President Donald Trump’s campaign swing through Missoula this week isn’t generating much excitement on the University of Montana campus.
In fact, many students say they’ll make their voices heard on the general election ballot – not at Trump’s rally or at a counter-rally.
Taylor Wood, a freshman at UM, will vote for the first time on Nov. 6. He appreciates Trump’s effort to visit Missoula, the president’s unprecedented third trip to Montana this campaign season.
The beneficiary of Trump’s rallies is Republican senatorial candidate Matt Rosendale, who is attempting to spoil incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s bid for re-election.
“Just being able to reach out to the people you’re representing and are a part of is always good,” Wood said of the president’s planned Thursday night visit.
“Whether they like you or not, you’re still making an effort to be there and show your face to them,” he said, alluding to Missoula’s liberal leanings and 2016 support for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Wood hopes the outcome of the election will protect hunters and their Second Amendment rights. He’s hunted elk and deer with his father since he was 12 years old.
“A big thing for me is hunting districts and hunting privileges and keeping that hunting culture alive,” he said in an interview on campus this week.
While Wood doesn’t plan to attend the rally or protests, he said that he needs to do more research before voting, and will be eager to see what the president says about Rosendale. Campaign ads on TV aren’t always believable, he said.
Wood won’t have trouble finding a campus group interested in providing him with voter information.
In an interview with Missoula Current, MontPIRG field director Hunter Losing said the student vote is important in every election, as younger voters make up about 20 percent of the Missoula County’s population.
However, not every young person turns out to vote.
“It goes back to young people representing about 20 percent of the population of our county, and unfortunately they often don’t vote at that rate. If they did, they would often be the deciding factor in most elections,” Losing said. “It’s just really important that they’re making their voices heard since they’re the folks who are going to live with the consequences of the different issues that pass and who’s in charge for years to come.”
MontPIRG is a non-partisan organization, but does provide education and support for initiatives that benefit students.
Environmental sustainability and college affordability are two issues that students really focus on, Losing said. Students today pay about twice as much in tuition and other expenses than their parents did.
Ballot measures like the 6-mill levy, which supports Montana public colleges and universities, and the LR-129 anti-ballot collection measure are big topics that need student input, Losing said.
LR-129 could make it harder for students to vote, Losing said, stating that without the ability of MontPIRG or other organizations to collect ballots, many students might not vote.
“It’s just really important that we maintain every available venue to let people vote,” he said. “If we make it harder to vote, less people will vote,” he said. “We do know that every year, lots and lots of students give us their ballots to turn in because they don’t have stamps, they don’t have a vehicle to get to the elections office, or they just don’t have time.
“So it’s really important that we maintain all these opportunities for folks to get their ballots submitted.”
A week before the election, MontPIRG will be tabling in the University Center, collecting ballots and helping students with late registration.
On Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m., the group will host a candidate forum with UM College Republicans, UM College Democrats, ASUM and the University of Montana Lambda Alliance. at the University Center in Room 326.
Nicolas Ream, president and chair of UM College Republicans, plans to attend Thursday night’s rally. Regardless of your political views, seeing the president in person is important, he said, and attending the rally can help shape your opinions about candidates and initiatives on the ballot.
“I think it’s good that he’s visiting. It gives the opportunity for more people to see him in person, which I think is a good thing to be able to see the person running the country,” Ream said. “I think whether you support his policies or not, it’s nice to be able to see the president of the United States.”
Ream agrees that public lands should stay in federal control and adds that support for veterans and backing for the Second Amendment are issues he cares about.
“I have spoken with both Rosendale and Gianforte and I believe that they have a large support public lands and support people going onto public lands. They’re both big on hunting, fishing and all of that,” he said.
Supporting or rejecting policies in order to protect the state’s economy is vital, Ream said.
Ream plans to vote against I-186 on the ballot, which denies permits for new hard rock mines that don’t take precautions to prevent the pollution of water without treatment.
“Right now in Montana, we have some of the most advanced and sophisticated mining regulations currently in the nation, so I think it’s unnecessary to take that out further,” Ream said.
To Rio Aagaard-Shively, a senior at UM studying political science, Missoula is an odd place for Trump to visit, with the president only getting about 36 percent of the vote in Missoula County during his 2016 run for the Oval Office.
“It makes sense to me why he would want to come back. I understand that he has taken a special interest in Jon Tester’s re-election campaign as a result of the kerfuffle around his now-withdrawn VA pick, Ronny Jackson,” Aagaard-Shively said.
Aagaard-Shively thinks there are better things he can do with his time than protest. But, having been involved with student groups like Forward Montana in the past, Trump’s visit might push him to knock on doors again the day of the rally.
“What [Trump’s visit] will finally do is encourage me to get out and knock some doors for Jon Tester,” he said. “Right now, I’m more focused on the degree, which is why it’s a little personally frustrating that I feel compelled now to jump back in.”
Medicaid expansion and public lands are a few issues he cares about. He doesn’t have full faith in the federal government’s ability to help those who need health care at the state level and is nervous about the transfer of public lands from the federal level to the state.
“I hit on health care because I have a lot of anxiety about what could currently be done to help folks, from the federal level on down,” Aagaard-Shively said. “I worry you can’t count on federal programs, federal support or even institutional support for a lot of things that folks take for granted, such as, gosh, the right to seek an abortion.”
If public lands are transferred from federal control to state control, Aagaard-Shively is worried that selling those lands would require less restrictions, resulting in private corporation buying them up.
“Sale is the foremost thing on my mind. I worry that transfer to states is just one step in transfer to private individuals and private corporations,” he said. “We take for granted having huge open spaces and just wild spaces. It’s something I take for granted and it’s something I’m used to and something that part of me expects to be there.”
Ron Brunell, an alumni of the university and former director of UM Housing, said that Trump’s visit won’t sway his vote at all for Rosendale or GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte.
As a senior citizen, Brunell cares about health care and the future of Social Security. Neither Rosendale nor Gianforte have a good understanding of health care, he said.
“I think they’re also both, I don’t want to say privileged, but they both have through I’m sure their own hard work, become very wealthy, and I think they have forgotten about those who haven’t had or do not have the type of resources they do,” Brunell said. “And they’re there to represent us, not to further their personal agenda.”
Public lands is another issue he cares about, and feels like opposing sides can come to a consensus and find ways to responsibly extract coal and petroleum in Montana. Those industries will phase out over time, Brunell said, but thinking about the consequences is essential.
Civil discourse is vital to achieving compromise, Burnell said, and former U.S. senators Mike Mansfield of Montana and Everett Dirksen of Illinois were a great example of this when they served in the 1960s and 1970s.
“They were miles apart in terms of their philosophies. But they were able to sit down and work through issues in a non-contentious way, and finally end up with some compromise that worked for most people,” he said.
Brunell thinks that current politics have driven to more division among parties, and the way in which Trump endorses or opposes candidates reminds Brunell of a bully.
“The division is just ridiculous,” he said. “I think it leads to some social problems in our country. You’re either good or bad, and it’s not that we disagree.”