When Bernie Sanders comes to Montana later this month to stump for congressional candidate Rob Quist, some of the left-wing star's biggest former fans won't be cheering in the crowd.
"I think he's a turncoat," says Missoula's Thomas Breck. "It was an openly corrupt system that cheated him, and now he's campaigning for the people who cheated him.... I've been a fan of Bernie Sanders for over a decade. His rhetoric has changed, his positions have changed. He's no longer the same guy."
If Breck's name rings a bell, that's because he's fresh off a court challenge to the state's ballot access law as it relates to the May 25 special election for Montana's seat in the U.S. House. Breck, the Montana Green Party nominee, had only two days to obtain the 15,000 signatures required to get on the ballot as a minor party candidate. A federal judge in Montana agreed with Breck that the threshold was unreasonable, but also declined to place his name on the ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.
Breck's uphill effort to make the Green Party a player in state politics stems directly from Sanders' failed presidential bid, and it's why he and a still-small number of liberals who value environmental, economic and social justice are willing to work against Democrats even during the age of Trump.
Breck and his wife were members of the Missoula Democratic Central Committee and Sanders delegates last spring—until the state convention, when they felt sidelined by the same party powerbrokers they saw as having rigged the primary for Hillary Clinton. The next day, they sought to restart the Montana Green Party, "because if a man like Bernie Sanders can't move the party left, no one's going to," Breck says.
Breck, a father and former carpenter, becomes animated when talking about politics, which he now studies as a nontraditional undergraduate at the University of Montana. While making one particularly vehement point, he accidentally swipes his sunglasses off the table.
Democrats and Republicans, Breck insists, are the "same face wearing two different masks," each beholden to corporate interests. He sees that dynamic playing out in Quist's campaign, which he says has veered toward centrist positions. "I can tell you why," Breck says. "Because he [Quist] has corporate masters who tell him how far he can take an issue."
So even though Breck won't be on the ballot against Quist, he doesn't plan to vote for the guy his former political hero is backing. Nor does his friend Joseph Grady, a UM student adviser, have any interest in heeding Sanders' call to "come together" under the Democratic banner. Less than a year ago, Grady was holding a "Natives for Bernie" sign behind Sanders' podium during the then-candidate's Missoula speech.
"He made promises to the faces of my elders, and it wasn't weeks later, not even two weeks later, that he bowed out of the race and backed Hillary Clinton," Grady says. "Now let me tell you how that translates to Native Americans. We have no problem recognizing this: the little old colonial guy, coming into Native country, making promises for our votes, and then bailing out. That story is as old as the first people who landed on this continent."