Archive for June 9th, 2006

Just a few days before the primary elections, I blogged about a professional signature gatherer I ran into on Higgins St in downtown Missoula. He tried to get me to sign the troika of extremist petitions – 97, 98, and 152 – by playing off my civic urges and laziness (usually very effective). It turns out I’m not the only one who feels a little weird about these clipboard mercenaries running around Montana.

In the comments to that post, Pogie wrote:

The nice kid from Colorado who tried to get me to sign explained the Judge recall in a novel way:“Say you get a ticket or arrested and you don’t like the judge’s decision, this initiative will give you the right to get a new judge.”

In this week’s Independent, Alyssa Work wrote up a brief on these “petition peddlars,” well worth a read. Here are a couple of excerpts that struck me:

Winifred rancher Trevis Butcher, campaign coordinator for CI-97; which would cap state spending; CI-98, allowing judicial recall by petition; and I-154, weakening the state’s eminent domain powers, says the initiatives are designed to “allow citizens to direct their own government.” The petitioner who approached me with a request to “steal a couple of signatures” expressed little passion for democratic action, however. “This is just a temp job until Monday” he said, “I don’t really want to get into talking about the issues in-depth.” Instead, he was eager to discuss the angsty hand-written poetry he was simultaneously hawking.

Work did…well…a little work and found out who’s paying these professional signature gatherers:

National Voter Outreach, an organization circulating petitions in 20 states, is under contract to coordinate Montanans in Action’s signature-gathering in Missoula, says Lorianne Kaserman, a manager for NVO. Kaserman says she’s “on loan” to train paid workers and “supplement them with people in the business.”

Oh, h*ll, let me just post the rest of the article:

Educator’s union MEA-MFT is organizing to prevent CI-97 from reaching the ballot. Communications director Sanna Porte is critical of the signatures-by-contract method: “The state is basically under siege by a small army of out-of-state mercenary signature gatherers,” says Porte. “This is the first time we’ve seen it in Montana. It’s pretty new and pretty weird.” Porte says she’s “concerned that Montanans don’t know what they’re signing.”

Recent inquiries to political practices commissioner Gordy Higgins about the legality of some petitioners’ strategies suggest that such concerns may be founded. According to Higgins, one woman who contacted him felt “duped” by a petitioner who claimed that all three petitions were copies, requiring signatures, of the topmost eminent domain petition.

“We have to put our heads together and decide how to address this,” Higgins says. “The gatherer has to be able to swear that the person knew what they were signing, and if they can’t, it’s our responsibility to file a complaint.”

Paying people to collect signatures is legal. And I have no problem with that. These drives require a coordinated effort; staff is needed; reliable signature gathering is required. I think it’s fine to pay the gatherers so that they can pay rent while they work for their cause.

It used to be that you needed to be at least a registered voter in the state where you collect signatures. Thanks to a recent court decision, that’s no longer the case. And I can’t say that I honestly disagree with the decision. Does a person have to be a registered voter – or even live in the state – where their cause is playing out and requiring signatures?

No, what gets me is that the advocates of this troika of cr*p legislation can’t – won’t – find anyone instate and interested in collecting signatures for them. Instead we’re assailed by a crop of people who don’t even know about the legislation they’re gathering signatures for. I’ve heard too much anecdotal evidence to think that these mercenaries aren’t doctoring their explanation of these bills to con people into signing them. How many signatures were gathered under false pretenses? How many signatures were conned onto the clipboards making their way across the state like a cloud of locusts?

Here’s the deal – and spread the word, people! — if a signature-gatherer approaches you and describes the bill egregiously wrong – like the one who approached Pogie – get their names! Turn them in…to commissioner Higgins?

I’ll get back to you about who you should call to register a complaint.

I’m all for the democratic process, and I respect the right of anybody to gather signatures, even these anti-tax, anti-government groups who want to take our communities down. But let’s at least force them to find people who care about, and understand the legislation they want on our ballot.

The news of Zarqawi’s assassination is certainly welcome, even if the rumors are true that he was turned in by his own people. He was a terrorist in the true sense of the word (as opposed to the Bush administration’s version), and his end is justified.

That said, let’s not forget that the administration could have targeted the man before the Iraqi invasion, but declined to do so because Zarqawi’s death would have “undercut [the administration’s] case for war against Saddam.” And I agree with Yglesias that Zarqawi’s death won’t amount to much in ending the war:

Many less-trivial turns of events that provoked outbursts of optimism — Saddam's capture, the Iraqi elections — have proven to be wildly overblown, and it would be honestly moronic to make a big deal out of this…, which even the President seems to at least semi-recognize. We kill people associated with the insurgency in Iraq all the time, and have been doing so for years. The problem hasn't been an inability to accomplish this, it's been that killing insurgents doesn't accomplish anything.

