Democratic challenger is blunt about abortion and housing issues in Montana - TAI News
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Monica Tranel, left, speaks to community members at the Memorial Day parade in Corvallis, Montana on May 27, 2024. (Credit: Richard Manning)

Monica Tranel arrives in the center of what she ought to regard as hostile territory. The last time she was at this very event, the Memorial Day parade in Corvallis, a village in Montana’s Ravalli County, was two years ago, when she first ran for Congress. She was spat upon then, literally. The parade route then offered her a mostly unbroken gantlet of scowls, epithets, and stubbornly folded arms when she reached out to shake a hand.

Ravalli County is deeply conservative and has long been a hotbed of right-wingers of every stripe, from garden-variety MAGA to survivalists, Mormon polygamists, gun fanatics, Birchers, tea partiers and white supremacists. Tranel does not really need to be here to win her race against the incumbent Republican in the 1st Congressional District, Rep. Ryan Zinke, who beat her in 2022 by three points. Democrats can win in Western Montana by running up the score in more populous and liberal bastions like the adjacent Missoula County and in Gallatin and Flathead counties.

Nonetheless, on returning to the scene of her abuse in Corvallis, Tranel, who is a lawyer and a gold medalist Olympic rower, sizes up the situation in the parking lot where the parade is forming, then reaches for an indispensable tool of retail politics.

“Where’s the duct tape?” she says. Her husband, Greg Lind, a former Democratic state legislator and anesthesiologist, hands her a roll, and together they set to binding banners —- an American flag, an Olympic flag —- to the float Ravalli County Democrats have put together for her. There is more to this than her choice of adhesives.

A few minutes later, Tranel plunged into the parade with a wide grin, glad-handing, crisscrossing the street, back and forth into the crowd. She was an inconspicuous dot in a crowd that appeared to include all of Corvallis’s population of 1,125 and then some, an asterisk in a line of Boy Scouts, Harleys, Army surplus half-tracks, workhorses, VFW and DAV members saluting, rodeo teens, tricornes, puttees, campaign hats and souped-up pickup trucks, all streaming against the backdrop of the snow-capped Bitterroot Mountains.

Monica Tranel, left, at the Memorial Day parade in Corvallis, Montana on May 27, 2024. (Credit: Richard Manning)
Monica Tranel, left, at the Memorial Day parade in Corvallis, Montana on May 27, 2024. (Credit: Richard Manning)

“Got to shake every hand,” Tranel said in an interview at the parade’s end. She found a radically changed atmosphere from the exact same event only two years before. No spitting. Few scowls. No epithets. 

“There wasn’t as much raw anger toward me,” she said. “I had people saying, ‘Oh Monica’ and shaking my hand. That was really different than two years ago.”

Tranel said she made a point of shaking every woman’s hand along the way. She believes that the abortion issue is looming much larger on people’s minds this year. She said that two years ago, no one in Montana paid much attention to it simply because abortion remained legal in Montana. It still is, but she says extremism on the issue nationally and attacks on abortion rights by the state’s ruling Republicans have now made it an issue this year. If a petition drive succeeds, it will be on the ballot in November.

She is forthrightly in favor of abortion rights and is blunt in her language about the issue, a habit she says she learned in conversations with young women.

“Women on college campuses, they want to talk about abortion. They want to hear the word. They don’t want to hear ‘reproductive rights.’ They want to hear the word,” Tranel said.

What has changed overtly in two years is that every voter she speaks with now has a clear and identifiable top-line issue, which is the state’s housing crisis. Tranel said people were aware of the issue two years ago, but only vaguely and in the context of homelessness. What has happened since is voters have figured out the housing crisis has percolated into virtually every aspect of life in Montana: Schools can’t recruit teachers, hospitals can’t hire nurses, contractors and restaurants face a labor shortage and property taxes have ballooned, all because the demand for houses outstrips supply.

“This year, people say it’s happening to us. The sheriff in Kalispell said to me his deputies live in campers. It’s here. It’s now. It’s in our community. It feels more visceral and raw and real,” she said.

The problem has come to a head mostly during a period of Republican rule in Montana.

“This time, I feel like I am walking into an environment where people are saying, This isn’t going in the right direction,” Tranel said. “People understand that the Republican Party has something to do with that.”

So she showed up at a parade that booed her two years before.

“I am trying to show that being a Democrat in rural Montana is something you can be proud of,” she said.

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