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  • August 23rd, 2019


By Joel M. Vance

Jack Ballard is running as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Montana.  “Say what?” You ask, followed by the second question: “And just who is Jack Ballard and why should I care?”


First let me tell you the why and then the who. The United States Senate presently is controlled by the Republican Party, by a razor thin voting majority of 51 to 49. Leader of the Republican pack is Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell (who has come to be known as Moscow Mitch because of his refusal to allow votes on any legislation designed to curb Russian interference in our elections and because of a large influx of Russian money into his home state of Kentucky) Considering that there is a 99.9% certainty that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is why today we are almost daily diminished as a nation of integrity and honor by Donald J Trump.


McConnell’s fellow Republican Senator and prime enabler is South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham who increasingly is being nicknamed Leningrad Lindsay. Apparently, neither of them is fond of being associated with Russian interference in United States elections (tough noogies), but the solution is to elect senatorial representatives who truly do represent their constituency and the interests of the country. Enter Jack Ballard, a person I have known and respected deeply for many years.


Jack and I served together on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and, as the group’s historian, I was supposed to keep my mouth shut, although I rarely did— as opposed to Jack who sat quietly amid a group of ego dominated communicators until he had something to say. And when he did say something it was thoughtful, intelligent and incisive. It didn’t take long for the board to realize that rather than chewing an issue to tatters, it saved time just to ask Jack what he thought, nod and vote in agreement, and move on to the next question.


If Montana voters choose Jack they will not just be gaining an outstanding Senator, they will be gaining a marital team that, it is not overstating to say, is comparable to the vintage Golden State Warriors or Chicago Bulls at their peak. Between them Jack, and his wife, Lisa, have teamed to pile up more accolades in their field of outdoor communication than the Warriors and Bulls did on the basketball court.


The two married six years ago after a romance that spanned two thirds of the country— Lisa Densmore at the time had established herself as a multifaceted outdoor communicator, specializing in cinematography, writing and as a downhill ski racer in the northeast’


A three-time Emmy-winning host and field producer, Lisa spent 20 plus years working in television and documentary film, covering mountain and water sports, outdoor recreational activities, nature, wildlife, adventure and conservation topics. Her television programs have appeared on virtually all the network and cable channels.  In addition to her television work she has been a writer since 1991 with hundreds of regional and national magazine and website publications to her credit as well as 11 published books.


In addition to being a professional writer she also has taken thousands of photographs from all over the world which have won many awards and have appeared in books, on calendars, greeting cards, advertising and websites as well as in her own books.


As if that weren’t enough to attract any prospective suitor, Lisa is a professional skier. She has been downhill skiing since she was a kid and now participates in ski racing camps as well as ski clinics. She also competes in downhill racing on the Masters circuit.


If ever there was anything to test the strength of a romantic relationship, it would be that last facet of  Lisa’s resume.  Jack says, “When Lisa and I got together, it was understood that a long-term relationship would require my becoming a skier, preferably an alpine racer (though I was candidly told not to try to keep up as all previous boyfriends had failed.)


“And so, seven years ago I started alpine racing. It’s what now motivates my fitness throughout the year and has become a primary focus in life. The only thing I really, really enjoy while skiing is arcing fast turns on an open slope. But alpine racing also has some hazards. Sustained injures along the way are as follows: sprained MCL (left knee), two broken ribs and torn sternum cartilage, dislocated pinky finger, sprained wrist with probable hairline fracture, severely sprained MCL and LCL (left knee), torn labrum (left shoulder), grade four AC joint separation (right shoulder – collarbone no longer attached), concussion, broken rib and a completely ruptured Achilles’ tendon. So what do you think, healthy addiction or no?


Here is a capsule biography of Jack from his website:  “I will do everything in my power to get money out of politics and get thoughtful, committed, middle-class people on stage,” he says.  “The “system is tilted toward wealthy people from the get-go.”  Jack is neither related to the Ballard Oil Co. family nor to the Orioles baseball player Jeff Ballard, who was born in Billings. “If it’s a Ballard who is famous or has money, they are no relation,” Jack says.  “Many people are asking how they can help. We can use lots of volunteers in Montana to get the word out nationally. And of course there’s that money thing… The campaign website is up and ready for donations. www.ballardformontana.com”


Calling himself an outdoor guy from Red Lodge, Ballard says one of his top concerns is the Trump administration’s management of public lands to benefit extractive industries, like mining and the oil and gas industry, to the detriment of native habitat and wildlife. He also chides Republican opponent Steve Daines for his proposal to release the state’s wilderness study areas from protection without first discussing it with constituents.  Jack says “It seems obvious to me we need to invest in better management and emphasize activities on public land that are better for wildlife habitat,”


He emphasizes the need to reduce medical costs for Americans. “Without cost containment there’s no meaningful health care reform,” he said. Among his health care ideas are to study what other countries have done successfully and consider a price  cap on services to contain costs.


As an example, Ballard pointed to charges he faced for a wrist brace following one of his ski injuries.  The brace’s cost was $226. A similar one was $65 online, delivered to his home. When he called the California-based brace company to complain, the company representative basically told him to pay up or shut up.


