E-mail Story   Print Story
  Comments (4) Total Friday Apr. 18, 2014
Open Primaries Draw Unorthodox Candidates
Democrat Dane Clark campaigns at Tea Party
Dane Clark, Democratic candidate for House District 8, center, talk with voters at Tea Party rally on April 15 at Depot Park in Kalispell. - Photo courtesy of James R. Conner at flatheadmemo.com
There was little unusual in Dane Clark’s appearance at the Tea Party rally in Kalispell April 15. The 34-year-old candidate for House District 8 joined other conservative legislative hopefuls present, shaking hands and meeting as many voters as he could. He wore a gun on his hip and distributed literature supporting the congressional primary campaign of Mark French, a laboratory biologist from near Plains running to the right of incumbent Republican Denny Rehberg.

But unlike the other candidates at the Tea Party, Clark is running as a Democrat. It’s a relatively recent switch for Clark, whose name, as of this writing, still appears on the website of the Flathead County Republicans as their precinct 19 committeeman. In 2008, Clark briefly challenged Bruce Tutvedt in the Republican primary for Senate District 3 before stepping out of the race.

Though to say Clark currently considers himself a Democrat or Republican would be inaccurate.

“Right now, where I’m coming from, I don’t see any party lines, period,” Clark said in an interview last week. “Both parties are responsible for the mess that our country is in.”

“I don’t think running as a third party will have any point,” he added. “With that being said, I chose just to take the other side.”

Montana’s election laws allow open primaries, where voters do not need to declare party affiliation in order to vote. Anyone can walk into the ballot booth and vote in Democratic or Republican primary contests. For the candidates, while Democrats, Republicans and third parties in Montana have platforms that align with national parties, there is no hard and fast “litmus test” of beliefs preventing someone from running with just about any party affiliation they choose.

Nor do most state parties and county central committees support primary candidates, instead waiting until a winner emerges before providing funds and other resources. All of which generally results in a robust field of candidates, deeply diverse in experience and philosophy. But this system also produces the occasional quixotic candidate whose beliefs seem at odds with those of their political party.

The best recent example of this would be Bob Kelleher, who previously ran as a Democratic and Green Party candidate, winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate to challenge incumbent Democrat Max Baucus in 2008. Kelleher’s liberal views on handgun control, support for the United Nations and desire to switch the U.S. to a parliamentary form of government did not win him much support among Republicans. How he received enough votes to win the nomination remains a source of speculation among political observers to this day.

Though her views are considerably closer to the Republican platform than Kelleher, A.J. Otjen, a business professor at MSU-Billings who is also challenging Rehberg for the U.S. House GOP nomination, might find her fair share of disagreements with fellow Republicans as well. She has said she supports a woman’s right to have an abortion and been quoted as disagreeing with her opponents’ calls to lower taxes.

At the legislative level, Kalispell’s House District 8, encompassing densely populated downtown, is a perpetual swing district. Newcomer Cheryl Steenson, a Democrat, won the seat in 2008 from incumbent Republican Craig Witte by a mere 14 votes, 2029 to 2015. With the House split 50-50 in the 2009 Legislature and Steenson deciding not to run for reelection, H.D. 8 will again be one of the toughest and most important legislative contests in Montana.

Bill Jones, who formerly represented Bigfork’s H.D. 9, is running for H.D. 8 as an Independent. Carl Glimm and Steve Lavin face off in a Republican primary, while Bryan Schutt faces Clark in a Democratic primary.

Clark said he registered as a candidate late in the filing period, and seeing three Republicans and one Democrat listed, decided, “I’ll give (Schutt) a little company.” (One Republican H.D. 8 candidate has since withdrawn.)

Clark agrees with some of the Flathead Democratic Party platform, like its position on economic development, gun ownership and opposition to provisions of the federal Patriot Act. But he is anti-abortion and feels “very skeptical” of the overhaul of the U.S. health care system recently passed by Democrats through Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, also a Democrat.

As for Obama, Clark doesn’t see him as any different than the Bushes or Clintons.

“He’s totally controlled by (former national security adviser Zbigniew) Brzezinski, by the (former Secretary of State Henry) Kissinger-types,” Clark said.

“They’re working toward the same goal and that seems to be instituting international regulations,” Clark said. “Sovereignty is an important issue that needs to be talked about.”

Clark was born in Polson and lives north of Kalispell. He formerly worked as a technician in a nanotechnology lab at U.C. Berkeley in California, and currently works as a carpenter and laborer. He saw his activity within the local Republican Party as a way to understand how government functions, something he said he is still learning.

On his campaign website, Clark’s take on being a legislator is straightforward: “I love Natural Law from which the constitution’s foundation was built upon,” he writes. “All legislation should pass one simple test, is it constitutional?”

Asked whether his name on the primary ballot could potentially confuse some Democratic voters, Clark doesn’t see a conflict.

“It’s the same thing as Mark French running as a Republican when he’s more constitutionally-minded,” Clark said. “The only conflict is people not having a chance to sit down and talk to me.”

Scott Wheeler, chairman of the Flathead Democrats and a candidate for House District 6, said he does not believe many conservative primary voters will cross over to the Democratic contests on the ballot because they will likely wish to vote in Republican primaries for both H.D. 8 and the county commission. Voters can only vote in one party’s primaries.

“I’m not worried because we have contested primaries for county commissioner that will keep Republicans home,” Wheeler said. “In both cases, you can cross over, but you’ve got to cross over for the whole party.”

“It isn’t as dire as it would be if you had one of those totally open primaries,” he added.

He plans to have Schutt and Clark speak to Flathead Democrats at an upcoming meeting, where he will ask each candidate whether, should they lose, they will support the winning Democrat.

“And I think that’s the litmus of a Democrat,” Wheeler said. “I have faith in the voters and I also think it’s up to Brian to get his positions out there and it’s up to Dane to do the same.”
On 04-29-10, Billy commented....
KN; You are trying to divide. You phonies are wearing out the #########, rascist, and spitter words and it doesn’t mean anything except you are a divider and desperate instigator. I think Mr.Clark said we was erasing the distinction between the culpable Democrat and Republican FU’s that have been inserted…
Kellyn Brown
Kellyn Brown7h
"If we made decisions on permits this way in MT, our economy would grind to a halt" @GovernorBullock on #KeystoneXL delay
Dillon Tabish
Dillon Tabish5h
Montana leaders sound off on Keystone XL delay http://t.co/H1Z6oRtfis #mtnews #mtpol
Molly Priddy
Molly Priddy5h
@natashavc @TaraAriano @allyzay Oh no, I've been thinking it's a room for all your types of mustards. Recalibrating my ideas now.
Tristan Scott
Tristan Scott16 Apr
Your Survival Guide To Coachella http://t.co/hlyov5FZjv via @IamJessicaLima http://t.co/0b5csXZiN8
Flathead Beacon
FB Headlines6h
Baucus Casts Wide Shadow Over Montana Senate Race http://t.co/KATSG942LL