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Montana musician Rob Quist is touring the state, not performing songs, but meeting with local Democrats who could grant Quist his wish to become their party’s nominee in an anticipated special election.

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, the Montana Republican tapped to become the next secretary of the interior, is expected to resign shortly after confirmation later this month.

Quist, 69, the son of Cut Bank ranchers, known for a musical career that began with the Mission Mountain Wood Band in 1971, wants to run for the seat when Zinke vacates.

Several Democratic lawmakers have also said they’ll stand for nomination. And the party’s central committee members would vote internally to choose their candidate.

So on Tuesday, Quist met with Gallatin County Democratic Central Committee members on his tour headed east. He also met with the Chronicle to describe a platform centered on social justice.

“We can never be free until we lift all of humanity,” he said. “We can’t exclude anyone. It has to be inclusive.”

Public lands

In Montana, there’s more than 27 million acres of federally controlled land. Quist opposes transferring those public lands to state governments.

“I grew up so close to the mountains. That was our escape. We would go over to Lake Blaine every summer as a kid for a week at a time vacationing, and I just fell in love with the Flathead Valley. I live about two miles from Lake Blaine, so that’s going to be a very important issue for me,” Quist said.

Advocates of such a transfer say it would allow local management of public resources, which would help small communities rebuild their local economies with mining and logging, all while bettering the environment and protecting against wildfires.

“But as we know our budget is really tight right now and consequently what would happen is we’d have to sell off our lands whereas the federal government has the resources to manage them.... I just don’t want to see it turn into a land grab,” Quist said.

Social Security and health care

“I have many friends that Social Security is the only way they can survive,” Quist said.

And after a gall bladder surgery Quist said he couldn’t find insurance and faced paying out-of-pocket for back surgery because of his pre-existing condition. The ordeal led him to access his Social Security benefits early, before he was 65.

“The whole health care thing, it was originally setup to be a single-payer system,” Quist said. “As we know the powerful forces, the pharmaceutical and insurance companies, they blocked that. Everybody should have a system like Medicare, where you walk in, show your card and you’re covered, no questions asked.”

Military intervention

Quist said he does not support the United States using its military to try and solve other countries’ problems or enact regime change. He cited the war in Afghanistan.

“Russia has been in there for 17 years. What makes us think it’s going to be any different for us. Now it’s the longest running war in our nation’s history and what have we accomplished,” said Quist.

“Here’s all this (war) money put on the backs of the taxpayer. Our federal budget is 64 percent military. That’s money that could be going towards health care or Social Security,” he said. “And this does nothing but make us enemies in the eyes of so many and brings a backlash against the American people.”

Religious tolerance

President Donald Trump’s proposal to establish a registry for Muslims in America and to ban Muslim immigrants is not something Quist supports.

“You have to look at history. There have been ethnicities that have been demonized for various things,” said Quist, recalling the internment of Italians, Japanese and Germans in the U.S.

“The Muslim people are just the latest example of that. We have to realize that we need to seek unity as people of this earth, and find our commonalities. We’ve been led to believe these people are our enemies to take focus away from problems at home.”

Family planning

While the number of aborted pregnancies in the U.S. has reportedly fallen to its lowest since 1974, some want the medical practice banned.

Quist supports keeping abortion an option. After moving to Nashville to become a songwriter, he said, his wife became the family’s primary provider. When she became pregnant, Quist said, they faced a difficult decision.

“She was the major breadwinner and I was the starving songwriter,” he said. “Just at that time she became pregnant with another child. This was a heavy time for us, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. We made the decision to have this child and my daughter is now the light of my life. I don’t know what I would do without her. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t want the government getting in the middle of that decision. That was a decision we needed to make personally.”

Gun ownership

“I come from a ranching-farming tradition where guns are not only a way of life, but it’s something every young man goes through. We learn how to operate weapons in a safe manor and with respect. We learn that bringing meat home is a time-honored tradition,” he said.

But he believes that efforts to increase public safety are being derailed by gun manufacturers, questioning the need to own assault rifles.

“They’re only meant to kill people,” he said. “So maybe there should be some legislation to register those types of things. You register your car to drive, why not register guns. I know that’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, but I think we definitely have the right to bear arms and as I say I’ve been on many hunts myself where I’ve brought home an elk that fed our family and that’s an important thing for Montanans.”

Party politics

Quist said he supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee and was disappointed to see his loss to Hillary Clinton, saying that it had a depressing effect on young people.

“The Democratic National Committee sent him to the sidelines in favor of Hillary Clinton. They tried to control it from top down,” he said, noting that Republicans, through the tea party, had a grassroots network that helped them win elections.

“We know that the pendulum swings both ways and the reason I’m sitting here today is that I decided I wanted to be part of the movement that starts us back on the track to unity and respect for each other. We’ve lost that here in America,” he said.

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.


Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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