“We have a serious health care problem in the United States,” Jack says. “We pay much more on a per-capita basis and receive in some cases inferior service compared to many other countries.”


Jack is the second youngest of seven children and grew up on a ranch his grandfather homesteaded between Three Forks and Whitehall. He earned a master of arts degree in 1989 from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1994 he earned a master’s in education at Montana State University, Billings and then taught there for a dozen years.


He is now a full-time writer, sat on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and has published 13 books. He has been married to Lisa for six years and has three internationally adopted children from his previous marriage. “One of the most satisfying things in my life is trying to give those kids a way to be successful in a country that gives them more opportunity,” Jack says.


He  criticizes incumbent Senator Steve Daines for supporting President Trump’s tax cut, calling it a mistake for Montana while adding to the U.S. deficit at a time when the economy is doing well. In addition, Ballard said Daines has done “nothing to check”  McConnell’s “worst instincts on bottling up legislation.”


Although being a rancher’s son and a popular outdoor writer in Big Sky Country, Jack’s path to the Senate will not be a smooth one. Before he can challenge Steve Daines in November 2020, he has to get past two formidable Democratic challengers. Democrats Wilmot Collins and John Mues who both bring powerful resumes to the contest.


Collins is the first African-American mayor of a Montana city since the state joined the union in 1889. He also is a naturalized immigrant from Liberia a country from which he fled in 1994 to escape civil war. He won his mayoralty in 2017 by beating a four term incumbent with 51% of the vote. He was been a naval reservist for 20 years and worked for the state child and human services department, specializing in child protection.


Mues is a nuclear engineer and a graduate of the U.S. Navy Academy, trained as a submarine nuclear engineer. He is a fourth generation Montanan and after leaving the Navy he taught on the Fort Belknap Indian reservation for two years. Perhaps the most telling attribute of Mues is that the Montana Republican party has assailed him as “yet another Democrat running in Montana to represent the radical left and their socialist agenda,” and adding that Mues would oppose Trump’s policies.   The Republicans undoubtedly will say the same about Jack Ballard.


Of the three men standing between Jack Ballard in the Senate, Steve Daines the Republican incumbent might be the most vulnerable.  Daines is a first-term senator, elected by a weird set of circumstances in 2014. Basically he replaced Max Baucus, who was the longest serving senator in Montana history— nearly 36 years before he resigned in 2014 to become the United States ambassador to China. Here’s where it gets complicated. Montana Governor when Baucus resigned was Steve Block, a Democrat, who appointed Lt. Governor John Walsh to the vacant senatorial seat.


Walsh intended to run for a permanent seat in 2014 but then withdrew after he was accused of plagiarism while working for a master’s degree at the U.S. Army War College. The Democrats picked one term legislator, Amanda Curtis, to serve in Walsh’s place and she was defeated fairly handily by Daines in the general election


Jack’s fellow outdoor communicators have flocked to express support for his candidacy. Unfortunately, most of them don’t live in Montana so can’t vote for him. But they have outlined in print the reasons the country needs Jack in the Senate to fight against the incessant assault by the Trump administration on the nation’s natural resources.


It would be a mistake to think of Jack as a one issue candidate—protection of outdoor resources— when his platform is multifaceted, including dedication to other major issues like health care and education. The country needs a return to sanity and representation by legislators obligated to the common good, not to special interests. Jack’s values are what the country was founded on and what we aspire to be. But a return to that ideal begins at the ballot box.


Multi talented outdoor communicator Mike Furtman from Duluth Minnesota, said it as well as anyone could, “My friend Jack Ballard has announced he is seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate to represent the great state of Montana. Would I vote for him? Damn right I would. He’s the real deal. I hope my Montana friends will read his story, and follow his progress. If you like him, help him! Heck, even if you’re not from Montana, you can contribute to his campaign (Put it a black envelope – we can call it “dark money” like all the fat cats get!)”


And renowned outdoor photographer Tim Christie, who lives in neighboring Idaho, said this, “Jack Ballard is the real deal. He is well educated, believes strongly in promoting and preserving public lands, has been a college professor, and is a well regarded outdoor writer and photographer with 13 books to his credit. If you’re from Montana, or if you believe strongly in protecting private lands and outdoor pursuits like fishing, hiking, photography and hunting, check him out. In 2020 we need more people just like Jack Ballard to fill Senate seats.”


Teddy Roosevelt, our most conservation oriented President, and his equally able and natural resource oriented Roosevelt cousin Franklin Delano, have been gone a long time and we are way overdue and desperately need legislators who care about the health and welfare of the natural landscape and have the will and the expertise to do something about it . I’ve given money to Jack’s campaign and will give more. A dollar or thousand dollars all will help. Check him out on the campaign website BallardforMontana.com– and then send a check.


Beyond Montana’s need for a senator willing to fight for intelligent management of the state’s bounteous outdoor resources, the entire nation needs senators of integrity and intelligence, something woefully lacking in today’s lineup. Montana voters need to do what the Outdoor Writers Association Board of Directors did when Jack was a member— listen to what he says, quit chewing over the choices, and then vote for Jack. Both Montana and the nation will benefit.






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1 Comment

  1. Larry Stone

    August 23rd, 2019 at 4:52 am


    The whole country needs Jack!

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