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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Voter Voices From Montana Counties Where Trump Won Big

Drummond resident Maretta McGowan voted for Donald Trump because he's a businessman
Courtesy Zachariah Bryan
Drummond resident Maretta McGowan voted for Donald Trump because he's a businessman

Nationwide there was great surprise at the result of the presidential election, but in Montana Republican candidates for the White House are widely expected to win the state. And that happened. Donald Trump got just over 56 percent of the vote here, to Hillary Clinton's 36 percent.

Trump won some Montana counties by even wider margins, and we're sending reporters to some of the places he did best to ask voters why his appeal was so strong and what their expectations are now that he's the President-elect.

Nora Saks visited Granite and Ravalli counties last weekend. Trump won about 67 percent of the presidential votes in those counties.

I started at the Wagon Wheel cafe in Drummond, a small cattle town along I-90. The blackboard at the diner says it boasts a population of 338. On a Sunday morning it’s not only the most popular spot to go for breakfast before church or after hunting, it’s the only place.

Jay Allen is 46 and voted for Donald Trump.

Jay Allen says he voted for Trump because he is, "the lesser of two evils."
Credit Zachariah Bryan
Jay Allen says he voted for Trump because he is, "the lesser of two evils."

“I thought he was the lesser of two evils," Allen said. "I just couldn’t consciously vote for Hillary because I’m pretty into honesty and integrity and respect, and I don’t think she represents those ideals.”

Allen’s main concern was the health of the economy and jobs in Montana.

“From what I understand, Trump is going to look at those and maybe try to do something for the economy," he said. "Industry is a big part of Montana with the coal and the timber — and I work in the timber industry and it's just — it’s hard. Those types of jobs are hard to come by and that’s pretty much what made Montana, Montana.”

Maretta McGowan is 50 and has lived here her whole life .

“Yeah I grew up a rancher," she said, but left the family’s ranch when it started to lose profits, and got a job in town. “So now I cook at a school here in Drummond.”

McGowan likes the fact that Trump is a businessman.

“If we actually run the industries down so low that no one’s making money," she says, "there are programs out there that people can live on, but even if they don’t want to live on or they do want to live on them, at some point in time those programs are also going to start to fail. So we have to have some way to come back up and I’m hoping to see enough change before we have trained people to live on the system where they can not figure out how to survive otherwise."

A few booths over was 19-year-old William Owens.

William Owens.
Credit Zachariah Bryan
William Owens.

"Especially in this town, there’s a lot of people that are out of jobs," Owens says. "They have to travel for their work. North Dakota’s a big deal around here. A lot of people go to North Dakota for the rigs. And stuff with Trump, you know, promoting jobs, work ethics and stuff, and keeping the coal rolling and stuff gets the oil rigs rolling and produces a lot of jobs for around here and brings a lot of the economy back.”

On Saturday, I chatted with some folks up in the Bitterroot Valley.

Maureen Draper was working behind the counter at the Mine Shaft Pasty Company in Hamilton. Draper is 47 and is also a courtroom clerk.

"I think she leaned too much towards, you know, everyone can just ride through life and not pitch in. And I think that’s why a lot of people are upset," Draper said. "Because a lot of people just have an expectation that they don’t have to work hard. And I thought he was more in that avenue of more values back of when people just worked hard and earned their way."

Draper was the only Trump voter I talked to who brought up his ideas about immigration policy.

"I know people think that he sounds kind of cold-hearted of — you know like with the people who are here illegally and what not. But there’s a proper way to go about it, and I think that our economy just can’t keep supporting people who aren’t here and working. And I think that will be a big change."

Another 18-year-old I talked to was training for a new job which didn’t allow him to talk to the media on the record. He started out backing Bernie Sanders, but then turned to Trump because of his feelings about gun rights.

"I think that’s definitely a number one priority, I believe. It’s important to me to have the right to bear arms  just because of the career field I’m in. Especially these days, you have these protestings going on. He definitely wants to expand the right to bear arms."

As to why Trump has also been popular with younger voters like himself:

"The generation now liked him just because he was so outspoken and he just speaked his own opinion and didn’t care. And he was good at it."  

At Higher Ground Brewery in Hamilton during lunch hour, I spoke with Selena Root.

"I am the bartender, waitress, everything," said Root.

She’s 34 and a Hamilton native. She voted for Trump, too.

"Our economy and our country is so far in debt right now. He’s a business man. He can turn that around, and I think a lot of people see that. You know he's owned companies and made billions."

Root was also motivated by his anti-establishment orientation.

"One thing I really liked about him was he was not part of the political party, he was an outsider. And he was a threat. And he needs to go in there and just clean house."

Everyone I talked to over the weekend was white, except for Fabian Davila, age 70, who owns and runs La Mas Fina Mexican Food Taqueria with his wife in Victor.

He says he identifies as, "Mexican-American — yeah. Part Indian. Part Kickapoo Indian."

And in this election, "I voted Democrat."

So how are you feeling right now? 

"I’m fine with the outcome of it. I’m good with the outcome. I mean I’m not gonna go protest or anything," Davila said.

Davila came to Montana as a migrant worker, and has a lot of Mexican-American family and friends around the country.

I asked him if he was concerned about Trump’s proposed immigration policies.

"They’re gonna have to all get together and make some kind of a law to make it work. For everybody. The people that are immigrating and the people that are elsewhere. So it makes a difference."

At the end of the day, I met Erin Belmont, who lives in Darby. She approached me.

"Liberal, socially progressive viewpoints from Ravalli County haven’t been put out there. And I don’t want the world thinking that Ravalli County is super conservative, anti-human being, because we’re not," Belmont said.

Belmont said that especially in small communities, everyone has to learn how to co-exist.

"A lot of times, living in a place where maybe politically you’re not aligned with your neighbor, you’re still neighbors. And, I really think that when it comes down to it, you can find a common thread with most any other human being. And I think that’s what I strive for. So, even if I don’t agree with your political views, I’m gonna find something that we can relate on."

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