I read Dan Brooks’ column, “Happy trails: A toast to Denny Rehberg’s 12 years of service” in last week’s issue. I enjoyed it very much, but I thought there were some nuances that could strengthen Brooks’ overall point that Montanans no longer want the archetypical “drunken farm boy” representing them.
As a non-native of Montana, I have been surprised by how strongly Montanans of all ages and of all political leanings view themselves. It seems that many still buy into the idea that Montana is a state and lifestyle wholly separate and unique from anywhere else in the country. This is common to hear from people who live on the East Coast in our nation’s urban centers who have never seen Montana and still believe that it is the Wild West myth—and for a population that knows little else than a traffic choked stop-and-go commute along an interstate every morning, this is understandable. But it’s time that Montanans stop buying into their own legend because it shares less and less with reality as the years march forward.
I think Rehberg’s loss had at least as much do with Montana’s population shift as it does with longtime residents simply changing their minds. The state’s demographics have changed over the past 30 to 40 years, and as much as some Montanans may hate this outside “invasion,” it is undeniable. Now certainly, many elements of the state have remained the same as some newcomers have embraced fully the idea of Montana. But, as more people bring diverse folkways and as Montana becomes less isolated through the media, internet, etc., it shares more and more in common with its fellow states and departs further and further from its Wild West persona. This is the unfortunate truth of the 21st century, and it is up to Montanans of all breeds to accept this and grow past their utopian provincial image. And perhaps, not re-electing Rehberg was one example of this.