Steve Bullock: Keeping Me From the First Democratic Debate Shows We Haven’t Learned Our Lesson From 2016

Last week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced a rule change that could keep me out of the first presidential debate. Clearly, we haven’t learned the right lesson from the 2016 election–and that might squander our chances in 2020.

I’m the only Democratic candidate in the field who has won a Trump state. I’m also the only candidate in the race who has been governor of a state with a Republican-controlled legislature and passed major progressive victories. If we’re going to take back the places we lost–and then do the hard work to get our country back on track–we can’t let the DNC’s new rules exclude the perspectives of leaders who have done this before.

I chose to enter the Democratic primary later than most. Sure, had I jumped into the race earlier, I may have been able to raise my profile. But I had a job to do. My legislature meets only once every two years, and I was working to get important legislation passed until mid-May. As governor, I saw it as my responsibility to remain focused on serving my state. And I got a lot done–including extending our expansion of Medicaid to nearly 100,000 people and freezing college tuition–all with a nearly 60% Republican legislature.

Getting progressive things done in a state Trump won by 20 points is a record that should animate our political discussion. Instead, that commitment could be what keeps me off the debate stage at the end of the month.

While there is a historically large Democratic field, different voices should be heard in this process. We can’t let these rules get in the way of actually winning the election. If we’re going to prevail in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio, we need a candidate who can energize our base and win back those who voted for Trump.

While it’s not my job to write the rules, the DNC should find a way to avoid excluding people from the conversation just because we got a later entry into the race than others. This includes candidates who have demonstrated they can win statewide or federal office and who would bring a critical set of experiences to the debate stage. Those critical perspectives would be lacking if we instead rely on arbitrary polling thresholds established seven months before a single vote is cast.

I didn’t get elected three times because I made lofty promises to voters. I was elected because Montanans knew that I understood the challenges they face, and that I would work every day to make progress for them.

That’s the perspective our party needs to win in 2020. And that’s what all candidates should be discussing on the debate stage at the end of June.

Steve Bullock is the governor of Montana and a Democratic candidate for president.

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