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Kevin Hamm's uphill, optimistic run for Congress
Plus: Joyce from the Future get groovy on "Everything Changed"
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Montana Song of the Week
Joyce from the Future - “Everything Changed”
At first glance, “Everything Changed,” from Billings’ Joyce from the Future, appears to wear its heart on its sleeve. “Everything changed when I met you,” lead singer Lyric Horton belts out in the chorus. By the time we get to the bridge, however, Horton has shifted the narrative towards the hypothetical: “Now here I am here daydreaming once again / our distant future, a happy end.”
No matter whether it’s celebrating a real romance or an aspirational one, “Everything Changed” radiates a nocturnal allure. Horton’s bandmates add to the mysterious vibe with sultry synths, a slinky bass and a sax-driven outro that evoke both R&B royalty like Sade and hip-minded contemporaries like Men I Trust. The end result is a terrific song that’s as emotive as it is elusive.
Kevin Hamm brings a loud voice and confident approach to a difficult race
On May 16, the entrepreneur and Montana Pride President Kevin Hamm became the first candidate to enter the 2024 race for Montana’s Eastern District Congressional seat. While the results of last year’s race—the first to occur after the state was split into two districts— indicate a challenging road ahead for any Democratic candidate, Hamm remains undaunted.
We’ve yet to see whether other Democrats will throw their hat in the ring, or whether the incumbent, firebrand Republican Matt Rosendale, will seek re-election, or—has been widely rumored—challenge Democrat Jon Tester for his Senate seat.
No matter who else he finds himself running against, Hamm—who also serves as the CEO of Treasure State Internet & Telegraph and Auxilyum—is ready to assert his qualifications, and to argue that a win is within Democrats’ reach.
Read on as Hamm walks us through his campaign strategy, explains why he announced his run so early and offers a pointed assessment of Rep. Rosendale.
Max: What made you want to run for office?
Kevin Hamm: So my last race was for the Public Service Commission [in 2022]. I have some major qualms with the way we've structured things since we deregulated electricity in the nineties. And so I was running for the board because Montanans need to be treated fairly.
The [Congressional race] was split last time because [Democrat] Penny Ronning was running and [Democrat] Mark Sweeney was running and Mark died. An Independent [Gary Buchanan] got in and siphoned a lot of votes off from Penny. It was just kind of a mess. And I don't want that to happen.
The other thing that's happening in the eastern district is you have a bunch of people who have media that's just been telling them that Democrats are evil, Democrats are awful, blah, blah, blah. But if you look at the numbers, 57% voted for Rosendale and 43% didn't. 121,000 voted for Rosendale and almost 94,000 [didn’t]. So 14,000 votes is all you need to shift to win. That seems doable.
Democrats aren't the evil ones, and we need to do something to get our voices out there. And I'm one of those people that, like, every time I enter a room, I'm the loudest person there (laughs).
If we're gonna have a Democratic voice, we need to get a loud one that also likes to talk about other Democrats and lift up other people. So that's kind of why I entered this race.
I’m in this race not just because I know i can win, but because everybody else thinks I can't. You just have to be smart in your politicking and you have to put in the work. As long as you do that, you stand a really good chance.
I'm not a fool. I mean, I know it's an uphill battle.
The biggest thing that we can do is make sure that Democrats are visible. Top of my list is, get in front of people, talk to voters. I have to go [to each county] twice because I feel it's absolutely imperative for my campaign.
And I think that my voice and my stance and my ability to have a thick skin and take the slings and arrows [from] outrageous bigots is gonna prove useful in this race.
You've got a stack of people who didn't vote Republican that you can convince to vote Democrat. Some of them are independent, some of them are Libertarian, some of them just didn't vote [in 2022].
They're now fed up with politicians, which means they're gonna vote. So I just have to convince them that I am the right vote and that it's worthwhile to vote for somebody that is different than them, but is still a Montanan and fights for Montana values even though they don't really understand my life. And that's fine.
The thing for a lot of people, especially as they're trying to figure out issues involving the queer community, is that they're like, well, I just don't understand [the queer community]. That's okay. You don't have to. Leave them alone.
Don't target them. Don't take away their rights. Don't treat them like crap. Let them live, which is how Montanans have usually been.
You said that Montanans are more fed up with politicians now than in the 2022 election cycle. Can you give a couple examples?
The blowback that we've had to deal with since the legislature passed all of these idiotic bills. Most of the people that I know that are independent-minded, those are the people that are now at the point where they're like, we cannot have this again.
We see all of these bills that have come out that are all gonna be challenged [in court] and will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend and they're going to lose anyway.
And you think that sentiment will apply to a congressional race, as opposed to just state Senate or state House races?
Yes. And I would turn that around as a question: Do you know anybody who likes Rosendale? Because I can't even find one on the Republican side.
You had mentioned Penny Ronning’s 2022 race a few minutes ago. Obviously the dynamics of each race are different, but I was curious how you will run your campaign differently?
Well, here's the thing. I'm not gonna put this on Penny because it's really not about her race at all.
Again, being out there, being in front of people, meeting them is really important. Honestly, nobody cares [about] policy unless they're already an informed voter. And chances are, if they're an informed voter, they're also an entrenched voter, and I'm not gonna fight with [them] on that.
I'm not gonna change their minds on some of these issues. And so they're either gonna vote for me or not.
