to be popular has worked in our state's favor as we are a population of mixed political beliefs, economic levels and ideologies. Bullock seems to at least fairly consider all perspectives going forward, much like our current Senator Jon Tester. These are great qualities for a U.S. Senator from Montana, a state of many extremes and opposites with the community ethics of a small town.

This vote will have to be another one of conscience or constituency - what any of us may believe is the best course forward for our own communities and the state.

While the roster of candidates contains dozens of notable representatives, Daniel Carlino and Tom Woods stand out as candidates for the Public Service Commission in two areas of the state. Both are committed to holding Northwestern Energy accountable for producing and distributing energy in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible. Both candidates are well-educated about the science and statistics of climate change, a threat looming even larger than the novel coronavirus.

In our state and local elections, I plan to take the time to reach out to my community's current and potential representatives, to seek out their stories and connect with each candidate to gain their perspective as to why they want to serve.

We face many challenges in the coming months as, like the rest of the world, we battle a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes. The leadership choices we make in the next months are weighted with a future of unknown health and economic risks. This June 2, the decisions we make on our Montana ballots could potentially make the difference between a Trump-controlled extractive state run for profit and a state and populace equally in recovery from a life-changing health and economic crisis.

Whomever you vote for, please do vote. Send in your mail-in ballots as soon as they show up in the post. For more information on registering to vote or helping others do the same, contact

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