Baucus, Bakken, Billings and beyond

by Pete Talbot

I’m on my quarterly visit to the Magic City, which always gives me pause for reflection.

Consider this a sort of stream of consciousness open thread.

Things are booming, relatively speaking, in Billings.  I tend to stay in the west end of town, with occasional visits to the Heights and Lockwood.  Construction, both commercial and residential, is on the upswing.  Miles-and-miles of ubiquitous six-foot-tall white plastic fence line 32nd Street West, separating the new subdivisions of apartments, condos and single-family homes.

The energy boom at the Bakken Play, and Wyoming coal and methane fields, is helping to fuel the Billings economy.  And when I tell the in-laws that I’m not all that excited about the Keystone XL Pipeline, well, I might as well be telling them I’m here for their guns.

I was told once that Billings got its nickname ‘Magic City’ because of its amazing economic growth from its early days as a little railroad town.  It was also mentioned, although not in the Chamber of Commerce brochures, that Billings has magically hung around through numerous boom-and-bust cycles, like the petroleum bust in the early 1960s.

We’ll see how the current boom treats Billings denizens in the not too distant future.

Since I’m a dead tree edition junkie, I read the Billings Gazette while I’m here.  It’s not that much larger than the Missoulian, which surprises me since Billings is about twice the size of Missoula.  As a matter of fact, the Sunday and Monday Billings papers had as many Missoulian bylines in them as Gazette bylines. Interesting.

A Sunday AP story that caught my eye was this one on Sen. Max Baucus gearing up for a 2014 re-election bid.  Good idea, Max, since you’re going to have a tough time raising any campaign money for this Senate race (snark).

To be honest, Max has done some good stuff lately: his work on the Rocky Mountain Front, his support of women’s health care and reproductive rights, his call for a quicker withdrawal from Afghanistan …

Not sure that cancels out the debacles of the deficit super committee he served on or health care committee he chaired, his earlier support of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his sh*t-eating grin as he stood next to George W. Bush during the signing of the tax breaks for millionaires bill …

So it disappointed when I read this line in the story:

“Baucus continues to be the main funder of the state party and its candidates, making a primary challenge nearly impossible for anyone seeking institutional support.”

Way to further democracy, state party and its candidates.

Rumors abound that Gov. Schweitzer is the logical candidate to challenge Baucus, although Schweitzer adamantly denies this.  It’s also common knowledge that Baucus and Schweitzer aren’t the best of buddies.  I’m not sure who I’d support in a Baucus/”Coal Cowboy” primary, though I’m leaning Schweitzer.  I know where Montana Cowgirl stands.  The comments there weren’t particularly kind toward Max, either, but then again, it is a rather Schweitzer-centric site.

Schweitzer is definitely more of a maverick and Montana loves a maverick.  Still, what I’d really like to see is someone who will dramatically shift the paradigm — call for the public financing of elections, reign in lobbyist influence, promote economic and environmental sustainability — someone to really shake things up.

So it’s always good to take the pulse of the Magic City.  As I’ve said for the umpteenth time, as Billings goes, politically, so goes the state of Montana.  Maybe the 2012 elections will give me some indication as to where Billings is headed but I don’t believe it’s ready to embrace any radically shifting paradigms as yet.

  1. backwoodsmonty

    Yeah Democrats need to be looking for someone very good in the state to replace Max, cuz, I don’t think Brian wants that job, I think he can be the guy who becomes Prez.

  2. Old Joe

    “Baucus continues to be the main funder of the state party and its candidates, making a primary challenge nearly impossible for anyone seeking institutional support.”

    Yep. Exactly. And THIS is why the Dem party in Montana is the way it is. Max did it. I have never been able to stand the guy because he stands for nothing. Oh sure, the front is a very easy bone to throw out there. It costs him nothing.

    I would not rule out Schweitzer running. The guv has alwyas played his cards close to the vest. He is much more shrewd than Max.

  3. Swede Johannson

    So, you were in my neck of the woods Pete?

    I felt a disturbance in the force.

  4. I’m Scheitzer all the way on this one. Max is in bed with the insurance industry and has been in Waahington so long he forgot who he works for. Schweitzer seems like he’d get in there and stir things up-kick around the hornets nest a little. At the very least, it would be fun to see what those old stiffs do!!

  5. Havre Voter

    Like Lizard, the so called health care reform bill is a big problem for me. It’s one more reason why I’ll never vote for Baucus again. As for his supposedly funding the democratic party- I haven’t seen that in Havre. I suppose he means he had the insurance companies send a bunch of checks to the state party so that they wouldn’t be able to criticize him for taking that same kind of money. In my mind, that’s no favor. I do think Schweitzer could take him down in a primary. Even with the advantage Baucus would have in dirty money. Not sure who else could but maybe others know.

  6. While I would agree with everything being written here on the ACA being an issue for Baucus, understand that Baucus is somewhat of an institution for the Montana voters. It would take a pretty amazing candidate to knock him off realistically. Whether you agree with the commentors on Cowgirl’s site or not (and while I will definitely admit that there is a pro – schweitzer bent to the site itself), the commentors range the field of partisan politics. I would not discount what you see there as it is still the most viewed and commented on political site in Montana.

    I woudl love to see Schweitzer challenge Baucus. Even if his sites are set on the Whitehouse, a Senate Seat under his belt couldn’t hurt his chances. That said, I am actually leaning toward the idea that Schweitzer meant what he said about not running. I have no idea who the Dems could run against Baucus and win and the only Republican I can think of is Rehberg.

    • G6

      Daines will easily win the House race this fall. It’s likely he’d go on to challenge Baucus if Max was still in a vulnerable position politically. Daines started his race a couple years ago against Tester and then switched to run for the House when Rehberg asked him to do so. He’s had his eyes on the Senate, and I don’t think that’ll change. Whether it’s a primary or the general, Baucus is done in 2014. Money can’t save you this time Max!

      • You very well may be right about Daines bid for the house. I am not ready to call it at this point. I want to see what happens after the primary. I think you underestimate the current anger at the Republican party in Montana at the moment.

        As far as Daines challenge to Baucus, it is too far out to even consider. I think Baucus starting his run this early will hurt him but I think Baucus is done anyway. We will see what happens when it get’s closer.

  7. Sara Stolz

    I’d go Schweitzer over Max any day of the week. I predict Schweitzer takes him out in the primary by 20 points.

  8. For years, Billings was “The Sugar Beet City” or the “Sugar City” Then the Chamber decided that was too ‘graphic’ or something and made up the name “Magic City.” No one called Billings that except the Billings CoC.

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