A podcast about our current political moment and the complex people and beliefs that shape our state.
In Season 2 of Shared State, we tell the stories of people, groups and communities
transitioning through — and out of — political quagmires. In a state that has historically touted divided government, bipartisan solutions and helping neighbors out of ditches, today’s dynamics seem closer to a zero-sum game. This season explores political tensions, conflicts and resolutions from all corners of our state to help us understand the chapter we’re in and what could happen next.
Shared State Season 2 is collaboratively reported and produced by Montana Free Press, Montana Public Radio and Yellowstone Public Radio.
Political feuds don’t take vacations
In the summer of 2021, Livingston residents Kascie and Dan were preparing for a wilderness float trip in Idaho. Before heading to the river and leaving cell service behind, they stocked up on supplies at Dan Bailey’s, an outdoor gear shop. What happened there was caught on video and viewed millions of times, igniting a political firestorm across the country.
Water is for fighting
By October 2021, all of Montana was in severe drought — the worst the state had seen in decades. But Montana has seen bad dry spells before, forcing ranchers, farmers, conservationists and recreators to confront a collective dilemma: when water is in short supply, how can there be enough for everyone?
Who decides the future of the Badger-Two Medicine?
For many Montanans, the Badger-Two Medicine is synonymous with one of the most significant grassroots conservation successes in recent decades. That story is about Blackfeet tribal traditionalists, political leaders, and conservation groups coming together to defeat oil and gas leases in one undeveloped expanse of wilderness in Montana. Now, the coalition faces thorny questions — what does long-term protection and management of the Badger look like, and who gets to decide?
Surviving pandemic strife
It’s not surprising for Montanans to have plenty of political disagreements. What’s more uncommon? Neighbors whispering about each other at grocery stores and disrupting entire public meetings with passionate tirades. Welcome to the era of COVID-19, when debates about public health, personal liberties and science have reached a fever pitch. Those disagreements are tugging at tightly-knit towns and counties, making some residents wonder how their communities will survive in more ways than one.
Popularity’s slippery slope
Whitefish has a reputation as a charming ski destination in Montana’s northwest corner that welcomes wayward strays, whether that’s for a season or a lifetime. That attitude has helped grow small businesses and local watering holes, and keep friendly faces on the slopes and behind the bar. But in recent years, more and more people have been drawn to the good thing Whitefish has going on. Locals fear that surging popularity — and skyrocketing cost of living — could push out the very characters that make this place so special.
Bozeman is in a housing death spiral. Can local politics fix anything?
For decades, housing affordability has been a hot-button issue in Bozeman politics, a clear community pain point where the city’s elected leaders haven’t managed to deliver significant relief. As insider and outsider candidates campaigned for city offices in 2021, housing policy became the election’s key issue. The solution, some residents argued, was to elect working class advocates to positions of power. Key to getting the job done, others countered, is experienced, incumbent leadership.
Colstrip’s next chapter
There’s not much certainty for the coal industry these days. In Montana, four of the six owners of the Colstrip Power Plant live in states where legislation is requiring companies to wean themselves off of coal energy. Residents of Colstrip — a town that has grown and prospered because of that resource — fear that any bad news for the industry will be even worse for them. Up against shifting markets and corporate interests, how can advocates for Colstrip ensure future stability for its residents?
The politics of death and dying
In 2009, Montana was caught up in a heated national debate over whether terminally ill patients could expedite their deaths by taking lethal, physician-prescribed medication. More than a decade later, the state is still mired in disagreement about medical aid in dying, in part because courts and elected lawmakers have sidestepped the political hot-potato. Meanwhile, individual Montanans are confronting profound and personal questions about death in their own ways — including whether “good” deaths are even possible.