A FACE ONLY A VOTER COULD LOVE!
Ron Vandevender is shown in his official campaign photo. The Libertarian from Craig has tossed his hat in the ring to become governor of Montana in 2012.

In a few short months — 20, give or take — we will choose a new governor for the great state of Montana. And while the election may seem a long distance off, a few candidates have tossed their hats in the ring, or at least tested the waters.

Two Billings-area Republicans have made their plans known, and at least one man from our neck of the woods has stated publicly that he’s considering a run as a Republican.

With Gov. Brian Schweitzer facing term limit, the 2012 contest for governor promises to be a lively one, pitting Democrats and Republicans in what will be a hotly contested bid for the chance to lead Montana through the better part of the next decade.

But what would a major election be without a few third-party hucksters seeking the nod of the people? Personally, elections would be a lot more humdrum without the comedic antics of a fringe candidate without a snowball’s chance to balance out the heady debates between the major party hopefuls.

What would we do without the blue guy, or the fellow with the enormous, uncropped eyebrows? Even mild-mannered folks like Mike Fellows, who ran last year as a Libertarian against Denny Rehberg, brought something to the campaign. With his fresh-out-of-bed look, Velcro-banded shoes, rumpled suit, unkempt hair and commonsense outlook, Fellows added an element of truth, plain speaking and, yes, comic relief, to the proceedings.

I can’t recall ever casting a ballot for one of these dark horses, but they do garner 1 percent to 5 percent of the vote in any given election, so someone’s buying their message. And 2012 will be no different. Maybe we’ll even be surprised.

On Tuesday, I received a press kit from Montana’s latest minority-party candidate, and near as I can tell, we are the first newspaper in the state to deliver this good news: Ron Vandevender has announced he will seek the seat of governor!

“Who on earth is Ron Vandevender?” you ask?

I shudder that you don’t already know.

Ron Vandevender is a Libertarian from Cascade (though he’s not really “from” Cascade; he just gets his mail there). He actually lives in Craig, and has since 1999, “where I own property, raise a lot of our own food and have been working on personally building my home.” This is exactly what Montana needs — a guy who knows how to build a home from the ground up, and who has the persistence to keep at it for 11 years!

Vandevender, a native of Yazoo, Miss., lives entirely off the grid in his partially finished home in Craig, and has many characteristics we Montanans cherish — and need in a governor. He’s obviously self-sufficient, even generating his own electricity. He’s a grandparent raising his grandchildren (or at least helping). And from a quick read of his campaign materials, he’s well spoken and intelligent. He holds a degree in business management and finance. He’s worked on political campaigns since a teen, helping candidates “from city council up through president.” Twice he has run for office himself, including a legislative bid last fall.

Vandevender has a mind-numbing variety of job experience, though admittedly it’s unclear what he does for a living these days. His previous jobs “included but is not limited to fast food management, running a pawn shop, working for the Mississippi Hwy Dept. Project office, part of the stock crew for a smaller private owned business and a large franchise, clerk, farm hand, theater, small business owner, and the Yazoo Arts Council.”

I can’t imagine a person with a more diverse background. Couple that with his Libertarian beliefs and this guy is less of a dark horse than I first thought. On top of that, he’s darn good-lookin’! (as you can see from the photo at right.) He could win!

True, he may not be as polished or quick with a slick political promise as most candidates, and he doesn’t have the backing of a major political party, but what Vandevender lacks in those areas he more than makes up for in honesty and down-to-earthiness. Best of all, he’s the first to admit he isn’t perfect.

“I would like to take a moment to point out that with all this in my life, I am only human,” he wrote. “Have I made mistakes in life? Yes. Have I ever done things I wish I could go back and change? Yes. As I state I am only human. I am not perfect, nor am I some sort of diety.”

Thank goodness for that! There are enough people with God complexes in state government.

Seriously, folks, I admire Mr. Vandevender, and anyone like him, for showing courage, fortitude and desire to even think about public service. In this day and age, where every scrap of a candidate’s past is dredged up and examined under a microscope, it’s a miracle anyone runs for public office.

Vandevender impresses me not because of all the remarkable things I’ve already mentioned, but because he’s clearly not joking around. I believe every word of the promises he makes, even if they appear to have been scratched out on a bar napkin at 1 o’clock in the morning, with a cadre of barstool campaign managers helping get the wording right.

“I can make the people of Montana a promise,” he wrote. “I will do my best to work for all of us, and if a mistake is made, I will admit it, stand up, take responsibility and work even harder to right the wrong. I will not feed any of you a line just because I think it is something you want to hear just to gain a vote. I am a very blunt person and call things as I see them. Nor will I use pre-fabed (?) talking points layed out by some political party. Also, I will do as the people of Montana want even if I do not totally agree with it. After all the people are the boss when it comes to elected officials and it is your state. This does not mean that I will not try my best to change the minds of the people if I see things differently, because I will. BUT - when all is said and done it will be what the people decide that wins out.”

You go, Ron!

Editor Andy Malby is at amalby@belgrade-news.com or 388-5101, ext. 12.