Politics in the 406: An interview with John Driscoll

John Driscoll is the former Public Service Commissioner for Montana as well as a former State House Majority Leader and Speaker. He is currently running in the June 3 primary for the Democratic nomination to run in the 2014 general election for Montana’s at large congressional seat.

Exponent (E): One of your stated views is that you want the Montana Democratic Party to change its name to the Democratic Republican Party.

Driscoll (D): Yeah, well of course this time around one of the things that caught my attention was how polarized this Congress is, and I thought, “Well it’d be better to go there as a Democratic-Republican and throw them off track.” If you’re one of a kind, then they have to deal with you. My other thinking was that … I find it interesting that the party of Jefferson and Monroe was trying to put wheels under the democracy … You had to make it work and they [Democratic-Republicans] really wanted to do that. I had that same experience here in Montana with the new [state] constitution.


E: You ran in 2008 against incumbent Denny Rehberg and 2008 was a strong year for Democrats. 2014 is not looking to be a good year for the Democrats … my question is what do you think is going to be different about this race? Do you think its going to be uglier than the last one?

D: No, no, I really don’t think so. I went to the Republican Forum that the Young Republicans held … to get in the ring to see who I’d be dealing with. I was impressed by most of those candidates and they were really nice to me. I just have this feeling that we’re going to keep it above. I never saw any gain in being negative; I see no need for it.

E: How do you plan to encourage, not only the Democratic base, but also the Republicans to support your candidacy as well?

D: There was a really good editorial in the Washington Post from a managing editor who had grown up in Washington [D.C.] … titled, “How the Republicans lost their minds, how the Democrats lost their souls, and Washington is no longer a good place to live.” … People make their own facts and shout them at each and so forth. I think people don’t like it. I’m thinking people are beginning to realize parties in Washington are nothing more than brand names — people with single issues and bags of money. I think there is a chance people are looking for a way to break that.

E: If you were to be elected, how would you reach across the aisle in D.C.?

D: It turns out it starts here. Credibility is everything and I knew that going in and that’s why I didn’t take any money. You got a million dollars; well, where did you get it from? But now, for example, I read Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget. You’d think the world had ended when you hear Ryan talking about what he did, and then when you hear the Democratic response, you for sure think it has — medicaid waivers, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and so on. But if you google the Ryan budget and read it, you can see how much money Veterans [and] homeland security get. And he came up with that by working with his committee both Democrats and Republicans. So where’s this stuff about medicaid waivers and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act? Its not in there. So what is everyone else reading? Its a useful tool to decide if we’re going to take this out or put this in. It takes credibility to say this and to say this is a good framework. Let’s talk about these different pieces.

E: What are your feelings about higher education? If elected how would you go about making it easier to attain, not just for Montanans but for all students?

D: I like this idea that Walsh has about refinancing the student loans. I had student loans but they were minor compared to what [students have] now. I think that part of the answer is just looking at what it costs to keep someone in a Federal Prison; it’s way more than what it costs to send them to a high dollar school. Maybe part of it is to say, “Do we really need all these people in these prisons? Can we have some amnesty here and come up with some money to offset the cost of college?” I’m not kidding; sometimes it takes solutions like that. I consider [education] an infrastructure investment.

E: So are you a Bobcat fan?

D: My oldest grandson goes here and he’s a snowboard fanatic. As long as he’s here, I’m a Bobcat fan.