Why in the World Would Montanans Be Cynical About Politics, Blackbird Edition

by lizard

I’m starting to think the leaked report from the Army’s inspector general regarding John Walsh’s misuse of his adjudant general position came from the Walsh campaign itself. Hear me out.

First, let’s look at a comment from Ellie Hill in this week’s Indy, where Hill acts as a “guest prognosticator” for 2014:

Sen. Max Baucus announced his retirement, surprising many with the news—even longtime staffers—and leaving Montanans with seemingly no succession plan. Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester’s pick for Baucus’ replacement is Lt. Gov. John Walsh. For those who follow the dysfunctional inner-workings of Montana’s Democratic Party, they won’t be surprised to find out that former Gov. Brian Schweitzer has picked someone else—his administration’s lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger.

This comment was seized on by Aaron Flint on Twitter, where he asked Hill if Schweitzer backs Bohlinger. Hill’s response:

I was just guessing. I don’t think Schweitzer’s endorsed & my son’s Magic 8 Ball ain’t always 100% reliable.

Schweitzer may not have officially endorsed Bohlinger, but he made a pretty bold prediction that Bohlinger would win the primary if it was held in November (2013).

Now that Walsh is getting some scrutiny about his leadership ethics, the guy who hired Walsh, then boasted about throwing away the inspector general’s report, is being forced to defend Walsh, something I know Walsh supporters like Don Pogreba are giddy about.

Here’s a portion of the Hill article quoting the Brian:

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said he dismissed an Army independent investigator’s report on then-Adjudant General John Walsh, now the state’s lieutenant governor and Democratic Senate candidate.

“I treated it with the respect it deserved,” Schweitzer told the Helena Independent Record. “I put it in the round file.”

The Army’s inspector general concluded in 2010 that Walsh had improperly used his position for personal gain by pressuring some Montana National Guard troops into joining the National Guard Association of the United States, a private organization that advocates for more equipment for the National Guard which Walsh was a board member of.

Schweitzer, who appointed Walsh as Montana’s adjudant general and director of military affairs, derides the report as “much ado about nothing” and “a completely partisan end run in the National Guard attempting to embarrass [Walsh].”

It was essentially Schweitzer’s responsibility to do something if he found merit in the report. Now that it was leaked, Brian, to protect his folksy political brand, has to come to Walsh’s defense.

This report was going to come out somehow. If I was running the Walsh campaign, it would make sense to get it out early and use the cover of the holidays all while leveraging Schweitzer into a little self-interested support of John Walsh.

In another post from Don Pogreba, he rhetorically asks Why in the world would Montanans be cynical about politics?. Before launching into an attack on the political opportunist, Bob Brigham (who I’m assuming is the main “strategist” working for Bohlinger) Don said this:

When people talk about their cynicism about politics, it’s typically their perception that those involved in campaigns will say and do almost anything to get elected.

I totally agree. I would add the constant hypocrisy displayed by both teams when it comes to the functional, selective outrage used to score political points.

Again in the most recent Indy, the Etc. column features a chilling message for journalists in this state, and it’s coming from the Bullock administration. I’m going to include the whole thing, because I think it’s really important to raise awareness about what it’s going to take for journalists to get us, the public, the information we have every right to know about our public officials. Please go to the link or click continue to read the piece in full.


—from Missoula Independent, Etc.

It’s hard to believe, but the prevailing jurisprudence in Montana holds that the state can brazenly sue citizens who demand access to government records. That’s what happened to the Independent when it sought the disciplinary records of Lake County law officers accused of misconduct. Reluctant to turn over the requested files without a court order, then-Attorney General Steve Bullock filed a lawsuit, naming the Indy as a defendant. The state argued that the accused lawmen had privacy rights that trumped the people’s right to know.

We couldn’t lay down and let the AG’s office hold sway over the court. To ensure the court heard a strong argument for public’s interest, the Indy lawyered up, and we more or less won, obtaining redacted versions of all the files we sought. Among the astonishing details, we found that Bullock himself had been badly embarrassed by the testimony of Frank Bowen, a warden with Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Bowen revealed how his FWP superiors, fearing the mess in Lake County made Bullock look soft on corruption, forced Bowen to stop pursuing his poaching investigation of several Lake County deputies, ordered him not to discuss his work and reassigned him.

Republicans tried to pry into the unfolding fiasco, convening legislative hearings to politicize the situation during his gubernatorial campaign. But with Bowen effectively gagged, they never got any meaty details until a year later, when we prevailed in court. By then, Bullock had already won the election.

