On Nov. 3, voters in Senate District 38 will choose between two very different candidates. Democrat incumbent Edie McClafferty of Butte is a school teacher who has advocated for increased state spending on education and mental health. Republican challenger Jim Buterbaugh, a longtime Whitehall resident, is a conservative who once led rallies in opposition of relocating refugees to Montana without stronger vetting.
The Monitor spoke with Buterbaugh and McClafferty in separate interviews about their lives, their work, their ideals, and their politics. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Videos of the full interviews are available at boulder-monitor.com.
—Keith Hammonds, publisher
Edie McClafferty: ‘We need acceptance and forgiveness’
Monitor: You’re a fifth-grade school teacher at Hillcrest Elementary in Butte. How are you reckoning with teaching in a pandemic?
It is hard. It’s taken some time to get used to and to get down a schedule and a method. But we’re working together to do it, and it’s getting done. The teachers are sharing ideas and our failures and successes. And when I talk to my remote students every day on the computer, I ask them to tell me what’s not working. I tell them please bear with me; this is new for me. They’ve been great. And the parents are wonderful; they’re helping to get us through the hiccups.
It’s been a big learning experience for everybody. I told my husband today, ‘I had a great day.’ Having a great day means the computer works [laughs] and I was able to get the lessons through to the students. It’s been slow, but we’re doing real good.
Monitor: You studied elementary education in college. Why?
I didn’t go back to school until I was 40. I had the pleasure of being able to be home for my children when they were growing up. Then, when my son was a junior in high school, one of my good friends told me, why don’t you go back to school. I was really afraid of going back after that many years. But I said, if I can make it through one class, which was computers, I would go back full time. I did good, but you have to convince yourself when it’s a giant step like that; and it was a big step for me. I did my elementary ed and my special ed because I loved working with kids. I had been working as a school monitor for years, and I just like kids.
Monitor: You were born and raised in Butte. Tell me about your childhood.
I had a great childhood. My dad was a miner, and mom was a stay-at-home mom. I went to a Catholic school until that closed, then to public schools. I grew up on the hill, and I experienced everything the Butte kids did: Riding the bike up the hill; everything is up the hill. Playing kick the can. One thing I still laugh at, we have a 9 o’clock siren from the fire house, and that was our way of knowing it was time to go home. To this day, I watch the kids in the neighborhood, and when the siren goes off, they all run home.
Monitor: You and your husband ran a business together for 23 years. What did you learn from that?
That was Mac’s Glass. I learned a lot. My husband, Danny, is a great teacher, and he was very patient with me. The first year, I broke a lot of glass! But I learned how to work with my hands, how to cut glass and glaze windows. I really enjoyed working with people, and I loved working with my husband. And when the kids had school plays, or when they grew up and had kids of their own, we were able to just close the shop and go. We took care of family, they always came first.
Monitor: You served as a Commissioner for Silver Bow County starting in 1991. That was your first elected office. Why did you run?
In the area we were living in, there were a lot of things being overlooked and not being taken care of. So I decided to run and see if I could clean up our area. I was Commissioner for eight years. I managed to do some street repairs that were needed badly, and we built a park here, Racetrack Park. Some volunteer firemen came to me and asked what we could do with that area. There wasn’t a park on that side for the kids. So I went to the Community Development, and we wrote some grants and did fundraisers to make up the difference, and we got it built. It took about three years.
Monitor: You went to the State Legislature in 2008. Why?
At the time, the seat was available, and no one was running. I thought: I can do this. It is a very different role, and there was a big learning curve. But I enjoyed working so much with the people when I was Commissioner, I wanted to do this again.
Monitor: Did you enter the Legislature with a mandate?
Education has always been important to me; that was the one thing I wanted to work on the most. I didn’t know a lot about the other committees. But once you start learning, you find your niche. I started listening about mental health issues.
Monitor: Tell me about HB660, the 2019 bill to support Mobile Crisis Units, which you played a big part in making happen. Why was that important to you?
A couple of veterans came to talk to me about that bill. It had been a veterans’ issue in other states. I thought, right on, our veterans need help. But as we started working on the bill, I realized this isn’t just a vets issue; this is a bill for everybody who has mental problems. So we decided to expand it to include anybody who’s in trouble.
It was important to get this through. Towns everywhere were suffering from the suicide crisis. I worked with Joel Krautter (R-Sidney). He saw a need in eastern Montana. I could tell his heart was into the issue as much as mine, and we had good teamwork. When we went to the House committee hearing, he’d always open up, and I’d come in second and expand. We both worked on getting people to testify at the hearings. And when things didn’t look good – because at one point the bill almost died – we gave each other support. That bill, the more people we talked to, the more people supported it. This was needed all over Montana.
Monitor: Teen suicide is extraordinarily high in Montana. How do we best confront that?
We make sure we’re aware of the signs. We listen. When someone says that they’re thinking of killing themselves, they usually say it to a friend. That friend has to know that when you say that, you’re serious and you need help. So it’s about awareness. The programs we’ve brought into the schools, it’s not just for teachers, it’s to equip students.
Monitor: If you’re reelected, what will your priorities be?
I’ll continue to work with mental health issues. And education. One thing I’d like to see is funding for early education. Last session, it came close, and I was very disappointed that it didn’t happen.
Monitor: Thinking about the racial justice, what do you make of this moment?
Discrimination, there’s no place for it. It’s painful. I’ve been discriminated against as a woman and for my race; my father is from Mexico, I’m Mexican. I don’t care who you are, it hurts. We have to teach children that discrimination is unacceptable. We’re going to have differences, but those differences should be acceptable. So we need acceptance and, sometimes it’s hard to do, but forgiveness. I don’t know the answers, but I’m willing to work with anyone to make someone’s life better.
