Archive for April 28th, 2006

3:15

Here we are! The debate. It does look like Morrison will be here. Good for him to rise to the challenge of a face-to-face confrontation with Missoula's favorite blogger, Touchstone! In fact, unlike the Bozeman debate, it looks like all the candidates except Conrad Burns will be here tonight. The candidates: Daniel Lloyd Neste Huffman, Bob Keenan, Ken Mancure, John Morison, Paul Richards, and Jon Tester.

The scene: UMT's University Center's University Theather, a wide, gently sloping windowless room with fluorescent light. A medley of viewers assemble. Unshaven undergraduates with obvious left-leaning tendencies. Sundresses. A few power suits with square-toed shoes and buzz cuts. Keenan boys?

John Morrison is working the crowd, shaking hands, gathering names. He's smaller than I anticipated. He's connecting well to the crowd.

Tester's arrived, too. Keenan. I've lost my cell phone already. How is that possible? Ah, found it…

I'm in for a marathon of writing. An hour and a half of debate, followed by a press Q&A. I can write A LOT in an hour and a half. A LOT. My poor fingers.

Things are brewing…

Phew! What is that? Cologne? Good lord…

Great, a former center for the Milwaukee Bucks just sat down in front of me. Nice view of his hat.

PS – Morrison has the hottest babes working for him. No wonder he leads the polls. So far Morrison is running away with this one.

3:30

Huffman and Richards just don't look like candidates for a federal-level elected seat. Does that mean I'm shallow? Or is that an indication of our cultural and communal expectations as to how a candidate should look? Part of me thinks Richards could have, should have, chosen to wear something other than a bolo tie and cross trainers. And Huffman looks like a high school chemistry teacher, and not in a good way. The mean kind of chemistry teacher.

Here we go! The intros and thank yous! Zzzz-zzz…

Dr. Jeffrey Green, the moderator. Bad toupee. Will people never learn? There will be questions generated by the university student government, each candidate gets five minutes to answer.

Apparently Morrison is cutting out early to give “awards” to “senior citizens.” I kid you not.

Intros:

Tester: Higher pitched voice than I expected. Touted values, background as farmer.

Richards: A bit rambling, but cool attempt to connect to the students, an antiwar candidate. Says he knows people their age are wondering whether to move to Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. I recommend New Zealand.

Morrison: Hits up the alumni connection. Has quite a well-prepared statement comparing Mansfield service in the Senate with Burns' corruption. Engergy, healthcare, prescription drugs.

Keenan: Hogs the podium. Hits his “small business” background, touts state legislative accomplishments. Talks up deficit. Good for him. Basically conceding the race, saying he represents choice in elections, almost like an apology. Talks up education and funding.

Huffman: Awkward, hits the average guy angle, tired of gas prices, energy prices, real anger shaking his voice. Loose cannon? I'm pulling for this guy!

Advantage, Morrison. Prepared statement, touts his programs, connects himself to the university’s political benefactor.

First question: What would you do to improve funding for higher education?

Huffman: Talks up deficit. Swings away from the question towards alternative energy. “They call it Big Sky country for a reason. There's something like 60% sky here.” (I did not make this up.) Talks about using the sky for wind power.

Keenan: Basically rejects the question, saying there's grants available, that' s not the job of a Senator. Federal government shouldn’t get involved. Short, terse. Plays poorly with crowd. Gum-chewing power-suit lackey manning a video camera chortles at the crowd's silence.

Tester: Make Pell grants available to students, more work study programs, research dollars for university professors. Gives example of using profs to research alternative energy.

Richards: Goes off on the importance of education for civil society. Says we need smaller teacher-student ratios in classrooms (amen, brother!), says we should have free secondary education(!): Education is paramount! Touts Ireland’s school system, with free(!) secondary(!) education(!), as an example! Holy smokes! Sort of revolutionary to even bring it up! This guy’s got no chance.

Morrison: Disagrees with Keenan – thinks well-funded universities are paramount to nation's security. Accuses Republicans of not funding education – they prefer throwing money at oil companies, wasting funds on mysterious appropriations earmarks, and cutting student aid. Promises to be an advocate of investment in higher education. Touts opportunity for all to get a higher education, research. Talks about competing with China and India and their commitment to education: we need to bolster education to keep up.

Winner: Well, Richards, duh! Seriously, though, Morrison’s statement was the strongest and the most polished. I liked how he evoked fear of an educated China and India to support funding for education. Should play well with Montanans. Not that I believe it’s true.