If we do this right, this becomes a model for everybody else to use to get back into rural America and be able to say, “No, no, no. We've been here the whole time. We're your friends and neighbors, too. We just haven't been talking about it because you people have been crazy and yelling that you wanna kill all the Democrats.”
I didn't even make it a full week before I got death threats. And I'm like, that's impressive.
How do you effectively message to those non-entrenched voters?
There's a lot of things that we need to talk about: the housing crisis that's going on right now is absolutely insane. And that's affecting everybody's ability to just live in the state. Wages have stagnated again. Costs and inflation are going up or have gone up to just unreasonable heights and none of the rest of the economy has balanced out to make it livable again.
You have people that are concerned with all the crap bills that just came out, the fact that a tax rebate was [given] to the wealthiest people in the state when roads and bridges still haven't been fixed.
There are now two towns in the Flathead that don't have any childcare and money could go to that. There's other money that could go to paying for school lunches for kids so that they don't have to worry, “am I going to make it through the day without passing out from not eating?” They can actually get some food.
We're leaving that money on the table because we have people that seem to think that using funds that were collected as taxes to help people is somehow a bad thing.
One of the things that happened during this current Congress is that two lumberyards burned and closed and they're closing the sugar beet plant. These are all within [my] district. That's almost 400 jobs. [Editor’s note: One of the lumberyard fires occurred in September 2022, technically before the start of the current Congress.]
And you don't have a Representative that is saying, “okay, let's make sure that we're focusing on getting these people retrained, making sure they have connectivity to get retrained or get education or do something new.”
Find out what they wanna do, make sure they're taking care of it. Make sure their communities aren’t dying. That's what this job is.
That’s why I think I'm gonna be good at this and why I know that I'm a better candidate than anybody else that we have: I understand that when you have a little bit of money and you have a little bit of power, if you spread it around, good things happen.
That's how it works. Both power and money are like manure. If you spread 'em around, it's fertilizer. If you don’t, it's a pile of crap. I think that's actually a Dolly Parton quote.
Are there pros and cons to entering the race as early as you did?
Oh yeah. The pros are that people know you're in the race, and you can start fundraising. The cons are, people know you're in the race. They can start fundraising.
It's so early, and fundraising is tough. People are like, “Do I wanna talk about politics now? I want to have a month off.” I would love nothing more than a month off.
But also part of the reason that I'm doing this is I still run Pride [which occurs through the summer]. I'm only responsible for the one in Helena, but I'm going to be at the other ones. So if I didn't announce now, I wouldn't announce until September and maybe there'd be somebody else in there. So it was kind of the right time for me, although I don't know that it was the right time overall.
What you don't want to do is get your name out there and then not do anything. But we've been pretty active in the week and two days since we announced, I've been to three cities: We announced in Billings. I've been back to Billings one time. I've been in Bozeman to do Pride there. And I've been in Miles City for the Bucking Horse Sale. We're back in Helena and the next month is travel all over the state.
Will House Bill 359 will have an impact on Pride this year?
So, funny enough, we were just discussing that last night. None of our events would actually be affected by it. Any of the events where we would have an adult show are taking place inside of a bar so kids can't be there anyway.
It's also a very poorly written bill that appears to have some contradictions in it and also seems to be about two subjects. So I know it's going to be challenged. I'm not worried. It's just more wasteful idiocy from the bigots in the legislature.
Before we wrap up, I’ve got a couple of questions about the current Congress. What’s your take on House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries?
I think he's actually done a marvelous job. He's done a really good job with keeping the caucus together. [He’s] providing leadership and speaking out on things that he thinks needs to be talked about and ignoring the riffraff and the useless chatter. Dealing with the children on the other side of the aisle is never any fun. And I don't envy him the work he's had to do.
The Democrats have a very large tent. But you can only have nuance in a discussion when you have people who care and respect each other. And the Democrats get that. That's why at the end of the day, you end up with policies put forward that have all 213 Democrats signed on, locked in, ready to go.
Has there been a moment in which you’ve been pleasantly surprised by, or agreed with, one of Montana's two current Congressman?
The funny thing about the current holder of the seat that I'm running for is he's never voted for anything. I think he's been a consistent no vote on everything in the two sessions that he's been in.
Just yesterday he was talking about how he thinks that the Bureau of Land Management is now a socialist enterprise that is trying to take away our land. Oh my God. Read the document. [Editor’s note: I couldn’t find an instance of Rep. Rosendale describing BLM as a “socialist enterprise.” He did, however, refer to the office as an “activist organization.”]
I don't think he's done anything worthwhile for Montana at all in any of the positions that he's held. When Troy Downing took over at the state auditor's office, Troy had to re-do a whole bunch of stuff that Rosendale had messed up.
[Rep. Rosendale] is on Veterans Affairs and he voted against the veterans’ expansion [bill] and now is asking for a rescission of funding for the VA [per debt ceiling discussions]. Do you know how many Montanans are veterans?
It's a huge number. And he's voting against them getting the care they need. There are lots of problems with the VA, but most of the problems come down to it's not funded well at all.
He doesn't have any leverage. He's not a part of any part of the caucus that makes any sense. He's friends with [Arizona GOP Rep.] Paul Gosar, a noted racist. I don't think he's done anything good.
I think the best thing that he could do is drop out of the race, resign from his seat now, and go back to his fake ranch and just stay there quietly.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Thanks so much for being here. In the meantime, you can always reach me via email, the comment section below, or on the Elon Machine, @SavageLevenson.
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