Jim Buterbaugh: ‘We’re failing kids, and our country’
Monitor: Tell me about growing up. You’ve mentioned that you were born at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.
I was a military brat. I was the youngest of four boys, all four years apart. When I was four years old, we moved to Germany, and when I was six we moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. Dad retired shortly after that in Omaha.
Monitor: What did you learn from your parents?
I learned tolerance from mom. My dad wasn’t a very tolerant guy. He did well in the military because he had a military kind of mind, and our home life was kind of military, too. He was pretty strict. I didn’t weep when mom and dad got divorced when I was nine. It was kind of a relief. After that, I went from being middle class to being poor. But life with mom was good.
Monitor: How did that experience of poverty shape you?
It was quite a change. Dad was kind of the guy you kept up with; he was the first to have color TV, the first to have air conditioning. Christmas with Dad, he was agnostic, but he believed in celebrating Christmas; the presents were piled mile high. That was how I grew up. After the divorce, I had years when I had two pairs of pants that I could wear to school. It was a completely different lifestyle. I wound up going to work at an early age to help support my mom. But I preferred that to my dad’s life. With my mom I didn’t have to worry about proving anything. It was simpler.
Monitor: You’re passionate about the importance of civics and American history. Where does that come from?
That comes from watching what is being taught in our schools. My wife is a retired teacher, and I work at the Cardwell School doing maintenance. You talk to kids these days, and they aren’t learning what they used to. American history and civics are giving way to science and math. I understand STEM is important. But our nation, what grew us, what the ideals of our nation are, those are important, too, and we’re losing that. Kids don’t understand what their rights are. Most don’t even read the Constitution.
So, I think we’re failing kids. And we’re failing our country by not teaching kids what our country is. You’ve got all these people out there protesting, because they don’t have their rights. Well, if you want to fight for your rights, use the Constitution, because that’s what it’s there for. If you want to fight for their right to live your life, to marry who you want, fight for the Constitution. As long as you aren’t harming someone else, you have the right to live with who you want.
A few years back, I was supposed to talk to the eighth-graders here in Whitehall on Constitution Day about the Constitution. A week before, I held a rally in Missoula, and the principal of the school saw that and cancelled the talk. Because I exercised my Constitutional rights, I couldn’t talk to them about what the Constitution means. I still give him crap about that to this day.
Monitor: Let’s talk about those rallies. When the International Rescue Committee started relocating refugees to Montana communities in 2016, you organized protests. Tell me why.
People in Missoula said, we need to do something to help these people; we used to have a refugee office here, let’s open it up again. And the City Council said fine. When I saw that, it bothered me, because we had had several terrorist shootings where the refugee vetting system had failed. That’s when I grew concerned. I also had a problem that all these Christians were being killed in Muslim countries — but rather than helping the Christians out, they were concentrating on bringing the Muslim refugees in.
I don’t have a problem with Muslims or any other refugees. I have a problem if the person’s history isn’t being investigated. That was my point in having the rallies. But it didn’t come off as well as I had hoped. I quit doing them because they were just bringing out haters. That’s not what this was about. Everyone is people, but you have to be careful about who and what you’re dealing with.
Monitor: The Monitor referred to you recently as a “strict Constitutionalist.” You took issue with that. Why?
When you say “strict,” you make it sound bad, absolutist. I’m just a Constitutionalist; I believe in the Constitution. I have a strong belief in the Constitution and what it’s done for this country. Anything we do has to reflect the Constitution. But you say, “strict” and it gets a whole new meaning. “Conservative Republican” is how I word it. You could call me a Constitutional Republican.
Monitor: You’re 65 years old, and this is the first time you’ve run for office. Why are you running, and why now? What’s at stake?
You look across the country and it flat scares the crap out of me. You look at these cities where they have riots, and they’re not doing anything about it. Look at Portland. Portland has been having riots for 100 nights. They do everything they can to blame Trump except fix the problem. Helena tried to defund police, they tried to do away with police officers in out of schools; what sense does that make?
We need to do something about our taxes; we’re losing our tax base to the Internet. You have a problem with missing indigenous women. I watch that happening, and all these girls disappear and nobody does anything. Sanctuary cities – where on Earth does anyone think sanctuary cities are a good thing?
I’ve been talking to people for six years about what I see going on. People say, that’s bad, and then they go back home and forget about it. I got tired of talking and nothing happening.
Monitor: How are you thinking about the racial justice protests that have taken place across the country this summer?
The [Minneapolis police officer] who had his knee on the other guy’s throat, that was murder. The problem I have is: That guy had a sheaf of things he had done wrong, but he was still on the force, and not only that, he was training other cops. What does that say about your police department? What kind of racial justice is there when the police department, which is highly integrated, hasn’t done anything about it?
We had a Black president for eight years, we have Black people in the Senate, there are Black people running businesses. We’ve come so far from the 1960s. But to sit there and destroy our country like this, these people don’t want justice. I firmly believe there was injustice in Minneapolis. And the protestors who are out there during the day, they’re out there for a reason. But the people out there at night, burning things down, they just want to destroy things. What I see going on isn’t anything about justice.
Monitor: Earlier this year, you said: “I love the America I grew up in, I love the America I raised my kids in. I want that same America to be around for my grandkids to enjoy.” Describe that America.
It’s about personal liberty, safety, and respect for life. The America I grew up in, I could go anywhere. I used to bicycle six blocks to the library when I was seven years old. You can’t do that anymore, especially in big cities. You could tell a joke, and it wasn’t something that got you in trouble. The world was so sane.