A Salute to Former Montana Senators Lee Metcalf and Mike Mansfield!‏ By Tom Kipp


Thanks to my friend Patty Dean of Helena, I came across this extraordinary short film about Lee Metcalf, who served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate from 1953 to 1978, and who was, along with Mike Mansfield (who still holds the record for longest reign as U.S. Senate Majority Leader–1961 to 1977–among many other distinctions), one of only two senators I’d ever known, as of my freshman year in high school. Metcalf died in January 1978, mere months after Mansfield (who served in the House or Senate from 1943 to 1977) became our Ambassador to Japan.

Whenever I’ve heard Montana referred to as an "historically Red State", post-1980, or as a supposed "Republican stronghold", I immediately think back to the decades-long, post-WWII stretch from the early-Fifties until the late-Seventies,  when the truly awe-inspiring achievements of Senators Mansfield and Metcalf helped to define the American (Liberal) Political mainstream!


For many reasons Mansfield is the more famous of these two Montana icons, despite his famous personal reticence, but I’ve yet to encounter a senator during my adult lifetime who compares to either, particularly in terms of legislative achievement, and also personal integrity mixed with an abhorrence of self-aggrandizement. 

If anyone wonders at the gaping chasm between the accomplishments and esprit de corps of our Congress, then versus now, the 17-minute Metcalf film and a quick perusal of the two Wikipedia bios below should more than answer virtually ANY questions that come to mind!

Bottom line, America once produced quiet giants in this vital field of endeavor, some of whom emerged from the humblest of rural origins, and their cumulative achievements render pitiful those who hold similar leadership posts in Washington, D.C. today.



Marvel at what was, and try to imagine what could be in the future, and just how we might arrive there!


P.S. I should also add that a Democrat has held the Montana governorship for 28 of the past 44 years (the exception was from 1989-2005), and does so currently. During the past 100 years, a Republican has served Montana as U.S. Senator for a total of 24 of the 200 total years! Montana’s House seats have been more of a mixed bag, and its sole remaining House slot has fallen to the GOP in recent times (1997-2013), but the seat from Western MT was Democratic for all but 4 years between 1943 and 1997! And even Eastern Montana’s House seat was held by Democrats for 24 of the 44 years from 1933-1977, before it was more or less ceded to Republican Ron Marlenee from 1977-1993, at which point it was lost altogether, due to the state’s relatively/blessedly stagnant population. As I recall, if Montana’s population at that time had been 810,000 rather than 800,000, the seat would have been retained! On the whole, not much of a "Red State" legacy!

3 comments to A Salute to Former Montana Senators Lee Metcalf and Mike Mansfield!‏ By Tom Kipp

  • Steve Stav

    Montana has historically had a few faults – and much of it no longer resembles the Montana of my youth – but it's a perfect example of people confusing "conservatism" with "libertarianism." And confusing the rabid, illogical "libertarianism" with "traditional western libertarianism" – the latter of which exemplifies Big Sky Country. Rural residents there traditionally and generally want to be left alone to their work, and don't really give a rat's ass about race, religion and other social divides… particularly in the western region. It's a land unto itself, but not unpatriotic or unsympathetic. I'm sure this will change in the next 40-50 years as more and more people with different values (not even "dimestore cowboys" anymore, just rich people, and people who would just as soon live in Fresno) move in. Nice and interesting choice of oft-overlooked topic, btw. These guys rocked.

  • Tom Kipp

    Thanks for the great complementary remarks re: Montana's ACTUAL political "valence", Steve! Can't recall what parts of the state you grew up in, if you happened to mention them when we met up. I spent almost nine years on the Blackfeet, Flathead, and Rocky Boy's Indian Reservations, a year in Missoula, nine years in Havre, and five college years in Missoula, before departing a few months ahead of my 25th birthday in September 1987. I'm somewhat less pessimistic about Montana's future, and see the changes in Missoula, say, as more or less minor & cosmetic (mauve or teal awnings on all the downtown storefronts, for example, and the seemingly inevitable Wal-marts at the edge of town). And most of the state remains so remote, even to Seattle, much less NYC or California, that even rich and/or famous folk have to assimilate to a notable degree, and seem to welcome the local distinctions versus their urban homes. And no one can do much about the cold winter weather, which will always send the temperature & snow wimps scurrying in a hurry!

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