Archive for June 10th, 2006

During the debate, Jon's most powerful moments came when he talked to Conrad Burns' empty chair on stage. He accused him of attending a fundraiser instead of debating, and appeared visibly upset about Burns' absence. And you know…I agree. Burns should give us all the respect of appearing. Meanwhile we get the usual mindless attacks from his spokesman, Klindt.

So where was Burns? At a fundraiser in Virginia. I hate to sound like a Tester talking point…but is a fundraiser really more important than a public debate?

A press release from Tester's campaign:

"A negative radio ad is not a debate," said Tester. "I'd love to discuss my record, and I'm eager to ask Senator Burns a few questions, like why he votes for tax breaks for oil companies while pay record prices at the pump, or why he cut veterans benefits, or why he voted to raise interest rates on college loans."

Indeed. Where is Burns?

Kinda reminds me of the weeks leading to the primary, when Morrison bunkered down, avoiding public appearances. Fear? The good sense not to open his yap?

Well. Sorry about that. The connection went down, and I lost an entire question. I was distracted, too, and missed some key information. I hope you all got the gist of the answers based on this post. Impressions later… 


Tester: Health care is the number one issue in Montana. All solutions need to be on the table. We're spending 30percent on administrative costs, that's too high. It must be affordable, with cost controls, choice, and…? We need a plan for people, not lobbyists.

Jones: In other places, you can get cheap medical procedures. The government plans have driven prices up. The biggest beneficiaries of a national health plan are insurers and hospitals. Raises the specter of illegal immigrants: the illegals are driving hospitals out of business.

Question: How will you erase the national deficit? (Jim Clark, the questioner, is a total *ss. Someone should tell him to ask the questions without all the cute remarks and sneers.)

Jones: The national can't pay the government debts. It's going to be paid by inflating the dollar, making all savings worthless. It's a spending problem. Do away with department of education and energy. Why do we have two defense deparments? The Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. We can do it here in Montana, we don't need federal government.

Tester: The debt is a big problem, even who we owe the money to. We've doubled the national debt in five years. Burns voted five times against a budget cap before voting for it. The state legislature balanced the budget. We need true fiscal conservatives in DC to balance the budget. Take care of the young and the old first. The war in Iraq is a money hole, lots of GOP "buddies" getting cash — Halliburton. We need to make DC look more like Montana. (Applause.)

Question: Burns is going to run on a platform of delivering for Montana, how do you deal with that?

Tester: I'm not running to get Billings named for me. Burns is deciding on his needs first, politics. You need someone who decides on your needs first. Montana's needs first. If you can read, listen, and work hard, you can get things done. I'll get infrastructure dollars necessary for Montana. There are projects — sewers, etc — that need repairing. We'll get the money we need to move this state forward.

Jones: Getting money seems to be what our representatives do. That's the big deal. Keep Malstrom open. Roads. The reason Burns gets the handouts, he gets a whole lot more to other states, so he gets a bone, so he can give a reward to you folks. Let's stop all the spending that is unnecessary.

Question: Amnesty to illegal immigrants?

Jones: Libertarian viewpoint: open borders. We need a way to prevent illegals from using domestic services. Then they'll go home.

Tester: No amnesty. People should follow the rules. The 9/11 commission said we should ensure the border and ports. Burns refused to increase funding for the border patrol. Cites the Marianas Islands bill Burns voted against that keeps that border porous. Patrol borders. Enforce the law; penalize companies that hire illegals. Secure the borders. No amnesty. Let's work on our trade agreements so people won't need to come here.

Tester: I will take the oath. Government is there to facilitate business and help regular folks. Doesn't think the government is unconstitutional by getting alternative energy. There's a lot of problems in this country: health care and energy are huge issues. We're a high energy state, not just weather wise, but getting our products to the market. Same with health care. Those are issues that affect regular Americans, small businessmen, and family farmers.

Question from Tester to Burns, the empty chair: This is an important day. This is a time to address issues important to the people of Montana. Instead of being here, he's back in DC playing golf with lobbyists. Why aren't you here? Why aren't you here talking about issues important to Montanans, farmers, issues about our future? Our opportunies for our children are gone because of poor polices? Why aren't you here?