Question: What can we do in DC to bring back economic growth to Montana? (Dumb question. I won’t go into it here.)

Tester: Talks about bolstering education. Talks about agricultural, natural resource industry. Reinstituting country- and state- of origin labels. Touts wind energy opportunity for our state. Touts ethanol. Use raw products, logging, wood products industry. Government should facilitate business success. Government could work to market the products.

Keenan: Disagrees with Tester in government's role. The best way the government can help is to “stay out of the way” of the entrepreneurial spirit. Thirty-seconds at the mike, sits down. What does this mean? Gutting environmental regulations?

Richards: “Peace dividend!” We were supposed to get a peace dividend after the end of the Cold War; once the “war” with the Ruskies was done we were supposed to get all that military money for domestic projects. Says the military machine is chewing up the dividend in our continuing attack on third-world nations, Iraq, Iran, ex-Soviet republics. We should spend that money at home. Divert the money to developing alternative fuels research and production. That investment would create good paying jobs in Montana. (A loud cry from an onlooker, Yeah!)

Huffman: The main problem is that our incomes are too low and cost of living is too high. Minimum wage should be raised. To have the standard of living minimum wage gave in 1938, we need to raise wage to $20/hour. (Loud cheers!) Gets visibly angry at the “rich.” Dude seems slightly unhinged. Angry fellow.

Morrison: We need an agricultural policy for farmers. Encourage farmers to produce material for alternative fuels. Rails against energy policy that abets and subsidizes oil barons. Wants to end that. Wants to invest in education. We need to focus on the economic importance of educating Montanans. Stimulate venture capital investment. Invest in new technological businesses. We need affordable health care. The uninsured are bad for our economy, health, attracting workers. Impassioned rant against the cost of health care.

The winner: Clearly Morrison again. He’s the only candidate that seemed to have a well-organized proposal and played the crowd well, railing against Big Oil. Damn. He does stand out, organized, well spoken, he’s got this underlying Friedman-influenced “flat world” philosophy that he consistently weaves in an out of his narrative.

Question: War in Iraq a success or failure? (Now we’re talking!)

Keenan: Long pause. Thinking, thinking. Cites 80% voter turnout in Iraq. Lets that thought die on the vine. “We are in Iraq.” Changes topic again, mentions Osama bin Laden, says the press threatens victory, says he's uncomfortable with the situation, but we need to stay the course. Not good at all. D+ answer. And that’s charitable.

Richards: Cites the Fox poll that people believed there was a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq. Says violations of international agreements threaten our security. Claims oil industry drove invasion. Says we don't need new building of military bases in oil-rich former Soviet republics. Warns we're going after Russia's and China's oil supply and we'll be at war for a long time. We can invest the military money on energy independence. Ambitious plan to rebuild our own energy policy. (Loud cheers!)

Huffman: We're showing the world we're bullies and we're forcing our beliefs on the rest of the world. “That's bad.” We need to concentrate on domestic problems. Fifteen seconds at the mike. Maybe.

Morrison: Supports fighting terrorists abroad, says we should catch Osama bin Laden. Goes off on how we need to support our troops, but we need to speed up bringing our troops home. So we can deploy them against Iran, North Korea…and China (“in a very different way”). Did I hear that right? No permanent bases in Iraq. No more no-bid contracts. Iraqi oil in the hands of the Iraqi people. Maybe a dividend system like in Alaska, revenues to the people. (Moderate clapping.)

Morrison bolts from the debate for his senior citizen awards ceremony or something.

Tester: “Is the war in Iraq a success? No.” Says we captured Saddam, but he was our own guy. Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror or al Qaeda, it has to do with the Bush administration being a bully (nods at Huffman). We need to support our troops. We need to pay veterans their deserved benefits. (Applause.) War has destabilized the region. The President needs to redeploy our troops as soon as possible. The president's pushing the problem off is irresponsible and “not acceptable.” We need to “redeploy” the troops as soon as possible. (Loud applause.)

The winner: Richards by a nose over Tester. Strong anti-war statements played well. I think people are sick of the war. They also like Tester’s commitment to veterans. Bonus points for that.

Question: What should we do about immigration?

Richards: The House wanted to make felons of all undocumented aliens. McCain/Kennedy bill wanted to give aliens a chance to stay…many children of workers are US citizens. Not in favor of splitting families. You can tell he’s not really interested in this topic.

Huffman: We're all immigrants. “We're hypocrites!” “Let 'em in!” (Raucous applause!)

