Big Sky Country Gets a Little Bluer

For any hope in the 2018 midterms, Democrats will have to try something new. They will have to take pages out of the Tea Party handbook, the tactics Republicans used to take the House of Representatives in 2010. They will have to get mad and stay mad. Most of all, however, they ought to look to Democratic candidates who managed to pull off upsets in this past election cycle.

One Democratic victor has a truly fascinating story. Jacob Bachmeier, resident of Havre, Montana, a small city just south of the Canadian border, won the Democratic primary in race to represent the state’s Twenty-Eighth District in the Montana House of Representatives. He defeated retired Montana State University-Northern professor Will Rawn by a mere one hundred votes in the Democratic primary, 54 to 46 percent. Bachmeier went on to defeat the Republican incumbent, Stephanie Hess, by just under three hundred votes, 53–47. A Democrat beating a Republican incumbent in 2016 is a rare sight to behold, but that’s not all.

Bachmeier is only eighteen years old.

The representative-elect spoke with me at the end of December. Bachmeier attributes his victory to a combination of a spirited grassroots campaign, a “strong advertising game,” and an eagerness to show his face “at as many community events as possible.” “Between my team, volunteers, and myself,” Bachmeier wrote over Facebook Messenger, “we knocked on over 19,000 doors in a district with only 4,000 doors … we sent out seven mailers and advertised on the internet, radio, and newspapers.”

Andrew Brekke, chair of the Hill County Republican Central Committee, credits Bachmeier’s “youthful exuberance” as a major factor in the electoral upset. “He’s certainly taking his fight seriously,” Brekke told the Associated Press just after the Democratic primary. “He’s got a lot of signs up, and he’s knocking on doors.”

The then-representative-elect was also buoyed in part by a strong debate performance against the incumbent representative Hess, targeting her support of tax credits for private schools as well as her vote against a resolution (HJ 19) that would have strengthened the state government’s opposition to efforts to claim, take over, or sell federal lands in Montana. Bachmeier, a high school debate champion, took hard stances on every question in his debate against Hess and advises other candidates for office to do the same. “Candidates will have to make stands on really uncomfortable issues,” Bachmeier said. “Candidates need to know where they stand on all the issues, and then actually stand for them. If you feel uncomfortable and you are standing against the grain, you are doing your job as a leader. If things are going smooth and with the flow, then I would question if the candidate is actually being a leader.” “People want to elect leaders,” he added.

When asked about other outcomes of the November election, Bachmeier said he voted neither for President-elect Donald Trump nor Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT). But “I believe in respect for the office [of the President] and the importance of maintaining constant communication with those of the other party. We need to work together for a united country,” he explained. “We will disagree on issues, but what we can come together on only strengthens the country.”

Bachmeier’s campaign is one Democrats running for state legislatures should look to in the coming years. He ran as hard a race as he could, and he was willing to take risks, which ultimately resulted in his victory. As Brekke said of him in June, “he’s not the same old candidate who we see Democrats run in certain areas who don’t put up much of a fight.” Bachmeier did not equivocate on the tough issues, and he worked hard to reach out to every single voter in the district. But above all else, he had a vision that the members of his community connected with.

Is this the last time voters will ever hear of Representative-elect Jacob Bachmeier of Havre, Montana? Maybe not. The Montana legislature has an eight-year consecutive term limit, theoretically putting Bachmeier out of office at twenty-six, just older than the twenty-five-year age requirement to run for the United States House of Representatives. When asked if he would run for higher office, Bachmeier wrote, “If the people [of my district] continue to believe in my vision, I’d be humbled to continue to be their voice. If they wanted me to run for a higher office, I would be happy to.”

The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.

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