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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.

------------v------------

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 08/07/2018

Print Headline: A message to Democrats

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  • RBear
    August 7, 2018 at 6:45 a.m.

    Bullock was a great speaker with a strong message for Democrats. As you said John, the work Bullock has done in Montana is more about smart government helping close the gaps needed for coverage and helping people become productive. AR's is more about being punitive and quite frankly, is a lazy approach to meeting the needs. Republicans seem to be more about looking over at people and telling them they're screwed rather than walking over and helping them avoid being screwed.
    ...
    Republicans keep talking about having able bodied Arkansans prove they work or are seeking work, rather than reaching out to help them find work to maintain coverage. I was thinking about that on the drive in to work today and what I see from Republicans is a system designed to further oppress Arkansans who are not deemed redeemable and force them out of the system. There's no wonder these people resort to criminal activity when that's all they see as an option.
    ...
    Bullock gave Arkansas Democrats a good message to follow that probably will resonate across the country. Bullock rolls up his sleeves and works with the people instead of running around agitating the people. Our state's economic condition needs more than agitation. It needs innovation and leadership and someone who will roll up their sleeves to work with everyone. I don't see that in the Republican Party of Arkansas.

  • BoudinMan
    August 7, 2018 at 7:17 a.m.

    Bullock seems to possess a quality that is rarely seen anymore in repug legislators and leaders. That is, a genuine desire to help people achieve and succeed.

  • PopMom
    August 7, 2018 at 8:16 a.m.

    This column reinforces the buzz that I am hearing from a couple of DC insiders about Bullock. I wish that he currently was an option for betting on PredictIt. I suspect that his name will come up eventually. Iowa and New Hampshire should be loads of fun in 2020.

  • GeneralMac
    August 7, 2018 at 8:55 a.m.

    Bullock's biggest task, if he runs, is trying to keep the "crazies" of the Democrat party from controlling him.

    You have to please the far left if you want the donations $$$$$$$$$$$ to keep flowing in to finance your campaign.
    Moderate Democrats have learned that lesson in the past.

  • GeneralMac
    August 7, 2018 at 9:13 a.m.

    Really surprised to read RBear stating...."Bullock gave Arkansas Democrats a good message to follow"

    I never thought RBear would support a moderate Democrat after his rant about lack of numbers of "LGBT,LGBT,LGBT" at the Arkansas State Democrat convention.

    YOU, RBear, are the kind that Bullock has to control ( the crazies of the liberal left ) if he wants to win a nation wide race.

  • Johnbrummett
    August 7, 2018 at 9:53 a.m.

    Who said Bullock was moderate? Pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage. Anti-Trump tax cut. He just believes in trying to engage more broadly in the interest of solutions those with whom he specifically disagrees.

  • mozarky2
    August 7, 2018 at 9:53 a.m.

    And those crazies are impossible to control.
    "Progs" need to realize that the overwhelming majority of Arkansans support Republicans. A small minority of Arkansans support dims.

  • RBear
    August 7, 2018 at 10:06 a.m.

    Agree John. Fake might note that the majority of the country supports same-sex marriage. The majority of the country believes abortion should be legal. Bullock seems to align with the majority of the country.

  • GeneralMac
    August 7, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

    John Brummett.........yes, Bullock is considered a " moderate" in even Montana as Montana has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1996.

    If he was a "crazie" like Bernie Sanders, I doubt he would have won the governorship in Montana.

  • GeneralMac
    August 7, 2018 at 10:17 a.m.

    By the way, John Brummett.................why don't you someday write a column pointing out what issues your candidate ( Clarke Tucker) differs from Nancy Pelosi.

    I'll bet I could count them all on my raised middle finger.

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