Tester: (To Huffman) “You're sure you don't want to step to the other side?” (Laughter.) We have to secure our borders, ports in the interest of national security. We need to enforce laws against the businesses that employ illegal aliens – we need to ensure that our businesses are good citizens. We need to enforce our trade agreements. We need to assure that quality of life in our trading partners are improved, so illegal aliens will be less likely to come to the United States. These are “illegal” aliens; no “cuts in line.” The Senate version of the immigration bill is workable.

Keenan: We need to enforce our borders. We need to beef up border patrol, Coast Guard, National Guard. We have temporary work visas, 50-60K. We need more. We need to allow more temporary workers to have access to citizenship.

Winner: Keenan. Yes, you read that right. Keenan. The only one with a plan for immigrants. Tester was a distant second, emphasizing only border security, not considering the immigrants themselves. Huffman’s in a fantasy land with this issue, and Richards just looked bored by the question.

Question: Should the US government subsidize alternative energies?

Huffman: “We can't rely on a government that's $8 trillion in debt. We need to do it ourselves.” Talks about individual state loans to build individual wind mills, solar power. Households will make money after a few years. (Interesting…)

Tester: The legislature used tax credits to help get wind farms get up and running here in Montana. That same sort of thing needs to happen with oilseed and ethanol products. Once the industry goes, it'll take off and build the tax base. The gov't can use tax credits: we do it all the time, “big oil gets tax credits all the time.”

Keenan: Yes, these programs need to get off the ground, but with sunset programs for annual review before they become loopholes for abuses.

Richards: Talks subsidized big oil. Take all subsidies given to oil and give them to alternative energy industries. Dips back into history of the oil crisis…Montana…not sure where he's going…Montana alternative energy program worked here…Regan scuttled the program. Apollo initiative? Must research. Cites numbers of energy savings. (Keenan looks uncomfortable.) Talks about emissions reductions.

Winner: Huffman’s plan is ambitious, cheap, and fascinating! Individual households across the state producing their own energy! Of course Missoula really doesn’t have much wind. But, still. Tester’s is, of course, the most likely. Therefore, despite Huffman’s interesting solution, I award this question to Tester.

Question: How has your life experience prepared you for representing Montana in the US Senate?

Tester: Background. Third-generation farmer. Family has run the family farm for 28 years. Converted to organics almost 20 years ago to make more profit. Learned about agriculture from parents, grandparents. Taught elementary music. Had custom butcher shop. Goes through everyday problems that everyday Montanans experience. Touts record in Montana legislature, says he will not take money. DC is a step down from Montana. “You don't have representation in DC, the big boys do.”

Keenan: Uncomfortable. Dodges. His life was about “challenges and opportunities.” Good guidance from his mother: he grew up in a single-parent home with six sisters. (Dangerous! says Mike Dey!) Dad was in a mental institution. Touts wife. Created Bigfork Inn, it became an institution, implies he contributed to Big Fork's revitalization. Advocate of mentally ill and disabled. Says he's independent minded, that's why he's in this race. He hasn't pandered to us, a hostile, liberal crowd. Says this shows his independent mind. Thus the trust we should have in him.

Richards: “I'm an ombudsman.” Touts legislative experience, work on initiatives, he's an activist. He's a reporter, having worked for every major wire service. Teaches nonprofits how to work media. Helping people getting the word out. Knows the issues and groups and people. (Long pause.) Attitude of freshness, positive state of mind. “It makes things possible, even in as negative and cynical place like Washington DC.”

Huffman: “I've been raised in the school of hard knocks.” Says he's not a Republican or Democrat, “I think for you.”

The winner: Tester. Hands down. Keenan’s “honesty” was second. Got to give it to him, he did show up, the only true Republican in the bunch.

Question: How do you feel about wire tapping for national security? (Audience-submitted question.)

Keenan: Troubled by the Patriot Act. Wiretapping is a big concern. The Patriot Act needs to be up for review by Congress every year. Again, some hemming and hawing.

Tester: President thinks he's above the law, bypassing FISA. Needs to be investigated by Senate and, if guilty, censured. Remembers 9/11: “I'll never forget.” Leaders said they wouldn't give away our freedoms, then comes the Patriot Act, which makes government an intimate part of our lives. Montana legislature called for the revoking of the Patriot Act.

Huffman: Against the Patriot Act. We shouldn't be aggressors in war. Wiretapping: it's an invasion of privacy. Rambles a bit. “The whole thing is stupid.” We presume he means war.