(Jones: "Because I'm a government as usual politician.")

Closing statements.

Tester: Thanks supporters. People often claim elections are watersheds. My victory was a sign that people want change. I'm a farmer, former teacher. I'll go there to work for you guys. You need some back there who's rooted in Montana. I'm that person. You will be the first people I think about when we make decisions. If I"m not doing that, do me a favor…bring me back. (Applause)

Jones: A lot of things, if left alone, things would not be such a big problem. We the people. We wrote the Constitution. We grant the powers to the government. If someone takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, but ignores the Constitution, they're ignoring you. If elected, I'll take the oath. He'll be the one vote against everything in Congress. All these issues will go away fast if we lose our rights. Let's become the home of the brave. Let's say stop! Less government, more freedom, state's rights!


I'm having technical difficulties, hang on… 


Question: How would you fix campaign financing?

Tester: There's a lot of money, in this state it'll be about $20million for the Senate race. The money is scary. Mentions a plan to bring more transparency to the US Senate, an ethics plan, that would allow more regular folks access to representatives. His mom says it doesn't go far enough. He spends too long begging for money, doesn't know the solution to the problem. Doesn't want to limit freedom of speech.

Jones: Against government support of campaigns. Knows the Dems and Republicans would limit the money to candidates like himself. Let's a pass a law (challenges Tester), campaigns should be financed by individual contributions of up to $500. Period. Need committees in Montana to handle the money. No money from the parties. No party advertisements. Limiting free speech? Yes. Necessary? Yes.  


Question: Has the federal government usurped the power of local communities concerning roadless areas?

Jones: Constitution specifies the type of land the government can own. Military bases, needed government buildings, a plot in DC. That's it. Yes, the federal government has usurped the power of local communities. He's going to start an initiative that requires forcing the state to follow the Constitution, gives local officials the power to boot federal officials acting unconstitutionally.

Tester: The federal government has overstepped, specifically with the No Child Left Behind Act, which usurps the power of local officials in local schools. Against building more roads in forest areas, we can't keep up the ones we have now. 


Question: How can we reduce our dependence on oil?

Tester: Let's make hybrid cars more available. We have a real opportunity in this state to use renewable energy. Govt can facilitate the development of alternative energy use. Wind power: in MT we went from 50th to 15th. Talks about bio-fuels, that Montanans can profit from by growing. Research, too.

Jones: Believes in free enterprise. Demand is controlled by people. You think gas is expensive now? If war with Iran happens, gas'll be $10 gallon. Because of stupid foreign policy decisions. We have no business in Iraq and Afghanistan; wh shouldn't go into Iran. We have tons of oil in Alaska. It's not the federal government's decision to drill oil in Alaska. There's oil in Canada. As long as gas prices go up, gas companies will make money. They're going to invest in other forms of energy. Why not atomic energy plants? Safe, clean. We could get rid of fuel plants. 


I'm back! This time, the Senate debate between Jon Tester and the Blue Man, Stan Jones, Libertarian. (I'm not kidding, this guy is blue. Actually more of a darker purple.)

Senator Burns did not show up.

Opening statements:

Jon Tester: Third-generation farmer, lots of service to his community. Cites his leadership in the state legislature. Rails into Conrad Burns, who's off at a fundraiser at a golf course. It's shameful, associating with big-money lobbyists instead of coming here and talking with Montanans about the issues that concern. (Very nice opening! I missed most of it, trying to power up. Sorry, Tester fans.)

Stan Jones: Talks about his military servce. Did a tour in Vietnam. When he talks about Iraq, he knows what he's talking about. Talks about how the Libertarian party is "excluded." He's angry at government. Sorry if his voice is louder than Mike Fellows: he's upset. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It's the law the people have given to the goverment to control the government. The government ignores it! Keeps expanding and growing. Our freedoms are dimished. Control over our lives has increased, the opposite of freedom. Liberty House International ranks us 33rd in civil liberties. The people won't stand up to their government. They're too satisfied with their material goods. They don't understand they're losing their freedoms, wholesale. (Amen, brother!) Burns is in favor of animal identification — government controls ranchers' property. We don't need the government to put their tabs on our property. The real ID card — voted on by Baucus, Rehberg, and Burns — internal passport with radio frequency so the government can track us wherever we go. (WTF???) The legislature, President, and SCOTUS are out of control. We have to get control of government or we'll lose our freedoms. 

