The Great Gubernatorial Junk Show

O/B's Ill-Fated Foray into Political Journalism

by Fletcher Keyes

With Montana’s gubernatorial primary fast approaching, your friendly editors at Outside Bozeman decided to publish a report on all the candidates. We figured we could sift through all the smear campaigns, political propaganda, and other BS, and provide a tidy list of facts: who the candidates are, where they stand on outdoor issues, and how the election might affect us. We’d give our readers a balanced portrayal of each candidate so they could make informed, educated decisions. We’d also give our own assessment of the candidates and interview the one we liked best from each party. Pretty straightforward and simple, right?

From the start, due to a shocking dearth of campaign websites, search engine hits, Facebook pages, and other forms of online presence, we could only find contact information for ten of the 14 candidates. Out of those ten, six replied: Rick Hill (R), Ken Miller (R), Jim O’Hara (R), Ron Vandevender (Lib.), Steve Bullock (D) and, hesitantly, Larry Jent (D). Our initial request was a summary of their stances on outdoor recreation, job creation vs. resource protection, tourism, wildlife, open land, and conservation. Out of those candidates, all followed through with the task except for the Democrats, Steve Bullock and Larry Jent.

As we told all the hopefuls, Bozeman has a population of around 40,000 and is, per capita, the most educated region in Montana with a 97% high-school graduation rate and 51% bachelor’s degree rate. Outside Bozeman distributes to a 100-mile radius and is the voice of the southwest Montana outdoor community. Enticing information, one would think, to political candidates wishing to win over an important sector of Montana voters.

Regardless, the Democrats remained mute. We kept after Jent, a fellow Bozemanite we’d met back in December. He seemed well-meaning, a tad goofy, lacking the poise of the typical politician but making up for it in sincerity, and possessing an off-the-wall sense of humor that becomes more appealing as time goes on. These attributes, which would surely earn him a date on, did not aid his ability to respond to emails or phone messages. Like a kindergarten teacher calling a troublesome child’s parent, we contacted Jent’s campaign manager and voiced our complaints. Jent soon called back and we emailed over the list of questions. 

In the meantime, Republicans Hill, Miller, and O’Hara got back to us with their answers, in addition to the sole libertarian, Ron Vandevender. Prepared statements such as “I am very nature oriented,” and “I think we need to develop resources as well as preserve the beauty of our great state,” pervaded their responses, but the task before us was to sift through the excremental political verbiage in order to identify at least a morsel of the fabled “authenticity.” But sift we did, and we came up with a pretty good assessment of each candidate.

It takes guts to admit to an outdoors magazine that you support the privatization of all public land, and for that, Ron Vandevender (Lib.) earns a gold star for honesty. Sure, private-sector control may result in better management and cost effectiveness, but not paying an admission fee to participate in the activities we love is half the reason we live in a state with 27,378,247 acres of public land. Sorry Ron, no endorsement for you.


With a background in renewable energy and statements such as, “I am a big proponent of renewable energy,” Jim O’Hara (R) came out of the gate strong. Unfortunately, a quick fact-checking session revealed that O’Hara’s response was a copy-paste job directly from his campaign site. O’Hara seems like a fine Republican, but his submission of a prepared response lost him the O/B endorsement. Sorry Jim. 

Rather than claim outdoorsmanship, Rick Hill (R) confessed that he and his wife are “Harley enthusiasts, and enjoy taking in the great outdoors from the seats of our bikes.” He pointed out that Montana is ranked 7thin the nation in per-capita visitor spending, and that we can increase our state’s economic potential by ensuring access, and protecting activities like hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and camping. Hill is hot on the campaign trail, meeting with residents across Montana and listening to their concerns and ideas. His goal is to “ensure that Montana makes the decisions on how best to maximize all that we have to offer, rather than allowing outside interests or the federal government to make those determinations.” While this statement is reasonable, his overall lack of specificity was too much to ignore. Hill brought interesting points and a refreshing sincerity to the table, but anybody can talk generalities; a good leader needs a plan. With regret, we withhold our endorsement.