Richards: Talks about the Montana, federal constitutions, checks and balances. Now things are imbalanced like never before in history. The spying is illegal and grounds for impeachment… (applause) Urged Baucus to sign on to Feingold resolution. Values and honors the Constitution. We need to challenge the president.

Winner: Richards.

Question: How do you feel about abortion? Should the government regulate abortion? (Audience-submitted question.)

Richards: Reproductive choice is a matter between a woman and her physician. Period. Owe women good day care, education. Supports woman's right to reproductive freedom.

Keenan: Pro-life. Roe v Wade was a political decision. We need to have a reasoned discussion about the issue. Bottom line: “I'm pro-life.” Claims to want a “unemotional” discussion, but emotionally clings to his position. Danger, Will Robinson!

Tester: “I don't think it's an issue we should play politics with.” Decision between woman and doctor. “It should be safe, legal, and rare.” Talks about contraceptives; claims he's pro-life, but that women have the right to decide. “Is this an issue the federal government should be deciding for us? No.” The decision should be between the woman, her doctor, and her faith.

Huffman: Has daughter…abortion…rambles…people need to be educated on contraceptives. There shouldn't need to be a need for abortion. We need to be more educated on prevention. A brief a mention of abstinence.

Winner: Clearly Tester, who acknowledges the two sides of the issue and the role of faith, but still opts for individual liberty over government control.

Closing comments

Keenan: Tried to introduce himself, even though this “isn't my crowd.” There were questions with the current government, that's why he put himself on the ballot. Not afraid to say where he stands on the issues. Judge him on the issues.

Tester: Wishes Keenan luck in the primary. (Laughter.) Good track as legislator on fighting for the average “Joe or Joelene”: cutting taxes for small business, land protection, all under a balanced budget. Integrity. It's missing in DC. “I've known Senator Burns for a long time, he's a likable guy” but his association Abramoff “turns his stomach.” We need Montana's values represented on the floor of the Senate.

Huffman: Cost of living too high and wages too low. “I'm here to fight for ya.” Keep cost of living down and livable wage.

Richards: Makes plug of website, bumper stickers. Burns has been “called the third Senator from Missouri.” (Laughter.) The good ole' boy act is wearing thin, “that's why I'm running.” Cites long list of presidential and Republican wrongs…send a little sunshine to Washington DC. “My mom said that sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

Debate ends.

Impression to follow after a little thinking. I’ll probably pen something up this weekend for Monday. Enjoy the weather, Montanans!

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Links…

Today will be a slow day because…I'm going to the debate! I'll have my computer with me and hopefully be able to write up a summary as the debate rages…'tho I'm going to miss Morrison.

On with the links!

Must watch trailer for a new spinoff of “V is for Vendetta”: “C is for Cookie.”

Israel-Iran war likely? The LA Times’ Rosa Brooks thinks it will happen by Semptember. You think the US gives a hand? That won’t enrage an already tense alliance with Iraqi Shiites, you think?Busted! Hastert does appearance to promote alternative fuels and dives off in a hydrogen-fueled car…only to be dropped off a few blocks away to where his SUV was parked. Picture included.

Bill O’Reilly should hire a research assistant. He accuses a dead man of attacking him. How is it this clown has his own show?

Now there’s sex involved in the Republican lobbying scandal: K Street’s “hospitality suites.” Kos has a bunch of juicy links.

Here’s another Republican scandal, mysterious losses in money appropriated for Iraq. Ho-hum. Just another money thing.

According to Digby, crippling FEMA was part of master plan to prove government doesn’t work. Self-fulfilling prophecies, these. Incompetence, idiocy, tools of the divine?

Is there a plan to solve the Mideast crisis by contracting our defense industry to Dubai? What is with Dubai, anyway? Do they hold Bush gambling chits, or what?

TPMCafe: “John Morrison slapped around by the blogs.” Wulfgar!’s notoriety extended another day.

Bill Kristol asked tough questions on the Colbert show, Kristol flummoxed: why is it fake journalists conduct better interviews?

Photo over at Talking Points Memo that may show who’s the real boss in the administration. *Yawn.* Tell us something we didn’t already know.

Budge has a post with actual suggestions on how to fix the health-care FUBAR, though it seems to ignore the claims in the Krugman/Wells essay and doesn’t actually seem to solve the problems with our health-care system. I guess I could write a post about it. Nah. Let me just say any system that relies on insurance companies lowering prices and employers increasing pay ain’t gonna happen.




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