Archive for October 19th, 2006

I’ve had my say about John Adams’ article on the possible influence of Governor Schweitzer’s brother on state policy. But I don’t work in government, I don’t run think in political circles, I’m not familiar with Helena dealings.

This is your turn. It’s your chance to leave your opinion, in anonymity if need be. What do you think? Is Walt a pain? Is he unethical? Is this a real problem?

Let’s air this issue out; I want to hear what you’re thinking. I’m betting other people do, too.

For a little inspiration, here’s what commenter Reader had to say:

I don’t really care so much about the nepotism law’s letter as its intent, which I read to be ensuring that there are not special channels to people with power. That’s well-intentioned but it has had the effect of forcing Walt into an ill-defined, unofficial role without any check of public accountability.

Keenan has Walt’s e-mail records because Walt was doing it on the state’s dime when Keenan raised a stink about his work during the transition. It’s perfectly possible to see what he was up to at that time. That’s how it should be. Keenan used the nepotism law to score political points and sent Walt to the shadows but that’s not going to diminish his influence, just make it tough to find out what he’s up to. So, in a sense, Bob created the shadow creature he wants to slay.

That said, the governor and his brother need to smarten up about this. There is a strong tradition of disclosure in Montana and, if there’s nothing to hide, then Walt ought not act so combatively toward people asking questions. This might well have been a neutral to favorable profile with a big picture of him and the guv in brotherly arms on the cover and not just a forum for critics–many of whom (including the PSC commissioner Raney who was a big source) seem to think of themselves as allies of the governor though certainly a few wouldn’t look at themselves that way.

If everything is kosher here then the way this has been handled so far does not demonstrate the best political sense.

So…out with it!

Anybody see John Adams’ piece in the Missoula Independent today, on Governor Schweitzer’s brother’s influence in his administration? At risk of sounding like a partisan hack, it doesn’t seem terribly…controversial?

Let’s catalogue the accusations and examine them, one by one:

“Montana’s nepotism laws make it illegal for the governor to hire his brother as an official policy adviser or member of his cabinet, but the fact that Walter’s not on the state payroll doesn’t deter him from playing a key role in the administration. That same fact leaves him exempt from what politicians like to call the sunshine of public scrutiny, or the press. But multiple elected officials, lobbyists and bureaucratic staffers confirm that Walter is Brian’s front man on many policy and political matters.”

I’m not sure how Walter Schweitzer is different than any other lawmaker’s staffer or policy advisor, other than the fact that he’s not on the state payroll. Are other policy-makers or staffers held accountable for policy? No. The ultimate responsibility for policy lies with the boss, and that’s Brian Schweitzer.

Remember, just because he’s the governor’s brother doesn’t mean he’s not qualified to advise Schweitzer. The opposite may be true, if you think Walter Schweitzer has had a hand in his brother’s political and policy successes.

“The overall concern of Democrats is that there’s going to be a scandal that’s going to hurt Brian,” one Democratic lawmaker told the Independent. “There’s a lot of people who have a lot of hope for this administration, and this relationship Brian has with his brother is the one thing that is just weird. If Brian Schweitzer is going to have a problem, it’s going to be around Walt: Who’s paying him and what’s his accountability?”

Accountability lies with the governor, of course. As for paying…well…that is a good question. One that should be answered. How is the governor funding his brother’s non-state position? Is he using government funds?

Walter is known, in Helena if not beyond, as the governor’s enforcer, firewall and political bully. Most of the lobbyists contacted by the Independent told the paper they’re afraid to talk about him for fear of political retribution. Lawmakers refused to go on the record about Walt for fear that he and the governor would make it impossible to pass their bills in the upcoming legislative session.

As distasteful as this may seem, is this uncommon? Don’t most administrations have the “good cop/bad cop” staffers? One guy to chase away the problems and keep the wayward in line, the other to mend fences and forge alliances? One the governor’s accomplishments is his penchant for budget surpluses. If Walter’s bullying chases away legislators with pie-in-the-sky and expensive bills…that’s a good thing.

The main question asked by the people I talked to is this: Given that he seems to spend most of his time at the capitol, and given that he isn’t employed by the state, how does Walter make his living in Helena?

Now this is an important question. That should be answered.

There were also some remarks on Walter Schweitzer’s background and whether he was “qualified” to be an advisor of the governor’s, but Walter’s background – a rancher – seems to make him as qualified for a government position as Conrad Burns, Jon Tester, or Brian Schweitzer himself.

Ultimately my feelings on the issue are mirrored in the following quote:

“I will tell you there’s an upside and a downside to Walter’s presence in Helena,” one high-ranking Democrat told me. “The upside is…that there’s value in having somebody there that the governor absolutely trusts in an unvarnished way.”

The downside, the source said, is that the presence of the governor’s brother at high-level policy meetings raises concerns for some about his influence on policy decisions.

“I think it’s perfectly fine if the governor wants his brother to be involved…but then I think that his portfolio and job description, and what he does and doesn’t do, ought to be defined. I think that would be good for the governor and good for the Democratic Party.”

One of Adams’ biggest sources in this story is – surprise! – Bob Keenan. Keenan has been trying to make this an issue for quite some time, and even gave Adams “hundreds of pages from Walter’s state-owned electronic mail account from 2004 and 2005.” (How and why Keenan spent so much time acquiring the correspondence is a mystery.)

