Steve Bullock, the Democratic governor of Montana, lounged in a roomy chair on the mezzanine of Little Rock's Capital Hotel.
He was trying to cool down from his ill-advised 4 p.m. jog in the Arkansas heat and humidity. The standard shower didn't seem to have had the usual effect.
He'd shed his suit coat and it had slithered from the chair-back to the floor. A man walking by retrieved it and handed it to him.
This was moments before Bullock would walk across the street to address the Clinton Dinner of the Arkansas Democratic Party. He would do so as something of a rising national Democratic star, potentially a presidential candidate in 2020.
Fifteen minutes are insufficient to conclude that any person is the right Democratic presidential hopeful for 2020. I needed another 15 minutes, at least. But the pre-Clinton Dinner reception was beckoning.
Bullock rose, put the suit coat back on and wondered how an Arkansas audience would react to a sweating guest speaker.
Empathetically, I'd wager.
Bullock's calling card is that, in 2016, as Donald Trump was carrying Montana by 21 points, he won re-election by four points, 50-46, over a lavishly funded Republican. His message is that Democrats miss the point if they are aghast that 20 to 25 percent of Montana voters who chose him also chose Trump. The point, he says, is that Democrats need a national message to reach voters in the way he managed at the state level.
He says "showing up" is a lot of it. If he wanted only to talk to people who agreed with him on everything, he'd run out of conversational opportunities pretty quickly in Montana, he says.
Bullock likes to tell of venturing to a small conservative Montana town that the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity had saturated with telephone calls against the Medicaid expansion that he was trying to push through a state legislature that was two-thirds Republican. He told his audience that 40 percent of people in the area lacked health insurance. He said a small town in an expansive state needed its local hospital, and that Medicaid expansion would deliver newly paying customers to it.
He's not saying he won over the crowd. He's saying he showed up. And he is delighted that the Republican legislature ended up approving Medicaid expansion.
It's a story much like that of Medicaid expansion in Arkansas, except for a basic and telling difference that essentially separates a Democrat like Bullock from a Republican like Asa Hutchinson.
To get Republican legislators to go along with the Obamacare element of Medicaid expansion, Bullock agreed to a work-related element. But it's hardly like Hutchinson's, which requires Medicaid recipients to take or look for work--or get to a computer to click a few icons and report as much--or lose their health coverage.
In Montana, the Labor Department gets in touch with Medicaid expansion enrollees to offer guidance on work opportunities, work-training programs and apprenticeships, the latter a major theme for Bullock as the new chairman of the National Governors Association.
"It's not punitive; it's about cooperation and opportunity," Bullock told me, explaining that, in Montana, about 80 percent of Medicaid recipients have jobs already.
The contrast is vivid: An Arkansas Republican wants to take health insurance from a poor person for not clicking a mouse. This Montana Democrat supports reaching out to Medicaid recipients to help them get jobs or move up to better ones.
Bullock talks of sensible gun laws that would start to make us safer: universal background checks, a registry of domestic batterers and red-flag laws to alert law enforcement to potential shooters. He had a guest column in USA Today advocating those points from the perspective of one whose 11-year-old nephew was shot and killed on a school ground.
Bullock told me that a national Democratic emphasis on the two coasts and the party's base might be enough to produce victory. "But it won't be enough to govern," he said.
He didn't go on to say the following, but I do: Governing is not about going to towns only to celebrate your ego, hear yourself rant, rally exclusively with rabid supporters and fuel the audience's anger against media that decline to take your dictation.
That's what Trump was doing in Ohio on Saturday evening while Bullock was in Arkansas talking about showing up amid the skeptics to advance serious policy.
Obligatorily, I asked Bullock if he is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obligatorily, he said it is too early and that his message from Montana needed to be spread regardless of whether he runs.
He's going to New Hampshire later this month, probably for more reasons than a dryer jog.
A postscript: My wife, Shalah, whose name often is misspelled, points out that Jana Beard is the choreographer of the Gridiron. It's not Jane, as I wrote Sunday. Very sorry.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 08/07/2018
Print Headline: A message to Democrats