How do we want to handle his replacement?
Max Baucus assumed the position of US Senator from Montana on December 15th 1978. For 35 years he has been making decisions that affect the lives of not only people from Montana, not only people from the United States, but people from around the world. The Senator has made many friends, to be clear on this issue he has grown quite influential during his tenure. But he made just as many enemies with his votes. For progressives in Montana, his tenure has been, as they say, a mixed bag.
Now he is leaving the Senate.
Phone lines were buzzing in Montana on the days Max announced his decision to retire. The basic message from person to person was “we have the chance to elect someone more progressive with a vision for a more just society.”
It’s the buzz that left me wondering. When I first arrived in Montana back in November of last year, the state seemed to share a whispered agreement: We were to follow a hands-off approach when it came to dealing with Senator Baucus.
As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Baucus has seen us enter his office multiple times to address a number of campaigns. Each time we were told by many of our allies as well as a number of funders to be careful with him. “You can go after him as long as he doesn’t see your fingerprints.” It seems that having a powerful moderate is better for our issues than risking who might take his place. So when the Senator voted against the more progressive senate budget this year, we stayed quiet. When he didn’t help put the a single payer provision into the Affordable Care Act in 2009, we let it slide. When he voted against the Dream Act in 2010 we just shook our heads.
In our country today, elected officials need to choose whose interests they serve: the people or special corporate interests. It is our job to remind them to stand with the people no matter to which party they belong. Max created a situation where many good progressive activists have been afraid to stand up to him regardless of how he voted on an issue in the end.
Someone who did stand up to him was Molly Moody– the previous Director of the Montana Organizing Project. When she did, she was told she would no longer be welcome in his office. Progressives need to stand strong together and let all elected officials know that there is a political cost for voting wrong. Then we have to make sure we live up to it.
The opportunity that the State of Montana is to elect a strong progressive candidate who is held accountable for the votes they cast. No matter how they cast them.