After Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke was appointed to serve as the US Secretary of the Interior earlier this year, a special election was called to fill the seat that he vacated in the House of Representatives. A team of IBEW 1245 Organizing Stewards, comprised of Sandi Busse, Brandon Cardoza, Mark Goodwin, Felicia Lynch, and Steve Marcotte, travelled out to “Big Sky Country” to support the labor-endorsed candidate, Rob Quist, in that special election.
Longtime Organizing Steward Steve Marcotte summed up why this race matters to working people everywhere, not just those in Montana.
“Every vote in Congress is a vote either for or against [working people]. Continued election of Representatives and Senators that don’t support working families will only embolden big business interests and harm us all,” Marcotte explained. “They have a plan — one state at a time. Montana’s first, but eventually the battle will move to California. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
“We the people have to fight for the rights we deserve such as higher wage, safer working conditions and full medical coverage. These are examples of things we are at risk of losing [with anti-union Representatives in Congress],” said new Organizing Steward Felicia Lynch.
The team arrived in Montana during the first week of May, right around the same time that mail-in ballots were sent out. Voting by mail is exceedingly popular in Montana, and the team knew they would need to make contact with voters early in order to drive up support for Quist.
“Montana has all the challenges of a big state with a small population,” noted Marcotte. “Unlike California voters are spread out making personal contact difficult, but like California, fellow Union members are almost always glad to see you and willing to listen.”
“My most positive interaction with a voter was from a man named Dwight Rose, who was responsible for Employee and Membership Development at the local IBEW 233,” Lynch recalled. “During canvassing, I walked up to his home where he was working in the garage. His old pickup truck had the familiar IBEW sticker and I felt slight relief to know I’d be speaking to a person who likely shared the same beliefs as I did. Dwight was excited and surprised to see the Union had sent a team to help support Quist all the way from California. After a good 20 minutes of Dwight talking with Sandi and myself, the rest of the team decided to walk up and join us. Dwight then said the most famous quote of the trip to us. He said ‘Yeah, I have heard of you guys. You’re like ninja warriors the IBEW sends to help us win the election.’”
Rose proceeded to invite the Local 1245 team to his union hall, to speak with a group of apprentices about the importance of organizing, and the impact that Right to Work could have on all union members.
“When speaking with the new hire class, I could immediately sense they really didn’t know how much the union’s involvement was responsible for the benefits their newest positions carried,” said Lynch. “They also didn’t understand just how far back our roots go as a union, and the impact we’ve made for the middle class. In the end, however, they understood what Right to Work was, and the risk it has on us especially as union workers. They were engaged and curious on how they can help locally make an impact on their families and friends and help share awareness.”
“Most of the class seemed very interested and receptive,” Organizing Steward Mark Goodwin. “Dwight stated that a few of them approached him afterwards about getting involved. We made an impact!”
The team worked tirelessly, canvassing, phone-banking and attending rallies in support of Quist. They returned to California before Election Day, but they continued to make calls for Quist remotely, right up until the polls closed.
This election was particularly challenging, given the unique political dynamics on Montana. An unusual physical altercation between Quist’s opponent and a reporter made national news just hours before Election Day, but by that time, as many as 50% of the ballots had already been cast by mail, and ultimately, Quist’s opponent, a billionaire from New Jersey named Greg GIanforte, came out on top.
Despite the fact that the election didn’t end the way they planned, the group still feels good about the work they did on behalf of Quist and Montana’s working families.
“I learned on this experience that teamwork really makes the dream work. Team Montana hit the ground on a mission to influence, inspire and share awareness, and I feel we were very successful in that,” said Lynch, who had never worked on a political campaign before. “I learned that being engaged and open-minded can really change a conversation even when in the beginning you may disagree. I learned that the people really dislike it when you automatically represented a candidate by their party, rather than their beliefs and values. And I learned that if you give people the knowledge needed, change is inevitable.”
Photos by Steve Marcotte