Montana Politics – 'All Hat No Cattle'

Farm Journal logo

John Dutton wields powerful influence – either by hook or by crook – on Montana’s politics. Dutton, the fictional Montana rancher played by Oscar-winning actor Kevin Costner in this summer’s new television series Yellowstone, owns the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S. The plot twists, skullduggery and family feuding make Yellowstone a modern version of Dallas, with Dutton a cowboy-replica of J.R. Ewing.

In real life, Montana remains one of the few places in America where a smidgen of cowboy-cred is advantageous if you are running for political office. John Tester has it. Matt Rosendale wants it.

Tester and Rosendale are running to represent Montana in the U.S. Senate, garnering attention from special-interest groups across America. Tester, the Democratic incumbent elected in 2006, owns an 1,800-acre farm that his grandfather homesteaded. Rosendale, the Republican currently serving as Montana’s state auditor, bought his $2.2 million spread near Glendive in eastern Montana’s badlands in 2002.

Tester, the Senate’s only active farmer, has been sent to Washington twice despite the majority of Montana voters identifying as Republicans. Rosendale was a Maryland real estate developer before establishing the Glendive residence and running for, and winning, a seat in the Montana House of Representatives in 2010. Two years later he was elected to the Montana State Senate, serving until 2017. Critics see Rosendale as a carpetbagger, calling him “Maryland Matt” to reinforce the fact he’s not a native Montanan.

Yet, Rosendale and his supporters insist that he is a rancher, despite the fact he hasn’t registered ownership of any livestock since 2011, and before that it was limited to a few horses. Records show he received a registered livestock brand when he bought the ranch, but it doesn’t appear he ever used it.

Writing in The Montana Post, self-described as “Progressive Politics from the Big Sky,” Don Progreba described Rosendale’s initial 2018 campaign television ad with “the candidate standing in front of an iconic red barn with cattle walking in the background.  A review of satellite images of the Rosendale farm and conversation with locals show that Rosendale doesn’t own a barn like that on his property, and we know he doesn’t—and has never—owned any cattle.”

Of course, whether Tester or Rosendale are actual ranchers means little to Washington lobbyists who will pressure the winner next year for votes on their special-interest issues. Polls say the race is narrowly in favor of Tester at the moment, yet Montana is a state Donald Trump carried by 20 points in 2016.

RealClearPolitics says of Montana’s Senate race: “This state has swung toward Republicans as well, who control every statewide office with the exception of this seat (Tester’s) and the governorship. But the national environment may insulate (Tester) against the state’s partisan tilt.”

Identifying as a rancher may not qualify one to hold a Senate seat, but in a tight race such as Montana’s where cows (2.6 million) outnumber people (1 million), it offers something every politician wants – an edge. It’s an edge that both politicians obviously covet, but on this part of the ledger, one holds cattle while the other holds a hat.


Latest News

CAB Insider: Carcass Value Shifts, a Sign of the Times

Jan. fed cattle prices are normally choppy and we’re seeing that pattern in 2021. A primary difference, compared to 2020, is that last week’s average price is $14/cwt. lower, the same discount as the 5-year average.

18 min ago
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th U.S. President, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021.
Ag Industry Leaders Congratulate Biden, Echo His Call for Unity

Following the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States, agriculture industry leaders congratulated Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

3 hours ago
Black Ink: Valued Partners

Partnerships aren’t always about a 50/50 business arrangement or who gets what tasks, sometimes they’re simply about having a vested interest in somebody else’s success.

12 min ago
One former Secretary of Agriculture thinks a Biden Administration and USDA will focus more on crafting a farm bill that includes a focus on conservation.
Why a Biden Administration May Not Buy into the Green New Deal

As President Joe Biden took office Wednesday, one former Secretary of Agriculture thinks a Biden Administration and USDA will focus more on helping craft a farm bill that focuses on conservation.

2 hours ago
As wild pigs continue to expand out of control in Canada, the risk of wild pigs moving into the U.S. is very real. This is especially true for North Dakota and Montana, but given how mobile feral swine are, the risks are far beyond that, says Ryan Brook of the University of Saskatchewan. 
Canada Fights Back Against Out-of-Control Wild Pig Population

Wild pig populations in Canada continue to expand rapidly and are completely out of control in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. A new tool may help control this invasive species. Here's why you should take note.

1 hour ago
Tyson Settles Anti-trust Case For $221.5 Million

Tyson Foods has agreed to pay a settlement of $221.5 million in the broiler chicken antitrust civil price-fixing lawsuit, according to filings Tuesday in federal court in Chicago.

40 min ago