Keenan has been rumored to be interested in – guess what – running for governor! That’s right! One of the folks who’s “concerned” about Walter’s influence in Helena has a vested interest in seeing the governor embroiled in scandal. And the timing for this piece, scant days before the November election, also benefits Keenan’s pals, like Burns for whom Keenan recently stumped. If Burns’ camp wants to nullify the ethics scandal, he can point to this article and say “Schweitzer doed it, too!”

Of course, no way do I suspect that John Adams was played here. Nor do I think Adams wrote this story with the November elections in mind. I’ve met John a couple times – surrounding the blogger article he wrote – and I trust him completely. He’s a true investigative reporter, a man who’s keenly concerned with the integrity of our elected officials.

While I’m not overly concerned with Walter’s position, I do think Adams’ article – though at times substituting hyperbole for genuine ethical issues – has brought up some good questions that the governor should answer. Give Walter a portfolio, a job description, an official role. Make Walter’s funding transparent. Let us know what he does, exactly. Bring everything above board and have done with it.

Links…

If elected Senator, Tester would get a seat on the Appropriations Committee – Jon promises to use his seat to drive earmarking reform.

Vinnie speaks out against CI-97 and CI-98.

Ed Kemmick on Burns’ secret plan for Iraq: “The president don’t have a plan? He do too! It just that he ain’t gonna tell ever’ dad-burned wheat farmer that wants to know about it!”

The LA Times covers Idaho’s 1st District race in a feature! GOP sweating! The Cook Political Report reclassifies the race to “Leans Republican,” huge news!

Meth campaign not working? (Hat tip to JEFF.) And the Missoula Indy’s take.

Colby on the torture bill.

Scott returns with a plethora of election-season observations.

Rolling Stone: “The Worst Congress Ever.” Thanks, Conrad Burns and Dennis Rehberg!

The Foley scandal may be expanding soon, putting Hastert in deeper trouble and taking down at least one more GOP Representative.

Kevin Drum drums up a couple of liberal manifestos.

Dave Neiwert reports on a domestic suicide bomber, and why you haven’t heard of him.

More data supporting the theory that most Americans aren’t feeling the effects of a growing economy. With charts.

Does this mean that Dick Cheney is Gollum?

So it looks like Iraq is growing into a liability for Republicans across the country. According to a recent report by the New York Times, GOP candidates are cutting and running from staying the rhetorical course.

…the discussion on the campaign trail suggests just how much of a problem the Iraq war has become for Republicans.It represents a startling contrast with the two national elections beginning in 2002 with the run-up to the Iraq invasion, in which Republicans used the issue to keep Democrats on the run on foreign policy and national security.

Perhaps it shows how out of touch with…reality?…Montana? they are, but both Conrad Burns and Dennis Rehberg are touting the war’s…benefits. (Rehberg more egregiously so.)

For a peek into the machinations of the brain in a partisan hack on the other side, we can perhaps get a glimpse of why Republicans like Burns or Rehberg still cling our country’s disastrous policies.

A majority of Democrats in Congress voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq in 2002, and then voted to continue to fund the effort. Some Democrats even hit the talk shows early on and made the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or that a war in Iraq figured into the war on terror. And in the 2004 Democratic primary, the most outspoken critic of the war – former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean – was treated by several of his opponents as some crazy uncle who didn’t understand the stakes in Iraq or the weight of decisions that had to be made by Democratic members of Congress.

Members such as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. After Kerry became their presidential nominee, Democrats put on quite a show at their national convention, where – despite the anti-war leanings of delegates – one speaker after another talked tough, saluted the flag and promised to hunt down terrorists wherever they were.

And now, Democrats want to turn on a dime and pretend as if the Iraq War is someone else’s mess. With Iraq embroiled in civil war and U.S. troops overstaying their welcome, it’s a mess all right. But let’s be clear: It’s a mess that Democrats helped make.

Sort of mind-boggling isn’t it?

First, many of us who were against the war from the beginning do remember that the Democratic leadership supported the war. We will hold them accountable. They ignored our concerns about the war and failed to represent us.

Second, the Democratic party and the people of the United States were given bogus information for supporting an invasion. Given that the whole premise of the war appears to have been manufactured by administration ideologues, blame should hardly lie with the Democrats – or the people of the US – for this supporting this mess.

Third, the Democratic party had no say in how the war would be pursued. The present disaster in Iraq is due in large part to the administration’s lack of knowledge about the region, for using political hacks to create Iraq policy, and for using Iraq as an opportunity to let their corporate buddies run rampant in the country. The diplomatic bungling belongs solely to the President and his staff. The occupation bungling belongs solely to the President and his staff.

Fourth, that the Democratic party is now representing the will of the majority is a good thing.

Lastly, changing your strategy is smart if what you’re doing isn’t working.

That last point always gets me – for some reason, the Republicans and their supporters see admitting to mistakes as a sign of weakness, not as a sign of strength. But that goes hand-in-hand with the simplistic good/bad, black/white dichotomies that prop up so many of their policies. If you’ve established that maintaining the current strategy in Iraq is the height of patriotism, and questioning that policy is the treasonous work of terrorist-lovers, well, you’ve driven yourself into a corner, haven’t you?




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