Monte Monash
Monte Monash, a lobbyist with ties to Mayor Muriel Bowser, is in the running for the Ward 3 Council seat. Credit: Antoinette Charles

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Monte Monash says she isn’t trying to hide anything. In a recent interview, the lobbyist from the American University Park area brings up her GOP roots without prompting from Loose Lips. Before mounting a bid for the Democratic nomination in the Ward 3 Council primary, she was registered as a Republican.

Monash’s political past has become hot gossip among activists working in the crowded race to replace retiring Councilmember Mary Cheh. Several raised the issue with LL as soon as Monash (who has close ties to Mayor Muriel Bowser) joined the field. Many of the folks engaged in local elections have access to the city’s voter file, which clearly shows Monash (whose full name is Myntoleah) registered as a Republican as recently as this January.

It’s a bit of an awkward situation for her, considering that D.C.’s closed primaries prevented her from voting in the Democratic primary contest she’s currently running in, so she has a clear interest in getting ahead of that criticism.

In short, her story goes like this: Monash registered as a Republican decades ago in order to pursue career opportunities in Congress, the White House, and the broader world of Washington advocacy groups, and she simply never thought to change it. She claims deep roots as a Democrat, largely stemming from her mother’s work on local politics as an advisory neighborhood commissioner (a non-partisan position), and says she managed to stay engaged in local elections despite never voting in the all-important Democratic primary.

“Any of my neighbors know, I was always there campaigning for several candidates that were Democrats, and I hosted lots of events for Democrats,” Monash says. “No matter what, I’ve always supported Democrats…It was like forgetting to change your organ donation designation on your license, thinking ‘Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow.’ I always thought about changing it when elections rolled around but never did it.”

LL invites you to judge for yourself whether those explanations are sufficient, given the candidate’s background.

Monash, who recently resigned as chair of the DC Public Library board of trustees, says she first got connected with Republicans as a teenager, working as a Congressional page in the late 1980s. Back then, Democrats were dominant in the House of Representatives, and since each member of Congress was assigned a page, the Republican side of the aisle had a lot less manpower. So Monash says she was detailed from the Democratic side where she started to help the GOP leadership, crossing paths with the likes of Trent Lott, a future Senate majority leader.

She started forming relationships on that side of the aisle, so as she started pursuing jobs (including internships in Congressional offices), she decided to register as a Republican.

“It wasn’t like something I was like, ‘I’m so disenfranchised with the Democrats, I’m out of here,’” Monash says. “It was like, you know, ‘I’m being sought after, because people see that I have a voice.’…They’d say, ‘You’re a Democrat, but we want you here, so you have to switch.’”

So did Monash agree with the Republican agenda back then, when the party was defined by Reagan conservatism and the extreme views of an up-and-coming Newt Gingrich? She says she generally didn’t give national politics much thought, stressing that she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Voting records show her voting in seven GOP primaries between 1996 and 2012, but it’s impossible to see how she cast her ballots.

Her career quickly took her onto K Street in the lobbying world, snagging a job at Liz Robbins and Associates in 1998 (the firm’s clients at the time include a pretty typical list of pharmaceutical companies and other big corporations, per the Open Secrets database). But she spent much more time working for an organization called the Best Friends Foundation, founded by Elayne Bennett (the wife of Bill Bennett, who worked in top roles for both Reagan and George H.W. Bush and has since become a political pundit for the right).

Monash says she found the group through some Congressional connections and helped fundraise and write grants for the organization. It lists its mission on its website as advancing school curricula for middle and high school students that “promotes self-respect through self-control and provides participants the guidance to avoid the risk behaviors of sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence.” A 2001 book by a conservative commentator provides a more direct description: a “non-religious abstinence program.”

“Best Friends girls are thought of as hip and cool and have fun, not as hard line goody-goodies,” Monash is quoted as saying back when she was still using her maiden name, Corbett. “Sex education doesn’t discuss problems openly or link it to other abusive behavior. Contraception programs talk about safe sex. We think telling them they have a choice to have safe sex or not isn’t an option. We say wait until you’ve got through the high school years to make decisions about what is a very serious adult matter.”

Monash stayed with the group from 1998 through 2003, per a resume she submitted to the D.C. Council. She left to join another lobbying firm, Platinum Advisors. She largely represented municipal clients on infrastructure issues—work that she continued at her next stop as a lobbyist for the Parsons Corporation. Monash launched her own firm with a similar focus in 2008, where she still works. Clients generally include a mix of engineering companies, according to its website. The Best Friends Foundation is listed as a past client, too.

So, minus her stated commitment to Democrats, Monash’s resume looks pretty typical for a Ward 3 Republican with connections on the Hill. Her political donation record is a bit more mixed between parties, favoring D.C. standbys like Robert Bobb, Adrian Fenty, Linda Cropp, Kenyan McDuffie, and (of course) Bowser herself. Open Secrets shows a handful of national donations, mostly to Democratic candidates, with the sole (very perplexing) exception of a $200 check to Mike Pence’s first bid for Indiana governor in 2012.

For her part, Monash says she first began giving serious thought to leaving the GOP behind as COVID-19 took hold and she watched Republicans begin turning masks and vaccines into a partisan issue (not to mention her growing frustration with Donald Trump’s “disgusting behavior”). She remembers crying when Bowser unveiled Black Lives Matter plaza amid the George Floyd protests, too.

Monash is quite the fan of Bowser and has grown closer to her through her political activities in the AU Park area. She served on Bowser’s 2014 transition team and her Women’s Policy Commission. Bowser tapped her for the library board gig in 2018, and she was reappointed in 2020, stepping down to run for the Ward 3 seat.

Despite those local political connections, Monash says she didn’t initially consider running when Cheh stepped down. But she “started to see the field kind of stack up and I thought, maybe there might be room for another voice here.”

If she’s elected, Monash is particularly interested in preserving mayoral control of schools, supporting Bowser’s plans to grow the police force, and guiding affordable development in the ward by building relationships with developers. Echoing Cheh’s environmental focus, a ban on plastic bottles is another one of Monash’s top issues.

Those priorities are all very much of a piece with other, similarly pro-Bowser candidates in the field, like Ward 3 Democrats chair Phil Thomas or D.C. government veteran Eric Goulet. So why does she stand out? Monash argues she has the right experience and vision, particularly on infrastructure issues; she says she would like to pick up Cheh’s mantle and chair D.C.’s transportation and environment committee someday. Her message has had some resonance so far judging from her decent fundraising numbers even though she was one of the last entrants into the race.

LL might argue that she stands out in the nine-person contest for another reason.

Monash embodies a certain type of Ward 3 voter—those who generally consider themselves Democrats but who possess conservative leanings too, often with connections to federal Washington and the local political power structure. If that sounds like you, she just might be your candidate.