Ken Miller allowed his creativity to flow with a short story about shooting a whitetail buck at dawn. The man is a hunter—which we like—and describes outdoor recreation in Montana as, “our heritage, our sustenance, and such a magnificent blessing. It’s the very heart and soul of being a Montanan.” We’re a soulful lot here at O/B, and Miller’s sweet-talking earned him some points. He then talked about the lack of proper management of our public lands, as many of our forests are diseased and overgrown. He explained that he would work for better management of these lands to create jobs, protect our clean water and air, and provide habitat for wildlife. Miller was also honest enough to admit what most of the candidates weren’t: that he wants to develop the natural resources our state is blessed with. The image of Butte’s crater-scarred landscape and toxic Berkeley Pit crashed into our subconscious… but Miller wasn’t finished. Our resources can be developed in a clean and responsible manner, he claimed (he didn’t explain how), and that “a diversity of education and job opportunities for our children in resource development is important, and should be explored and developed so they, too, can afford to stay in Montana.”

As the inevitability of resource development closes in on all sides, Miller raises valid points. “A clean environment depends on a vibrant economy, and the new technologies of today afford us great opportunities to develop our resources,” he explained. Given that Montana’s resources have been plundered since the 1800s—and how, realistically, the plundering will continue—education and job opportunities in that sector may indeed strengthen our economy and allow for native Montanans, not emotionally detached scientists educated in the cubicles of MIT, to provide the expertise and conscience when developing resources in our great state. Mr. Miller, you make us a little nervous, but you have our support.

As a reward for winning the O/B endorsement, we contacted Miller for an interview. Here’s your chance to tell your story to 50,000 outdoor enthusiasts, we told him. Through a string of emails and voice messages we were able to set up a day to conduct the interview. Unfortunately, an extended game of phone tag went cold the day before the interview. We never heard from Miller again.

Back to the Democrats: Still no answers from Bullock. As for Jent, days ticked off the calendar, but the promised response never arrived. Again, numerous phone messages and emails went out; again, nothing. We considered tattling to his campaign manager again, but he finally called us back. He apologized for being remiss and said, “I’ll call you in the morning and we can set up an interview for this weekend.”


Unsurprisingly, the call never came, and on March 8, Jent pulled out of the race, leaving Steve Bullock as the lone Democrat. Rumors of Jent’s role as a puppet candidate—a staged opposition used to help raise money in the primaries—have echoed throughout the political community; but according to Jent, the real reason he dropped out of the race was due to a late start and Bullock’s early fundraising. Which still does not explain either candidate’s failure to answer our simple and short list of questions.


So, instead of a comprehensive rundown on all the candidates for governor of Montana, instead we have a few observations and insights. Namely, that dealing with politicians is an exhausting, convoluted fiasco where basic communication becomes an unsurpassable hurdle. It’s clear that for many candidates, telling constituents what they really think is less important than plastering signs all over town, running expensive commercials, and tearing down their opponents.

Let this all serve as a reminder of why we enjoy nature and the many activities that come with it: the outdoors offer escape from the circuitous games and hidden agendas of the human theater, which finds its most absurd manifestation in politics. Nature, though red in tooth and claw, is at least honest—and a return to nature is a return to what is essential and true in the human spirit. But it’s the often-unhappy marriage between politics and the natural environment that we all must tend to by voting and making our opinions heard.

The 2012 Montana gubernatorial primary takes place June 5, and the election will be held November 12. Be sure to get out and vote—but first, do some research and figure out exactly who, and what, you’re voting for. Talk to people, ask questions, and wade through the BS—just don’t expect anyone to call or email you back.


As a postscript, it should be noted that our conclusions on the candidates were based solely on their individual responses and our personal experiences with them. As the race unfolds—and, presumably, deteriorates into a scene resembling gladiators in an arena—remember that information is the weapon of choice. In the case of Ken Miller, it seems his campaign has been accused of “misreporting funds, accepting campaign donations over the statutory contribution limits, accepting anonymous donations, and failing to disclose certain campaign expenditures.” (It doesn’t help that these accusations were made by Miller’s former finance director.) We’d also like to add that the Democrats have beefed up their numbers from one candidate to two: the latecomer’s name is Heather Margolis, and she means business—though apparently not enough to provide voters with a legitimate campaign site. For more info on the candidates, go to

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