All done! My hands are sweaty, wrists sore, eyes a lil' achy. Remember, this ain't a transcript, just a poor fool's quick summary of what I thought I heard.

Impressions later. 


Closing statements.

Lindeen: A majority of Montanans say they like where their state is headed. She takes some responsibility as a member of the state legislature for those numbers. But a majority of Montanans think the country isn't headed in the right direction — health care, economy, debt, tuition payments. A long list of serious issues, including the price of energy or gas. Real changes are needed, not lip service to an energy plan. If you're happy with the way things are going, stay with the status quo. If you're not, I ask for your vote.

Fellows: Spending. Both Lindeen and Rehberg have never said "no" to a spending bill. He's a fiscal conservative. He would actually read the bills before voting on them. Congress should take a stand on giving themselves pay raises. More choice of education. I'm not for "Hillary" health care. Spending needs to be in check. (Doesn't say how to fix health care.) Vote for the candidate, not for the party.

Rehberg: Tired. Jumped on a plane from DC just to be here to talk with us, etc. Goes to all MT counties, etc. Represents Montanans. Represents the best state in the nation. We need Amtrak. Water to dry plains areas. Builds good future for Montana. Not afraid to stand up to Bush (but cites obscure legislation). Wants to lead Montana to a better future.  


Question from Fellows to Rehberg: Rehberg has supported subsidies for farmers. Does Rehberg receive subsidies for his goats?

Rehberg: No. Talks a little about goat farmering. Talks about his great new plans for farm subsidies; he's voted against free trade agreements because they hurt Montana farmers. He wants to get farmers off subsidies, but he wants security and stability for Montana farmers. We need to protect our food source in this country. 


Question from Rehberg to Fellows: From a Libertarian perspective, what would you suggest the legitimate role of the federal government when it pertains to security?

Fellows: Talks about how the Constitution's mandate is to protect our borders. Says the government allowed 9/11 to happen to feed the big companies, like Halliburton, talks about how the Patriot Act infringes on our freedom, attempts by the govt' to take guns. We need a strong defense to protect our borders. We shouldn't give away our security to protect our freedom, as the founding fathers said (?).


Question from Lindeen directed at Rehberg: Funding project for Carter country: Rehberg told them they should lobbyist to represent them, and suggested an Abramoff associate. They spent upwards of $100K to get the lobbyist. Couldn't they have gone straight to Rehberg?

Rehberg: He's ashamed of how previous legislators haven't paid for the roads — Mansfield, Baucus. Carter country officials had $100K to burn to hire a lobbyist; Rehberg suggested one. The lobbyist helped them get their road. Rehberg would never do it again because it's become politicized. He was thinking "out of the box." 


Question: A roundabout and multi-tiered question about funding education.

Rehberg: He's trying to change the way the President brings the budget to Congress, budgets are overloaded with "emergency" spending. We need to spend time on budget reform. Talks about how he opposes the President on wayward spending. He has to balance education and defense.

Lindeen: The question, do you support education spending as a priority? Talks about how education spending was cut $38 billion over the next five years. Education for our children over the next five years. This Congress doesn't see education as a priority. I do. My record proves it. Talks about experience in state legislature.

Fellows: Does anyone mind if I just skip Fellows' answers? The guy is barely coherent. 


Question: How would you balance the budget? Which taxes would you raise, what programs would you cut?

(Rehberg heads for his water.) 

Lindeen: Who are we giving tax breaks to? Review tax breaks to multinational corporations, like the oil industry. Close tax loopholes. Come down on tax cheats. We need to ensure education, veterans' care, seniors' health care, children's health care — these are the priorities.

