Inside Montana Politics

Longtime political reporter Mike Dennison will speak about his book “Inside Montana Politics” at Country Bookshelf on Wednesday.

During his three-decade career as a political reporter, Mike Dennison has been on the front lines of some of the state’s biggest stories.

In his new book, “Inside Montana Politics: A Reporter’s View from the Trenches,” he provides a close look at the people and policies that have shaped the state and his experience covering them.

Dennison will discuss his book and sign copies at Country Bookshelf on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

His book profiles three governors — Marc Racicot, Judy Martz and Brian Schweitzer — and three U.S. senators — Max Baucus, Conrad Burns and Jon Tester. He also details the demise of Montana Power Company, the exoneration of Cody Marble on rape charges and the deadly 1991 riot at Montana State Prison.

Dennison said he chose these stories because they are important to Montana history and help illustrate the state’s shift from Democratic control in the late 1980s and early 1990s to Republican dominance today.

“To write a straight history book describing the major trends in this area seemed like a boring approach,” he said. “Looking through the lens of the actual people and events seemed more compelling.”

Dennison’s book draws primarily from the work he has done during his long career as a reporter for the Great Falls Tribune, Lee Newspapers, the Associated Press and the Montana Television Network, where he is the chief political reporter.

The book also incorporates the work of other reporters to provide a more comprehensive look at Montana politics and show the important work done by other news organizations, he said.

The book includes some new information such as how Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican, helped Cass Chinske, a former Democratic Missoula city councilman, navigate the criminal justice system after he was caught growing marijuana in the early 1990s.

Dennison weaves his personal experiences into his descriptions of Montana politics. He writes about attending the U.S. Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act in 2012 and tells of running into Sen. Jon Tester sitting alone in a hotel conference room in Great Falls at 4:40 a.m. on the Wednesday after the 2006 election, shortly before Tester was declared the winner.

He also reflects on the challenges of reporting, including when Gov. Marc Racicot wrote several long letters to his editor and publisher after a critical story and how Gov. Brian Schweitzer tried to kick him out of his car during his 2004 campaign.

“The book is giving people a look at what it’s like being a reporter, things that happen to you, how you deal with them (and) how you approach them,” Dennison said. “I really wanted to show people how reporters work and think, that we’re not just automatons out there just regurgitating facts, that we’re people with our own thoughts about covering things and that it’s a difficult job balancing both sides.”

For Dennison, the book has been a long time coming. He began writing about nine years ago while working full time as a reporter. In 2015, he completed a draft that included several additional chapters about other state figures and events.

Although it took another four years for Dennison to complete the book, the time enabled him to include Tester’s most recent re-election campaign against Matt Rosendale and cover Cody Marble’s release from prison in October, 16 years after he was wrongfully convicted of rape.

Dennison doesn’t have plans to write another book but foresees continuing his work as a political reporter.

“You talk to so many different people and have all sorts of unique experiences,” he said. “It’s an interesting job.”

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

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