There’s just one week until the deadline to vote in Montana’s June 5 primary election. Montana Public Radio has been chatting with voters in the run up to the vote. Recently, I sat down with women in the Flathead Valley to hear about what they want from their representatives in Washington, DC, and where gender fits into politics.
Chatter and the clink of wineglasses fill the back of Tailing Loop Winery in Kalispell at the monthly PowerHouse Flathead meeting. It’s a non-partisan group that fosters mentorship and career guidance for women.
"We thought we would start with, talking about, amongst yourselves, what you think it means to be a leader," Kim Morisaki says to kick off the evening.
I pull Jane Endacott from Kalispell into a quiet booth. Endacott says she hasn’t done much research into Montana’s candidates, but was surprised to hear only two of the 16 people running for federal office are women.
"It's so important to have the voice of that person of a woman, person of color or minority represented at the table," she says. "We make up 50 percent of the population, so why don't we have 50 percent represented in our government?"
She adds she wouldn’t vote for a female candidate just because she’s a woman. She says she’s fed up with partisan gridlock.
"Sometimes you're making a choice between a pile of cows**t and a pile of horses**t."
Endicott calls herself an economic conservative but wants continued funding for social programs, like Medicaid and Social Security. Her ideal candidate would find middle ground to keep the country up and running.
"People's lives depend on the decisions they make. So I'd like to see them put that aside, but that's a big hope," she concedes. "I think part of the problem is they sometimes forget we all want the same thing. We all want prosperity. We all want equality and fairness and opportunity. We just have different ways, or different ideas, of how to go about that."
Kim Morisaki of Kalispell identifies as a Democrat in a part of Montana that leans heavily right.
"Locally it’s fascinating to me that we have so many Republicans running for different offices but we only have ever one Democrat on the ballot, typically," she says.
As in many previous elections, Flathead Democrats failed to put up a candidate for a number of county offices this year. If Democrats want a say in who becomes Flathead County’s next sheriff, for example, they’ll need to vote for one of the four men on the Republican primary ballot.
In the federal elections, Morisaki is looking for a candidate who will defend the First Amendment, do right by Montanans and stay out of her private life.
"Those of us from Montana tend to all be a little bit Libertarian in that we don't want the government telling us what to do. That's maybe in our DNA," Morisaki says.
She says several of the five Democratic House candidates have said things that resonate with her, but no one really stands out. Ultimately, she wants someone who will do exactly what they say they will. Teasing that out is hard.
"In this day and age of alternative facts and people talking out of both sides of their mouths depending on who's in the room, we as voters need to be really critical of what people say, and what they say to one group of people versus what they say to another group of people," she says.
Rebecca Johns of Bigfork is looking for integrity, resilience and commitment in a candidate. She adds it worries her when candidates reference their support of sitting politicians as a stumping point, like how some of the Republicans running for Senate try to out-Trump each other.
"Like, who are these people? Who are they? Not what are they going to do," she says. "I care about what they say they're going to do but I want to know who they are and what motivates them and where they've been and what they've been doing. What's the truth? And I don't think we really get that."
She says she likes Democrat Jon Tester for for the U.S. Senate race, but she’s still not sure who of the five Democrats hoping to run for Montana’s lone House seat has her vote.
"The field is sort of big and it's pretty vague," Johns says. "I don't know yet. I'm not impressed."
Montana’s primary election is on Tuesday, June 5. Find out if you're registered to vote here.