The “insurgency” in Iraq is a tad more complicated than our right-wing brethren would have us believe. It’s not a simple matter of “freedom-hating evildoers” against the “pure and holy warriors” of the United States. A lot of Iraqi violence is sectarian, different religious, ethnic, and tribal groups settling scores, vying for power, unleashing centuries-old vendettas on one another. And then there’s a lot of anti-U.S. sentiment. People don’t want us there.

Get it? Our very presence in Iraq creates insurgents.

So while I celebrate getting Zarqawi, I’m a little sickened by the victory dance on the right. At any moment we can expect to see them break out manly accoutrements like flight suits and “mission accomplished” banners and strut near military equipment with their chests puffed out. In other words, they’re playing politics with a real shooting war.

Which is kind of dumb if you think about it for a moment. Today Bush declared no discernable end to the war. People continue to die. Most Americans and Iraqis still want US troops out of Iraq. By crowing over Zarqawi’s death today as proof of why we should remain in Iraq, the crowers’ credibility will take a beating if the violence doesn’t quickly abate. The Wall Street Journal (subscription req’d):

But any gains are likely to be short-lived unless the development is followed by a longer-term reduction of violence in Iraq — and by what many Republicans quietly hope for but won't publicly advocate: a drawdown of U.S. troops before November.

Ultimately Montana’s Senate election is not going to be a litmus test of President Bush’s policies. It’ll come down to whether you believe Jon Tester is more honest and capable than Conrad Burns. It’ll be a battle of character.

But with Bush’s approval ratings sagging and Iraq slogging on without letup, I’m guessing Burns doesn’t want to make an issue out of the Iraq War.


The Gazette runs a letter from a Republican Tester supporter. Don’t hold your breath for a Democrat Burns supporter.

Matt Singer and Pogie on Burns’ Abramoff-influenced decision to neglect US borders.

The government spied on Montana peace groups. I guess they’re a big threat to national security.

It’s great we got Zarqawi, but we should remember it was the Bush administration’s fault he was running free in the first place.

So it’s probably a good time to bring up “Do-it-yourself impeachment”!

The NYTimes on Ohio: “If there was ever a sign of a ruling party in trouble, it is a game plan that calls for trying to win by discouraging voting.

The baseball steroid scandal might break wide open with testimony from busted baseballer, Jason Grimsley.

World Cup

The Cup tourney opens with a shootout: Germany 4, Costa Rica 2.

SoccerBlog has video on the game’s top scorers, Costa Rica’s Paulo Wanchope and Germany’s Miroslave Klose.

More WC blogs: The New Republic’s World Cup soccer blog, the New York Time’s blog, the International Herald Tribune’s blog, and USA Today’s blog.


Or just watch the games live on your computer. For free.

NeoMadison over at What’s Right… brought it up first, how much effect did the Montana blogosphere have on the Morrison – Tester primary?

The Great Falls Tribune weighs in:

Tester got early support from Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who writes the Daily Kos liberal political blog that, according to a Washington Monthly profile, attracts 3.7 million readers per week. Moulitsas, a Californian, blogged enthusiastically on behalf of Tester, and Tuesday night wrote that "in the end, money, pedigree, and (early) institutional support weren't enough against a dedicated people-powered movement. Regular people can, and have, made a difference tonight."Closer to home, Matt Singer, who writes the Left In The West blog that also supported Tester, said Wednesday in an e-mail that he expects the race will be characterized as a victory for online activists.

"To some extent, it is. The online world delivered money and a lot of in-state volunteers to Jon Tester. But what really happened here is that online activists picked the right horse this time — a man who connects with real Montanans," Singer wrote.

I agree with Matt. The blogosphere helped with money and activism but without a good candidate, all the spinning and spending in the world won’t help. (See Morrison, Burns.)

The righties claim that the Montana blogosphere isn’t influential because so few Montanans read them. But the question is, which Montanans read the blogosphere? Was it the work of Singer and Pogie and Wulfgar! and yrs trly that kept the Morrison scandal firmly in the discussion? Did the issue of Morrison’s electability arise in newspapers and on the streets parallel to our claims here in the blogosphere? Or did we influence the buzz? Coincidence, or influence?

What can’t be denied is that Tester’s win has now elevated the Montana left blogosphere as a “respectable” media. Two weeks ago the Great Falls Tribune wouldn’t have culled a quote from Matt about a state race. Now he’s a respected voice in all media, as he should be.

But again, without a candidate like Jon Tester, who earns our respect and trust because of his record and his integrity, all the blogging in the world won’t accomplish a thing. Attempting to create an online buzz around a third-term Senator with major ethical improprieties on his blotter, for example, is going to fail. Miserably.

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