A state district judge on Tuesday ruled the Montana Green Party off the Big Sky State’s November ballot, saying that 80 signatures needed for the party to win a place on the ballot should not have been counted.
A political sideshow? Nope.
Montana is pivotal in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans are seeking every advantage they can get to beat two-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in a state that President Trump carried by 20 points in the 2016 election.
There have been repeated signs that Republicans want the Green Party on the ballot, to drain votes from the Democrats.
Two of the Greens’ signature gatherers turned out to be employees of Advanced Micro Targeting, a Republican consulting firm from Nevada. One Timothy Adams filed as a Green candidate for the U.S. Senate. He was paid by the Montana State Republican Central Committee from 2013 to 2015.
“The effort to put them (Greens) on the ballot was funded with dark money,” Kevin Hamilton, the attorney with Seattle’s Perkins Coie law firm who argued the Democrats’ case.
Montana Democratic Chair Nancy Keenan decried what she called “the tactics of out-of-state dark money groups that are blatantly trying to interfere in Montana democracy.”
But Steve Kelly, another would-be Green Senate candidate, told Montana Public Radio: “It’s an attack on democracy itself.”
Montana’s Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, a Republican, said late Wednesday that the decision excluding the Greens would be appealed.
Sen. Tester is a colorful, crew-cut farmer from Montana’s Chouteau County. He barely upset GOP Sen. Conrad Burns in 2006, thanks to late votes from Silver Bow County (Butte), and has been in Republicans’ crosshairs ever since.
President Trump flew into Great Falls last week to boost Republican challenger Matt Rosendale. He delivered a speech that criticized a dying Sen. John McCain, used the “Pocohantas” epithet on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, denigrated the #metoo movement, and lampooned former President George W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” volunteerism program.
He also tore into Tester, who revealed reports of alcohol abuse that scuttled the nomination of Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson to head the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
The Green Party of Montana faced a requirement of getting 5,000 valid voter signatures, with representation from 34 of the state’s 100 legislative districts.
Green Party candidates have helped enable the last two Republican presidencies.
Ralph Nader took 3 million votes in 2000, siphoning off support from Vice President Al Gore and forcing Gore to spend resources in states like Washington and Oregon instead of pivotal Ohio. Nader has vociferously denied being George W. Bush’s ringer.
In 2016, the Green Party’s Jill Stein centered her fire on Hillary Clinton, along with the campaign’s fellow travelers such as Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.
Washington’s “top two” primary system precludes multi-candidate general election races in November. In Montana, however, Libertarians siphon votes from the Republicans, while the Green Party stood as a threat to Sen. Tester.
(SeattlePI.com blogger/columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at email@example.com)