Bob Kelleher, a colorful and longtime figure in Montana politics, died Sunday in Billings.
Dubbed the “Mad Monk,“ the 88-year-old Kelleher was a frequent candidate, running for office on at least sixteen occasions between 1964 and 2008 — the year the Democrat-turned-Green Party member unexpectedly captured the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.
A delegate to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, the bushy-browed Kelleher also sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1976, largely using his long-shot candidacy to promote the idea of a parliamentary form of government — a concept that he championed most of his life.
The Montana lawyer, whose candidacy focused on the need to transition to a parliamentary form of government “so people can control the entire government, including the bureaucracy,” appeared on the ballot in three primaries that year, garnering 87 votes in New Hampshire‘s first-in-the-nation primary, 1,603 in Massachusetts, and 139 in Georgia.
As one of 100 delegates to the state constitutional convention in 1972, Kelleher fought tenaciously for the idea of a one-house parliamentary system in Montana, but was unsuccessful.
The likeable rabble rouser took up the parliamentary cause in every succeeding campaign in which he was a candidate, including his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2008.
“We’ve got to change this system before it gets any worse,” he said when entering that contest. “We can’t be going to war every other Tuesday.”
Kelleher’s nomination stunned almost everybody. One writer called him the only “Socialist” Republican in the country. “The odd thing about the whole ordeal is that Kelleher is pretty much a bona fide socialist,” wrote Joshua Frank approvingly. “More so, than say, Senator Bernie Sanders at least. Not that that’s saying a whole lot, but Kelleher’s policies do tilt dramatically left of his Democratic opponent.”
The 85-year-old Kelleher himself was surprised by his success in the primary. “I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “I guess they finally said, ‘That old bastard’s right.’ ”
Shunned by the GOP after unexpectedly winning the party’s nomination in a six-way race, Kelleher — who advocated a sharp change of direction in U.S. foreign policy and favored a massive public works program to end poverty — was trounced in November, losing to veteran Democratic Sen. Max Baucus by a lopsided margin of 348,289 to 129,369.
“He was a very intelligent and passionate man,” said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who twice ran against Kelleher. “I will call him in a good way a professional political provocateur. When no one else would poke a tiger, Bob Kelleher would. And we need that.”