You would think that once the court had sided with the Indy, we’d be entitled to some relief from the onerous legal burden. But you’d be wrong. Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that we had to foot our substantial legal fees entirely on our own—describing our request for reimbursement as “a substantial injustice” against the state.

Yeah, our jaws dropped, too. But we’re not the first people to encounter this kind of twisted legal reasoning. In her ruling, Seeley relied on some similar recent cases, and they’ve all gone the government’s way on the issue of expenses. When it comes to attorneys’ fees, the judges have discretion, and they’ve consistently endorsed the now-routine practice of government entities running to court every time privacy rights might interfere with the public right to know, regardless of whether the privacy claim is a fig leaf for unwarranted secrecy or not. It turns out that in Montana, your constitutionally guaranteed right to know only goes as deep as the pocket that pays your lawyer.

  1. larry kurtz

    welcome to the real world, liz.

  2. Greg Strandberg

    At least the TV ads haven’t started yet, or have they? I don’t really get any good channels so I don’t know.

    How about the local races? Anything shaping up in Missoula? I’d love to take HD 98 but it looks like Andrew Persons got appointed there a couple weeks back and I’m not sure if its up for grabs. Filing starts a week from now.

  3. Interesting theory. I linked to it in my latest post at Flathead Memo, “John Walsh: The Anointed & The Evasive.”

    • lizard19

      thank you, James. after reading your piece I’m wondering how long a campaign can hold out from providing substance about a candidate.

    • Craig Moore

      IMHO, the leaker was someone who had access to Schweitzer’s files on this… perhaps Bohlinger. I don’t think he took kindly to being told by Harry Reid that Walsh was his candidate. And seeing the strings pulled on Baucus to anoint Walsh, just was tooooo much to take without fighting back in the spirit of the fix.

    • larry kurtz

      Mr. Conner: could you expand on why you believe Walsh leaking this dossier is a bad idea: is it because he didn’t do it directly?

      • I don’t know that Walsh did leak the IG’s report. As Craig observed, Bohlinger could have had access to it and seems to have a motive for doing it.

        If Walsh wanted the report made public, holding a press conference and saying “This is what happened to me when I tried to improve the odds of getting better equipment and pay for the Montana National Guard.” That way gets him credit for being a stand-up guy. Having a subordinate surreptitiously slip the report to an ambitious reporter is not the work of a stand-up guy, or of a smart guy.

        That’s why I think the leaker most likely was a disgruntled and disloyal officer in the guard, or someone in Bohlinger’s camp. Whoever leaked it should come forward and take credit for leaking it.

        • Pogo Possum

          James, I am not certain that repeatedly demonizing and blaming the subordinates who testified and reported abuse and coercion by Walsh is the best strategy to help Walsh’s Senatorial bid. That is like the convicted rapist defending his actions by saying “she deserved it and I did it for her own good.”

          While I have read that Walsh disagrees with the IG report’s finding that he misused his position for private gain (he did, he just hopes people don’t pay too much attention to the facts), I haven’t seen him deny that he sent emails to his subordinates pressuring them to join and pay dues to the NGAUS nor have I seen him even deny the accusations that he pressured, coerced or bullied his subordinates into joining that private organization.

          Calling these officers disgruntled, unsavory and disloyal malcontents may blow up in Walsh’s face and may prove to be even more damaging to his public image than the original finding of fact against him.

  4. steve kelly

    Cronyism exists the workplace, and in politics. The club of “good old boys” benefits a chosen few, which leaves a bad taste in everyone else’s mouth. Smells bad too — reeks of mediocracy. In politics it borders on corruption, or at least perceived corruption. Remembering the high mileage of Tester’s anti-corruption theme in 2006, how this helps a senate candidate in 2014 is a mystery to me.

    • Greg Strandberg

      Meritocracy eventually leads to plutocracy and to me at least that’s what we’ve had for a long time. I’ve been harping that we don’t have a democracy, we have a plutocracy since the late 90s.

      And of course in that system poor people always lose out.

  5. brazen and bold are still the key ingredients to what passes for political leadership these days. to hell with doing what is right for the people. here in missoula our own district attorney thumbs his nose at those who want to see adequate investigation and prosecution of rape……. unbelievable.

  6. Big Swede

    Montanans are indeed cynical about politics.

    But it isn’t about this crap.

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