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.