Rehberg: While in the MT legislation, called on the federal government to balance the budget. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. It is all about prioritization. Talks about the "other side" adding amendments to bills. (Does he mean the state's junior Senator?) Talks about DoDefense and Homeland Security overspending…that's not "off the table." (Not a very strong answer. Looked angry, maybe a little out of control.)

Fellows: Talks about complicated tax forms…? We're giving tax breaks to large agricultural corporations.  


Question: Has the war been carried out appropriately? Have you (Rehberg) spoken on the floor about?

Rehberg: I don't always agree with every President. I've been to Iraq twice to visit stories and see what's going on. Progress is being made in Iraq. (In the Green Zone, I presume.) Talks about getting health care to veterans. Displays a campaign staff person — says he served in Iraq, makes him raise his hand. (Does this mean Burns is going to scramble to get a vet on his staff?) Talks about an upcoming debate on the House floor, and we'll hear from Rehberg about the war. "I've taken the time to go over there." (He didn't answer the question.)

Lindeen: Talks about all her families who served in America's wars: I respect those who served, who made the sacrifice for their country. We didn't understand Iraq when we in, we didn't have a clear plan on how we were going to deal with the insurgency, etc. We're there. There are no easy choices here on out. We need to to take care of our responsibilites to the troops and the Iraqi people.

Fellows: Says the war is for oil. Rights. We need to make the country more stable before we leave. We might be there for 20, 30 years. Split up Iraq? (Really free-associating here.) Consitution. Borders. security. (He lost me…)


Question: How do you feel about the estate tax?

Fellows: He knows families who subdivide their lands so they don't have to pay the estate tax. He thinks they should repeal. He wants to be in that position some day and be able to pass it on to his kids, keep his money in his family, should he be so rich some day.

Rehberg: My family is the example. I have the Rehberg fifth-generation ranch, which is much smaller now, thanks to the estate tax. (Cry me a river.) I was land rich and cash poor. I was paying income taxes, that wasn't good enough for this government. We had to let our hired help go. We couldn't tell the buyer what to do with our sold lands. The purchaser subdivided the land and turned some of it into a parking lot. He's against the tax.

Lindeen: "I'm always amazed when people who don't like government run for office." Zing! Talks about the history of the tax, originated in WWI, when people thought the more fortunate should help fight the war, by helping pay for it. Same situation today. Except that today, we need more revenues (thanks to deficit), and this about letting the wealthy off the hook, pay less. This is about fairness.


Question: How do we reduce demand for oil?

Lindeen: The energy question is one of the most important questions facing our country. We need to focus on a plan with vision to develop alternative energy sources. Wind, ethanol, bio-diesel…Montana can be a real leader. We have the natural resources, agricultural resources to help, profit from this. We need a real plan, not lip service, to alternative resources.

Fellows: He was surprised at the tax breaks for oil companies in recent energy plan. Against tax on gas (social engineering). People like SUVs because they feel safe, we shouldn't force people to buy other types of cars if they don't want them. The high cost of gas encourages, via free market, alternative fuels, more fuel efficient cars. Once someone comes up with a good idea, people will support and invest in it.

Rehberg: Talks about reducing use, encouraging new inventions. We need to create new supply other than oil, gas. We need to take advantage of coal deposits. Talks about the CO2 into the ground project to reduce emissions into the atmosphere. Talks about competition with China, India. The policy is in place. It's time we implement it.


Question: Has the effect of the federal government been positive to families since you've joined Congress?

Rehberg: Yes. But it's a work in progress. Talks about health care for seniors, talk about "No Child Left Behind." (Ugh. He's bragging about this?) He talks about adapting to 9/11. Talks about, as member of transportation committee, he worked for security of borders. Talks about getting tons o' money for highways. He's a "change agent." 

Lindeen: How are families in MT and in the country doing since 2000? From what she hears, families across the state don't think they're doing so well. Hammers the debt. 8 trillion in debt. Who's going to pick up the tab? Children and grandchildren. Industries and good-paying jobs are disappearing — jobs being shipped overseas. The trade agreements we're signing aren't benefitting working class families. The oil and gas companies are raking it in. Multi-millionaires are profiting. You and I aren't profiting.

