"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Two Walshes

carlson CHRIS


Newly appointed Montana Senator John Walsh ought to build his campaign to be elected to finish the term of new U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus around the issues a famous namesake (Though not related), Montana Senator Thomas J. Walsh championed for the 20 years he held the seat (1913-1933).

John Walsh, a former Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard, is a true political novice. His prior political experience is slightly more than a year of service as Montana’s Lieutenant Governor. He ran and won in 2012 as the ticket mate for then Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock’s successful bid for the governorship.

Walsh worked well with Governor Bullock, and when the long-serving and never defeated Senator Max Baucus announced he was retiring, Walsh, with Bullock’s blessing, began campaigning for the Democratic nomination. Even if the popular and charismatic former Governor, Brian Schweitzer, had re-entered the Senate race he dropped out of before Baucus had announced his plans, Walsh indicated he was staying in the race.

Once another popular former Montana governor, Marc Racicot, made it clear he would not be a candidate for the Republican nomination, most pundits conceded the Senate seat to Schweitzer until the Billings Gazette ran a major feature article highlighting some questionable dealings by Schweitzer.

With Racicot and Schweitzer both taking a pass, Republicans, both in Montana and nationally, saw their hopes start to rise as they contemplated freshman Republican Congressman Steve Daines’ elevation to the Senate. With more name recognition and strong support from the Republican Senatorial Campaign committee who see this as a key “turn over” state in their desire to seize control of the Senate, Daines is favored.

Governor Bullock, though, by naming Walsh to the seat gives the Democrat a bit of an extra edge by making him the incumbent, and Walsh’s prospects should not be dismissed. For one, he not only has Bullock solidly behind him, he also has the likeable former teacher/farmer Senator Jon Tester working hard for his election.

Senator Walsh could do a lot worse than model his campaign around the issues that his famous namesake, Senator Thomas J. Walsh, so skillfully utilized to stay in office for 20 years.

The first Montana Senator Walsh was an Irish-Catholic native of Wisconsin who started out as a teacher but soon switched to law and graduated from the University of Wisconsin’s Law School. He migrated to Helena in 1890 where he set up a practice specializing in copper litigation and accidental injuries.

Politics drew him into a congressional race in 1906 which he lost but then was named a U.S. Senator by the Montana Legislature in 1913. With a sharp legal mind he quickly made a name for himself on the Senate Judiciary committee. He became a stalwart supporter of President Woodrow Wilson and was the Western Field Campaign manager for Wilson’s Re-Election campaign in 1916, which Wilson narrowly won over Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

Walsh supported America’s entry into World War I, strongly supported Women’s suffrage (With Jeanette Rankin as Montana’s member of Congress from 1916 to 1918, one should not be surprised) and also supported the implementation of the graduated income tax.

He also backed the idea of a League of Nations though he greatly disappointed President Wilson by supporting a key amendment that weakened the concept. Walsh’s real claim to fame was his lead role on the Judiciary Committee in shedding light on the Teapot Dome scandal, which exposed Cabinet level corruption in the administration of Warren G. Harding.

Known for his probity and fairness, Walsh chaired both the 1924 and the 1932 Democratic Conventions. An ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, the president-elect nominated Walsh to be his Attorney General. Walsh, however, died of a heart attack on a train headed for D.C. for the Roosevelt inauguration, following a five-day honeymoon trip to Cuba.

Some progressive issues today’s Senator Walsh might follow in the spirit of his namesake would include support for equal pay for women, for a woman’s right to choose, for immigration reform to assure Montana farmers there will be a legal work force they can rely on, tax reform that puts more burden on the super-rich and provides relief for the stressed middle class, and stronger federal support for all levels of education to help Montana students compete in a very competitive world market.

Senator Walsh, take a page from your namesake, and you too may serve 20 years.

Share on Facebook