Episode 02: Firing Up the Crucible: Gordon Bennett with Senator Lee Metcalf & Governor Forrest Anderson - In the Crucible of Change
During the lead-up to Montana second progressive era, Lee Metcalf and Forrest Anderson, along with others, kept the progressive flame lit in Montana. Metcalf’s political history is replete with close electoral wins because of his commitment to progressive ideals when the times were not always politically favorable for that. As State Legislator, MT Supreme Court Justice, Congressman and eventually as US Senator, Lee won races by as little as 55 votes because he stuck to his guns as a progressive. In Forrest Anderson’s career as a County Attorney, State Legislator, MT Supreme Court Justice and 12 years as MT Attorney General he was respected as a pragmatic practitioner of politics. But during that entire career leading up to his election as Governor, Forrest Anderson was also a stalwart supporter of the progressive agenda exemplified by FDR and the New Deal, which brought folks out of the Great Depression that was brought on by the bad policies of the GOP and big business. As MT’s second progressive period began in 1965, the first important election was Senator Metcalf’s successful re-election battle in 1966 with the sitting MT Governor, Tim Babcock. And the progressive express was really ignited by the election of Forrest Anderson as Governor in 1968 after 16 years of Republican Governors in MT. Gordon Bennett played a rather unique role, being a confidant of Metcalf and Anderson, both who respected his wide and varied experience, his intellect, and his roots in progressivism beginning with his formative years in the Red Corner of NE Montana. Working with Senator Metcalf and his team, including Brit Englund, Vic Reinemer, Peggy McLaughlin, Betty Davis and Jack Condon among others, Bennett helped shape the progressive message both in Washington DC and MT. Progressive labor and farm organizations, part of the progressive coalition, benefitted from Bennett’s advice and counsel and aided the Senator in his career including the huge challenge of having a sitting popular governor run against him for the Senate in 1966. Metcalf’s noted intern program produced a cadre of progressive leaders in Montana over the years. Most notably, Ron Richards transitioned from Metcalf Intern to Executive Secretary of the Montana Democratic Party (MDP) and assisted, along with Bennett, in the 1966 Metcalf-Babcock race in a big way. As Executive Secretary Richards was critical to the success of the MDP as a platform for Forrest Anderson’s general election run and win in 1968. After Forrest’s gubernatorial election, Richards became Executive Assistant (now called Chief of Staff) for Governor Anderson and also for Governor Thomas Judge. The Metcalf progressive strain, exemplified by many including Richards and Bennett, permeated Democratic politics during the second progressive era. So, too, did the coalition that supported Metcalf and his policies. The progressivism of the period of “In the Crucible of Change” was fired up by Lee Metcalf, Forrest Anderson and their supporters and coalitions, and Gordon Bennett was in the center of all of that, helping fire up the crucible, setting the stage for many policy advancements in both Washington DC and Montana.
Gordon Bennett’s important role in the 1966 re-election of Senator Lee Metcalf and the 1968 election of Governor Forrest Anderson, as well as his wide experience in government and politics of that time allows him to provide us with an insider’s personal perspective of those races and other events at the beginning of the period of progressive change being documented “In the Crucible of Change,” as well as his personal insights into the larger political/policy picture of Montana.
Bennett, Gordon and Barrett, Evan, "Episode 02: Firing Up the Crucible: Gordon Bennett with Senator Lee Metcalf & Governor Forrest Anderson - In the Crucible of Change" (2015). Crucible Episodes (old). Paper 4.