Archive for April 30th, 2006

I promised it, now here it is, my take on the debate and the candidates. As always, this is my opinion, and I may be wrong in every one of my assumptions. Miracles do happen, ha ha.

Daniel Lloyd Neste Huffman: Look, I'm ecstatic this guy's in the race. He's a fun addition to the other stuffed suits hogging the podium. He's blunt, honest, and outraged. And he has a couple of good ideas, like his idea about state loans to individual households to purchase windmills: a way to put money in both the state's and individual's coffers. (Windmills allow owners put money back into the electric grid, for which they're paid.) I like the idea of raising minimum wage – but in today's economic/political climate he ain't gonna get much serious consideration asking for $10-$15 an hour like he is.

That's the problem: Huffman is a one-note guy obviously untutored in politics, unable to work compromises with the multitude of views and pressures required of a high-profile and powerful elected official. I like his occasional incoherent rants, as did the crowd, but I wouldn't want the guy representing me in the Senate.

Projected role in DC: If this dude gets elected, the Republican leadership will treat him like a pariah. He might get an unimportant seat on the Senate's Mongolian Relations Sub-Committee on Animal Disease Prevention.

Paul Richards: Lovely man. I truly believe that if all 100 members of the Senate were like Richards, we'd be much, much, MUCH better off than we are now. Instead of discussing whether we're going to use nukes in our upcoming invasion of Iran, we'd be arguing over student/teacher ratios, charter schools, and multilingual requirements at the elementary school level. (Note to my conservative readers: that's a good thing.) I agree if we dump all the taxpayer money we've wasted on Iraq and other quixotic military plans and invested it in education and alternative energies, we wouldn't be facing any problems with terror, global warming, or much of anything serious. H*ll, it's what we should do.

Unfortunately, we need someone who'll not only work successfully within the framework of the federal government, but also someone who can actually win this race. That man is not Paul Richards. He is, after all, the candidate that compares himself to a “little ray of sunshine” and claims he'll succeed in Washington because of his “positive mentality.” He's almost a stereotype. He can't win.

This isn't a slight: Paul Richards doesn't think he can win, either, or he wouldn't be making appearances in string ties and cross-trainers. But this gives him freedom to bring up ideas and issues the other candidates won't. And he might even force one of the Democratic candidates to move left in order to pick up Richards' votes. That's a good thing.

Projected role in DC: The Democratic leadership will be wary. But in Richards, Feingold will find a strong ally in his attempts to censure the President. I see Richards taking a strong role in human rights and civil liberties legislation. (*Sigh* It makes me wish we lived in a world that valued the Paul Richardses among us.)

John Morrision: I was surprised by Morrison's performance at the debate, what little I saw of him. In the pre-debate, he waded into the pro-Tester crowd, shaking hands, chatting amicably. During his time to speak, I found him – unlike Wulfgar's! impressions – lucid and organized in his answers, and very tuned into national issues. He sounded professional, yet earnest. Flashy, but together. Like a Senator. He's obviously concerned about health care. His ideas on supporting tech businesses fits well within our current economic and political realities. He does seem like a one-issue guy, though – health care – but it's a pretty dang important issue.

On the other hand, his view of the war was atrocious. We need to redeploy our troops from Iraq for possible use against Iran and North Korea? Did he really say that? I need to get my mind around that. Ultimately I'll be deciding my Democratic primary vote on two issues: the war, and executive authority. Morrison flunked the first. And honestly he needs to take a strong stance against Iraq and against the President if he wants to win the primary. (That's a no brainer with Presidential approval ratings in the teens among Democrats.)

Unfortunately he cut out before he could address wiretapping, abortion, and immigration.

Yes, I'm nervous about his possible ethics violations, but he climbed a few notches in my estimation. Still, there's that war thing. Is he another neocon? I'll have to get clarification from his office on that one. But there's the unanswered questions. Can he win the general with skeletons in the closet? And why does he have so much money? Who's banking him?

Projected role in DC: From Morrison's answer on the Iraq war, I'm guessing he's not going to be in the front lines challenging the Bush administration on Iraq, executive authority. I'm guessing he'll be sensitive to being called “weak on security,” etc. Another Max Baucus? That's not what we need right now, more timid, indecisive foot soldiers in the party? I think he needs to more aggressive in speaking against Burns and Bush. In DC, he will be on the front lines in health care reform. Not sexy, but important.

 (Update: Two Points, who posted in the comments, was also at the debate and corrects my impression on Morrison's stance on Iraq, Iran, etc.:

I do not think Morrison was talking about using troops against Iran, North Korea, and China. I cannot recall the exact quote but the sense I got was, “we need to redeploy our troops and focus (our foriegn policy) to face the challenges of Iran, North Korea, and, in a much different way, China.” I don’t think anyone disagrees that nuclear proliferation in Iran and Korea pose much greater threats to US security than Iraq. And I thought it was actually thoughtful to mention China as a critical component in our larger foreign policy agenda. I think it is a misrepresentation to say Morrison implied he’d send troops into those areas.

Thanks for the clarification!)

Bob Keenan: Funny, I'm looking at the Missoulian's profile of the state Senator (as of right now, not available online). Charles Johnson wonders if Keenan's run at Senate is just a self-promotional tour in preparation for a 2008 gubernatorial run. That was my impression watching the debate, too.

First he basically admitted the only reason he's running is that someone needs to provide the incumbent a challenge – basically a formality, really – and sounded almost apologetic about being in the race. Then any time a question arose on national importance – the war in Iraq, Bush's domestic wiretapping – he looked genuinely perplexed, like he really felt sort of disgusted by the whole thing, realized he couldn't openly blast the President, and Conrad Burns for blindly supporting the administration's disastrous policies, but hadn't bothered to think out a reasonable answer to the questions that walked a line between these conflicting thoughts. Stay the course in Iraq? That's a non-answer. He dodged wiretapping and instead gave some answer about making the Patriot Act renewable on a yearly basis, as if it weren't already too late for that.

