Montanans burned up the congressional switchboard last week. They took to Twitter, to Facebook, to email, all in an effort to let Sen. Steve Daines know where they stood when it came to Betsy DeVos and her nomination as Secretary of Education. On Feb. 7, Daines responded by voting exactly the way he'd always said he would: to confirm.
The same story played out in multiple states and with numerous senators. A Philadelphia teacher raised $71,419 through a GoFundMe page titled "Buy [Sen.] Pat Toomey's Vote," which by Feb. 3 had become the crowdfunding platform's top-trending campaign. Toomey voted to confirm.
Erin Erickson, founder of Missoula Rises, understands that the gut reaction to those unswayed senators—and to DeVos' conformation on Tuesday—might be to dismiss such activism as "not worth it." But it is worth it, she says. Her group has spearheaded much of the local pushback against Donald Trump's cabinet nominees. From phone calls to tweets to gathering outside Daines' Missoula office, Erickson is confident that Missoula Rises has put Daines and others on notice that "their constituents are watching."
And when it comes to education, DeVos isn't the only office-holder the group's members are keeping tabs on. Montana's newly elected superintendent of public instruction, Elsie Arntzen, has a strong track record of supporting controversial school-choice measures. In a sense, Erickson says, voters had an opportunity to oppose a DeVos-like agenda at the state level last November. She chalks up Arntzen's success to "voter disengagement," and says Missoula Rises is already working with teachers to determine the best ways to resist any damaging state-level policy changes.
The Atlantic described the opposition to DeVos as "unprecedented." Politico estimated that calls to congressional offices numbered in the tens of thousands, and emails more than a million. Asked for the number of calls and emails Daines received, his office sent the Indy a link to an ABC News story reporting that Daines himself had helped man the phones.
"I would really like to see how many people in this state voiced opposition to DeVos versus how many people called and offered support," Erickson says. "And then I'd like to see those numbers next to his campaign contributions."