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Montanans Divided On Eve Of House Impeachment Vote

A group of people holding signs calling for impeachment stand along a street sidewalk.
Aaron Bolton
Montana Public Radio
About 100 Flathead Valley area residents gathered in Kalispell’s Depot Park Tuesday calling for President Donald Trump’s removal ahead of the U.S. House’s vote on impeachment on December 17, 2019.";s:3:

Ahead of Wednesday's U.S. House vote on articles of impeachment, several hundred Montanans rallied across the state Tuesday night both to defend the president and to call for his removal from office.

With the full U.S. House expected to vote on articles of impeachment in coming days, national liberal groups including spurred local organizers to call for impeachment through protest. In Helena, about 100 people mounted the Capitol steps to call for President Donald Trump’s removal from office. Trump’s supporters also rallied, in a state Trump carried by 20 points in 2016

In Billings, around 50 people, including a handful of counter-protesters, gathered along the street by the federal courthouse. Among them was Natalie Crawford, who says she’s supported Trump since the very beginning.

"I think this is a farce. I think it's absolutely ludicrous. They have been trying to do this for three years now. And they’ve thrown everything they can. Think about it, two weeks ago we were head-deep in bribery. Now that’s not even a charge now, is it? It just kinda disappeared. They’ll throw anything that sticks."

Most people at the Billings rally said they were there to call for Trump’s impeachment. At times, they argued with his supporters.

Those who called for impeachment said Trump bribed the president of Ukraine to get information on a political opponent. They also said he violated the Constitution and has stopped witnesses from testifying.

Supporters and opponents of impeachment rally in Billings, MT, Dec. 17, 2019.
Credit Kayla Desroches / Yellowstone Public Radio
Yellowstone Public Radio
Supporters and opponents of impeachment rally in Billings, MT, Dec. 17, 2019.

Terry Zee Lee of Billings said the reasons to impeach the president keep piling up, and she considers it her civic duty to speak out.

"All thoughtful, caring people that are concerned about our democracy should actually be out here with us. We’re in very, very dangerous times. Democracies are fragile things, and we have to stand up for the law. Nobody is above the law."

The rally lasted about an hour before the crowd dispersed.

In the Flathead Valley, a handful of impeachment supporters held signs in Whitefish early Tuesday morning. They received both supportive honks and “Trump 2020” chants.

Later in the day over 100 people gathered at Depot Park in Kalispell around noon for a ritual protesters call "Trump Tuesdays." Betty Kuffel of Whitefish has been organizing the nearly three-year long protest.

"Yea, this is part of, the national response that is actually 'resist Trump Tuesdays.' We have been out here as a group every Tuesday since Trump's inauguration, actually” Kuffel says.

Tuesday’s turnout was much larger than usual, fueled by the impending impeachment vote in the House.

Kalispell resident Valeri McGarvey doesn’t expect this gathering or the other pro-impeachment events happening around the country to change the way that vote, or a potential Senate trial, will pan out. She doesn’t expect the Republican controlled Senate to find Trump guilty. Still, she says the process is necessary to highlight what she calls Trump’s corruption. And like many others, she says these gatherings give her a community in the conservative Flathead Valley.

"We live in a conservative area, and I think it’s easy to feel that you’re all alone in your values and the direction we want to see the country go in," McGarvey says.

But these protests have drawn the attention of Trump supporters, like Zack Wenzel of Bigfork, who wanted to show their support ahead of the impeachment vote.

"Yea, so they told me they’ve been out here for three years, and I keep tellin 'em, 'well, get ready for five more, you know?' So, if they want to share their side of the story, we have the right to share our side as well," he says.

A group of men stand with signs in support of President Donald Trump on a sidewalk.
Credit Aaron Bolton / Montana Public Radio
Montana Public Radio
Zack and Brandon Wenzel of Bigfork and Dave (last name withheld) of Kalispell were among a handful of Trump supporters to counter protest In Depot Park in Kalispell, MT Dec. 17, 2019.

Wenzel started showing up to counter-protest when impeachment proceedings began in September. He and the handful of Trump supporters who came out are getting their honks too. One passerby in a car screams, "you guys are awesome!"

In Missoula on the busy street outside Republican U.S. Senator Steve Daines’s office, Red MAGA hats intermingled with signs like "DUMP TRUMP" and "NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW." More than 200 ralliers turned out, including a few dozen supporting President Trump.

Missoula County Republican Chair Vondene Kopetski handed out signs to Trump supporters.

"The Democrats are trying to overturn the will of the voters," Kopetski said.

In Bozeman, around 200 people rallied in front of the Gallatin County Courthouse. One of them, 75 year-old Arlis Wood, had a sign propped against the front steps that read “M-peach the orange.”

"Just having a rally like this shows there's a lot of people with like mind," Wood says. "Whether it’s a majority or not, I don’t know. That’s not important. It’s important that we voice what we have on our minds, and I think that’s one of the democratic ideals, the free speech aspect that we’re up holding tonight."

The rallies in Helena, Billings, Whitefish, Missoula, Bozeman and Livingston were publicized on Civic Action and by other national liberal groups. The group’s impeachment rally website includes planning guides, talking points, sample letters to the editor and other materials for local organizers to use for rallies.

A woman hold a yellow protest sign that reads "You have over 50% of people saying that they are not in agreement with the impeachment inquiry in one fashion or another. Either or they don't agree with it, or they don't think the president should be impeached and removed."

Raile says support for impeachment runs heavily along party lines.

"Since we have more Republicans than Democrats in the state, you get the numbers that you get."

Alex Street is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carroll College in Helena. He says even in a Trump state, it makes sense that there are more protests organized against Trump than in support of him in the hours before an impeachment vote.

"To me, it makes sense that you'd see more onus — you know, if people who are opposed to the president or opposed to his agenda, if they’re going to have any hope of getting anything done then they’d better get organized. Whereas the supporters, there’s less responsibility on them to get things done right now because he's [Trump] doing it."

Montana’s lone voice in the U.S. House, Republican Greg Gianforte, accuses Democrats of being obsessed "with overturning the results of the 2016 election since President Trump was elected." He also says the impeachment efforts have been "a sham since day one." Gianforte has said he plans to vote against the impeachment articles.

Related: Where Montana's U.S. House candidates stand on impeachment

Corin Cates-Carney is the Flathead Valley reporter for MTPR.
Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.
Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.
Nick Mott is an reporter who also works on the Threshold podcast.