Fellows: The Consitution says the government is to protect our rights and borders. The government isn't supposed to help families economically. Talks about "school choice" — school vouchers, homeschooling. Schools should operate on a business model. High schools stink. Scores down here, scores up elsewhere. Give more money back to taxpayers to let them do what they want with it… 


Monica introduces herself first. She starts on issues affecting the country — issues and challenges — but opportunities, too. Lindeen says she's from an average working-class Montana family. Dad a trucker, mom a waitress. Hard-working. Good role models. Now she attacks the national debt. Health care, education. Cites the excellent accomplishments in the state legislature since the Democrats took back the state. Health care, prescription medicine, alternative energy, etc, legislation. Let's take back our goverment.

(Man it's hot in here! Rehberg's getting a little slick. Frankly, I wish they'd pump a little cool air down here. Anyone from the Holliday Inn out there?) 

Hey! Guess who just showed up! Jon Tester! Some "buzz" going around the room. Sweet!

Mike Fellows is up.

If elected, would uphold the Constituton. (Right on! Still, not a strong speaker. A little hoarse. Wanders around his points a little…I'm not really sure what he's saying.) Praises Rehberg. Mumbles something about his school….lived on military institutions, supports the military. That's why he supports the Constitution. (What does it mean, "support the Constitution"?) He says he's the only fiscal conservative in the race. Talks about the pork projects doled out to the different areas in the country. He wants to stop the pork. Budget is a priority. Talks about "increasing spending," but I think he means "decrease." Talks about Patriot Act…talks about giving tax dollars away….erosion of civil and constitutional rights…we're losing our rights in general, especially compared to world standards. Congressional reform. Hopes the campaign will talk about this…

Rehberg: Thanks the crowd. Good speaker, though he bounces around a little on the stage. Says he can cite all 56 counties by rote, says each county has a different personality. Sucks up to the newspaper folks in the room by saying he subscribes to every Montana paper. Cites his Montana background, says his grandfather helped set up state government. His dad shut down the dairy farm, became a cook, mom a teacher. Rehberg's dug ditches, driven forklifts, etc. Dedicated service to Montana's future. Still trying to learn, etc, not a "bright" guy — he's just a "regular guy." Boasts about his helping vets…tries to lead…how? By surrounding himself with Montanans…like "you"? We're sent to fix what's going wrong in Washington DC, not what's right. Montanans want security, economic security….talks against taxation, regulation, and subsidization. Government shouldn't create jobs, small businesses should. Health care…I missed it…Says he's dedicated to national security. He wants to protect us from people who to change how we live!


Lesley Lotto sits down next to me with her coffee to help out…welcome, Lesley.

The moderator outlines the debate…Mike Fellows joins Denny and Monica. There will be questions from audience members. Candidates get two minutes for answering the questions, order gets rotated. We'll be done…looks like…about at 2:30pm. Etc. and co. 

The introductions. Rehberg. Lindeen. Lindeen is here, finally, sitting on a stool in an aquamarine blazer, looking ready to go.

Mike Fellows from Missoula. Libertarian.


Greetings from the Holliday Inn Parkside, the site of Tester's recent stunning win over John Morrison. I'm here to cover another political event, the debate between incumbent Representative Denny Rehberg and his Democratic challenger, Monica Lindeen.

It's only a few minutes before the event gets underway, and there's already a significant press of suits milling about, hands in pockets, self-importance reeking from them like a two-day fish. I'll let you guess who the mill around.

By the way, Rehberg is a lot more effeminite in person than he is in his pictures. A real knifeblade with large, delicate hands and wrists. He's standing about five feet away in a slick checked jacket. Purple tie. Isn't it supposed to be red? No sign of Lindeen, although a noisy pro-Lindeen contingent was out on the sidewalk holding Lindeen banners aloft. The cameras are up, the newspapermen here in force — largely because there's a free buffet for them next door.

A Denny goon stands cross-armed, scowling at me.

More later!

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