But once you take him out of national issues, he seems like he has a clear message: government should be involved as little as possible in our lives, especially in regulating business. His answer on immigration was excellent, realistic and workable and obviously represented those businesses that rely on illegals' cheap labor.

He's seems to be using his Senate candidacy to express his independent-mindedness, as he reminded us several times during the debate. He's no party-trooper, he says, he's crashing Burns' easy primary run. But what he doesn't mention is that he's planning on spending a mere $100K in the race and telling everyone across the state he isn't going to win, he's just doing it for Democracy, so no one will feel compelled to vote for him.

While some die-hard Burns supporters might resent his entry into the race, he's giving such a feeble showing he's no serious threat. Burns floats at a mid-60s approval rating among state Republicans: what Keenan is doing is walking a line between self-promotion and party loyalty. And who do you think profits the most from Burns’ inevitable brush with the law?

I enjoyed the spectacle, and was actually impressed by his presentation, but disliked his ideas.

Projected role in DC: God help me, but the only committee I could see him on was Appropriations. A guy who doesn't believe in government shouldn't be in government. Maybe he won't bilk taxpayers like Burns does, but I can't imagine him doing much to actually solve any problems. As a fiscal conservative, he'll probably be involved in slashing valuable domestic programs, like education, college grants, etc. If you like that kind of thing, he's your man. If I were a conservative voter I'd dump Burns for this guy in a heartbeat. Seriously.

Jon Tester: Doesn't have the flash and practiced speaking demeanor of a national politician, like Morrison or Burns. Doesn't share the unbridled idealism of Richards.

I was surprised by Tester: based on the Montana blogosphere's reaction, I was expecting to be blown away by the Big Sandy farmer. Instead I got a blunt, plain-spoken man whose answers to the questions belied competency and practical legislative ability, not inspiration or excitement.

Did I like everything he said? No. I thought his stance on immigration was atrocious: he concentrated on border security and ignored Mexican immigrants, he talked about enforcing the improvement of work conditions in the aliens' home countries instead of the immediate practical necessity of dealing with millions of illegals here in this country, now.

But his views on the domestic economy, education, and agriculture were solid, realistic, and doable. Farmers across the country should be hoping Tester gets elected to the Senate: he'd be an invaluable ally. He'd also be a strong advocate of supporting the development of alternative energy, and he'd get something done about it. His views on the war were spot on: he wants out, wants to capture bin Laden, and wants to ensure our troops are really supported, not with yellow-ribbon bumper stickers, but providing them with their deserved benefits, medical attention, and to ensure their benefits aren't slashed. He had strong words to say about the Patriot Act, which were welcomed by this blogger.

Tester isn't your usual federal-level candidate: that's what I like about him. I think he'd stand out as a contrast to Conrad Burns. It'd be ridiculously easy to re-create in Tester the “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” story, but Tester actually seems to have the ability to be a major, beneficial power in Congress.

Of all the Democratic candidates, I think he has the best chance to beat Burns. Not because he's free of ethical questions, which he is, but because he's everything Burns isn't: a dirt farmer, honest, effective, genuine, a honest-to-god real Montanan.

Projected role in DC: Agriculture, health care, ethics. I'd put him on Appropriations because I trust him. In DC I'd imagine Tester working with members of both parties to find common ground on common issues, like balancing the budget. I think he'd be invaluable in a Congress that's split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, like it looks to be after the midterms. He won't be flashy, he won't make the headlines like Feingold, Clinton, or Reid, but he'd be an honest and effective legislator with conviction. Hands-down a major improvement over Burns, and a legislator most Montanans would like representing them. Very approachable and down-to-earth.

(Update: Again, Two Points:

I think it is also fair to say that Tester’s comments on immigration were far less heartless than the comments here make them appear. His discussion of enforcing quality of life standards in our trade agreements actually strikes me (as I said of Morrison) as a thoughtful look at root causes. He expressed concern about the working conditions placed on illegal immigrants living under the threat of deportation. And he brought up the issue of fairness in regard to those immigrants waiting to come to America legally to be reunited to the families etc. Finally, he did endorse a path to citizenship approach similar to the McCain-Kennedy plan.

Again, excellent points. Thanks for the input!)

Conrad Burns: The 500-pound gorilla not in the room. Meet our new front runner.

Strange, isn't it? Despite poll numbers that are virtually unmoved in the past month, an approval rating in the high thirties and disapproval in the mid-fifties, the buzz among national publications is that he's the winner of the November elections. Why? I'm not exactly sure.

The only major change in Montana's political landscape is the Morrison scandal. Perhaps the pundits feel Morrison will win the primary and lose the general because the questions surrounding his ethics nullify Burns' corruption.

Of course it's looking more and more like Burns is heading for a court date, not his Senate seat. That he hired a lawyer shows he's feeling the heat. That he plans to divert campaign funds to his legal fees gives us a reason why he didn't pull out of the race early: you can never have enough bank for you legal fees as OJ showed us. I don't see him winning the race. I see him facing corruptions charges.

Projected role in DC: Ask yourself, if Burns wins the election, will he change? Will he realize how close he got to getting busted for his sleazy doings in DC? That's what I thought, too: No. Like Bush, he'll think winning an election means he can do whatever he wants. He might watch himself closer so he won't run afoul of the law, but he's still going to be a sleaze ball, using the federal government as his own personal vending machine and blindly supporting whatever legislation his handlers tell him to.

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