MT unions back Buchanan independence over Ronning Democrat

Montana’s largest union and its global federation have announced endorsements in the contest for the state’s Second US House district, where three candidates are challenging Republican incumbent Matt Rosendale in the state’s dark red eastern swath .

Those endorsements went not to Penny Ronning, a former Democratic member of the Billings City Council and former union flight attendant who touts her working-class bona fides, but to Gary Buchanan, a Billings-based wealth manager and an occasional civil servant who presents himself as an independent.

“It absolutely felt like a punch,” Ronning told the Montana Free Press. “Among the candidates, I am the only proven supporter of the unions.”

The Montana Federation of Public Employees announced its endorsement of Buchanan in early August, while that of the AFL-CIO arrived last week. In each case, the unions follow established procedures whereby a political committee interviews the candidates and presents endorsement recommendations to the full membership for approval.

“It absolutely felt like a punch. Among the candidates, I am the only avowed supporter of the unions.

Penny Ronning, candidate for the United States House of Representatives

In western Montana, or the First US House district, unions backed Democratic attorney Monica Tranel rather than Republican Ryan Zinke, a former congressman and US Secretary of the Interior.

The endorsements may be of limited value in the Republican-leaning eastern congressional district, where analysts expect Rosendale, whose campaign treasure eclipses Buchanan and Ronning by an order of magnitudeto waltz in re-election.

Buchanan has about $70,000 on hand, compared to about $11,000 for Ronning, according to the latest campaign finance documents. Rosendale has over a million dollars in his campaign coffers. Libertarian candidate Sam Rankin contributed $20,700 of his own money to his campaign.

But the endorsements are a recommendation from the leadership that some 50,000 union members support a given candidate and allow Buchanan to announce the endorsement – ​​although the two unions, as well as the broader Democratic Party infrastructure, focus their organizing and fundraising efforts on the legislative and judicial state. races and the Western District American House contest between Zinke and Tranel, union leaders said.

Montana MFPE and AFL-CIO officials said Buchanan excelled in his interview, pointing to his long tenure as a public servant, his opposition to right-to-work policies and his general support for labor movement goals. On politics, Ronning got a similar score. But, while both unions denied that perceived eligibility was part of their endorsement criteria, they said their members saw Buchanan as the candidate most likely to unseat Rosendale in November.

“While I am not prepared to say that we have considered eligibility, I am prepared to say that our board sees Gary as a good bet that has a good chance of winning,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis. , a former Democratic lawmaker and public school teacher. .

Buchanan served as the first director of the state Department of Commerce and chaired a number of state boards, including the Montana Board of Investments, Crime Control Board, and Banking Board.

The endorsement, union officials said, also reflects the preferences of a membership base that is more politically diverse than the traditional association between labor and the Democratic Party suggests.

“Although we’re accused of other things, we’re actually blind to the party, and I dream of all the candidates wanting to interview us, wanting our endorsement, and supporting our values,” Curtis said. “Recently, a lot more Democrats have responded [our] questions correctly, which may have caused us to have our reputation as something other than who we are.

Buchanan’s endorsements by the MFPE and AFL-CIO exemplify labor leaders’ walking a tightrope in considering preferences for membership that spans the political spectrum in an environment of limited political resources and one-party connections Democrat who has long counted organized labor as one of his key constituencies but hasn’t had much electoral success recently. The Montana Democratic Party hasn’t sent one of its own to Congress since the 1990s.

“These relationships work both ways,” said Quint Nyman, MFPE staffer and AFL-CIO vice president. “I think it’s high time for the labor movement to stand up for its members and send the message that we’re going to make decisions based on what we believe is best for our members, and that won’t make maybe not happy one or the other part. ”

Buchanan said he emphasized in his interviews his tenure in public service and respect for public employees amid “despicable” attacks on public sector workers from the right. His keynote, however, was his bipartisan past: “As an independent, the only person who can win in the Eastern District, I bragged about my Republican and Democratic governors,” he said.

“I think it’s high time for the labor movement to stand up for its members and send the message that we’re going to make decisions based on what we believe is best for our members, and that won’t make maybe not one or the other happy part. ”

Quint Nyman, MFPE staff member and AFL-CIO State Vice President

Ronning said she understands and respects the unions’ decision, but Buchanan said, who has worked in finance since the 1970s“promotes and is defined by corporate structure, promotion of the wealthy and elite.”

She bristled at the thought that he was more eligible, pointing to the volume of her Support of $200 and under.

“We might as well say that our country is made up entirely of wealthy white people in power,” she said. “That’s not who we are as a country. Montana sent the first woman to Congress.

Regardless, she says, she will continue to work for the votes of individual union members, who are not obligated to follow union recommendations.

“We knew it was going to be popular from the start,” she said.

Union endorsements from non-Democrats are not unprecedented — the MFPE’s predecessor, the Montana Education Association, notably endorsed Republican Gov. Marc Racicot in his 1996 re-election bid — and not uncommon at all in the precincts. state legislatures, but in disputed races between Democrats and Republicans they tend to be less frequent.

The late Eric Feaver, who led the MFPE until his retirement in 2020, argued that the unions are not an appendage of the Democratic Party. He told the MTFP that year that when the MEA endorsed Racicot in 1996, a majority of members approved his governorship, in part because of a veto by Racicot on an anti-union bill. Racicot’s victory over MEA member and Democratic lawmaker Chet Blaylock seemed inescapable. And as Republicans in the state government gained ground, Feaver found it increasingly necessary to woo GOP allies.

Although Buchanan is not running as a Republican, the unions appear to be making a similar calculation here, said Bill Lombardi, a longtime Democratic operative and aide.

“Work makes a bet here. They’re not going to endorse Rosendale of course, but they look at Buchanan and the money and the energy in his race and say, “We’ll try to bet on the winner here,” Lombardi said. “It’s not that he has a lot of ideas about what the job does, being a financial adviser and a market capitalist.”

It’s a risky gamble, however, Lombardi said.

“Gary better win because not only is he driving Rosendale crazy, you’re driving some grassroots Democrats crazy.”

Donor Disclosure: Gary Buchanan and Buchanan Capital have donated financial support to Montana Free Press. The MTFP does not seek the support of active candidates for political office.