By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
Leaders of the Montana Democratic Party joined supporters of Hillary Clinton in Missoula on Thursday night to open the campaign’s fourth Montana field office and gear up for the approaching June primaries.
The evening brought state Democratic leaders together, including Carol Williams and Rep. Diane Sands, and local party leaders including Missoula Mayor John Engen and Missoula County Commissioner Stacy Rye.
With the television news in attendance and roughly 50 people on hand, Engen recalled the day he introduced then-Sen. Barack Obama to the region during a campaign stop at the University of Montana.
The mayor now supports Clinton, saying she’s most qualified to serve as the next U.S. president.
“She’s a brilliant public servant with the kind of experience our country needs, particularly given the nature of the rhetoric at the national level,” Engen said. “She believes that not just the rich, not just the white, not just the male deserve good lives. She believes we’re all first-class citizens, and that’s the kind of president I would support.”
Carol Williams, the first woman to serve as majority leader in the state Legislature and now the Montana Democratic Party’s matriarch, has known Clinton for 30 years. Their friendship dates back to the mid-1980s when Clinton opened the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a group of women from the former Soviet Union.
It was controversial at the time, Williams said, but it proved Clinton’s passion for world affairs and creating opportunities for women in leadership positions.
“I knew that when she came to Washington, D.C., as First Lady, that she’d be an amazing First Lady,” Williams said. “I trust her judgment. In this day and age, with real problems in the world – the problems of terror and economic justice – these are things (Clinton) has worked on her entire life.”
As the crowed mingled, Williams stepped aside to elaborate on her support of Clinton, saying the former secretary of state has taken difficult positions over the years and stood her ground, despite the ensuing attacks of critics.
Williams believes Clinton is prepared to serve as president from Day One, and may be the brightest president to take office since Thomas Jefferson.
“She has such passion and belief, but it hasn’t always been easy,” Williams said. “She’s taken hard stands and persevered in a way I think a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do. I have such admiration for her not only as a human being, but also as a public servant.”
Two weeks ago, it was the Republican Party that appeared to be at odds with itself, though the attention has now shifted to a perceived rift the Democratic Party. Clinton’s rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont – who made two campaign stops in Montana this month and opened his Missoula office last week – has accused Democratic Party insiders of rigging the election.
Williams disagreed and believes the party will come together, especially with GOP front runner Donald Trump as the only other option.
“Criticizing the mechanisms of the party are unfair,” Williams said. “These are things the party has had in place for decades. The issues on how to select delegates to conventions – how to do it at the local, state and national level – these have all been out there.”
Williams believes the political process may be new to many Sanders’ supporters. Given the option that waits with Trump, she believes Democrats will unite if and when Clinton wins the party’s nomination.
“I’m very sure that after the primary elections are over and she’s clearly the winner, Senator Sanders will come forward and support her,” Williams said. “He’s said many times he doesn’t want Donald Trump to be president.”
Williams recalled the 2008 Democratic primary when Clinton won nine of the last 12 primaries. While she’d won the popular vote, it was Obama who won the delegates. Clinton eventually stepped aside and placed her support behind Obama.
“When the writing was on the wall and the delegates were selected, (Clinton) came forward and nominated Obama and worked hard to rally the troops,” Williams said. “We have to be understanding of the Sanders people. But the party will come together.”
Angela Goetschel believes Clinton has the most experience to get the job done. She doesn’t plan to vote for anyone else.
“I’m voting for (Clinton) because she’s the only one who’s qualified,” said Goetschel. “She’s not running a smear campaign because she doesn’t need to. It’s (Clinton) or nothing for me. I will never vote for Sanders and I’ll never vote for Trump.”