Archive for the ‘Monica Lindeen’ Category

by Pete Talbot

And here I thought Sen. Max Baucus was retiring from the U.S. Senate so he could spend more time in Montana with his lovely, young wife.  He’s even building a home in the Bozeman area.

It looks like I was wrong.  The blogs are awash with the news that Max will most likely be the next U.S. Ambassador to China.  I won’t link to them all — they range from kudos to criticism — and you’ve probably already read them.  Here’s the NY Times story, though.

Now China will be his legacy since tax reform is off the table and the Affordable Care Act isn’t exactly being warmly embraced.

The big question: who will be appointed by Gov. Bullock as Baucus’ place holder until the 2014 election?

Ahh, to be a fly on the wall in those smoke-filled back rooms (although not as smokey as they used to be thanks to anti-tobacco trends).  Who to pick: Lt. Gov. John Walsh, Brian Schweitzer, Pat or Carol Williams, one of our Tier-B women (Juneau, McCulloch, Lindeen)?

Now former Baucus/Obama staffer Jim Messina is being mentioned.  How the hell did he get in the mix?

And if Bullock appoints Walsh, who will he then appoint as lieutenant governor?  (Bohlinger?  That would be ironic, n’est pas?)

I’m sure all these questions were hashed out and answered many months ago by the powers that be.  The rest of us are just along for the ride.

UPDATE: It’s official.  Obama nominates Baucus for Ambassador to China position.  Max’s appointment should sail through Senate hearings.

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By CFS

Well… we have been pretty negative here at 4&20 when it comes to this Republican controlled session of the Montana legislator.  It’s about time we highlighted something good coming out of this session and something that is common sense legislation that most people can get behind.

HB 105 was introduced at the request of Monica Lindeen and aims to give the state insurance auditor the regulatory authority over insurance premium increases.  As of 2011 we are one of only three states that do not have regulatory authority over insurance pricing.

I’m happy to see someone attempting this reform, as I would say it’s badly needed.  Last year my health insurance premiums went up by 44% and I have never once used the coverage provided in the three years I’ve had a policy with BCBS.  I even wrote a letter to Lindeen last year complaining about the premium increase and got a reply back that her office had no authority over pricing.  I’m sure she received a lot of letters and emails from Montana citizens getting screwed by their insurance provider, and now here she is responding to the outcry from normal people… just how state politics should work.  If you want more information take a look at the fact sheet here and a story covering the bill from the Missoula Indy

Unfortunately this bill hasn’t made any real progress in almost a month.  It’s sad that a good, common sense reform such as this has taken a back seat to the lunacy taking place in Helena.

by jhwygirl

Yellowstone Kelly has a post up at Left in the West, aptly titled Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine, which reports on Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s travelling the state with Governor Brian Schweitzer and her own entourage comprised of her top 3 staffers (and yes…who is in charge when she’s out helping the Governor with his daily schedule?)

The whisper YK puts out there is that she may be considering a gubernatorial run in 2012, when The Brian’s term (finally) expires.  This is something I’ve been saying for months now, but sadly, only in private emails and conversations.  It’s been clear in her interactions with the Governor during the Land Board hearings – and with Brian looked at her almost downright adoringly as she made the motion to approve Otter Creek and the motion to add the bonus bid (which wasn’t one, in the end.)

McCulloch offered an afterthought to the final approval of the $86 million bid on Otter Creek, throwing the responsibility of seeing that its millions are spent on schools to the citizens of the state and called on everyone to ‘hold their elected officials responsible’ in making sure the money was spent on schools.

Not only did that contradict the constitutional blackout she had when she added the bonus bid, assuring the public ‘that the bonus bid will go directly to the schools’ as an over-and-above amount from what the legislature appropriated….it flew in the face of who she is.

She’s an elected official. Was it even two days after the approval of that lease before her paramour Schweitzer was out letting the world know he saved the state’s budget with the Otter Creek millions?

Where was she then?

Where was McCulloch when megalomaniac Schweitzer was out politically blackmailing county and city local governments, requesting a pledge to coal in order to secure release of legislatively appropriated stimulus money?

She won’t be getting my vote again. Evah. Same for Auditor Monica Lindeen.

YK mentions that Attorney General Steve Bulloch is another one rumored to be seeking the Governorship. I’ve got one eye on Bulloch, and so far he’s done a pretty righteous job…extraordinarily so as the Attorney General.

But it’s one eye only – my other eye is still on the lookout, given that Bulloch’s vote against Otter Creek was driven solely by his responsibility to the trust – and not his constitutional obligations to ensure a clean and healthful environment for Montanans.

Time will tell. Who knows – maybe someone I’m a big fan of might decide to take the leap. I can only hope.

by jhwygirl

In a 3 – 2 vote (Schweitzer, McCulloch and Lindeen voting yes), the Land Board voted to lower the minimum bid price on the Otter Creek tracts from .25/ton to .15/ton.

I’ve yet to stomach a viewing of the entire hearing – but thanks to my DVR (and since the Land Board doesn’t archive its audio and video like the legislature has been able to do for quite a number of years), I’ll be watching it tonight.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and Attorney General Steve Bullock both voted against the project. For that, I am deeply grateful.

I hope to transcribe the testimony and comments of at least two individuals from today’s hearing. AG Bullock spoke to the corporate welfare that he saw about to be dispensed. Another opponent spoke to the corporate money of Arch Coal – where they put it and the return they would get if the leases were approved.

Those words – like Juneau’s “no” vote in December – need to be out there so that people can be reminded of precisely what was at stake when Otter Creek becomes the disaster that will be.

And make no mistake, those that voted yes were keenly aware of that impending disaster. Lee reporter Mike Dennison captured that awareness by referencing Governor Schweitzer’s promises to Montana’s water resources prior to the yes vote by he and Lindeen and McCulloch. I’ve gone ahead and transcribed them word for word. Read them and ponder why the taxpayers must forego $5 million in coal revenues to the general fund or to the school trust (he didn’t say where he planned to take that $5 million) to protect Montana’s water resources.

I’m going to instruct my budget director, to put in my budget that we take to the legislature, $5 million so that every high school in Montana will either have solar panels or a wind turbine at their school and in order for them to receive this money – which is approximately $32,000 per school – they’ll have to sign a contract with the Department of Commerce that they will spend a minimum of 5 hours teaching time in each of those classrooms with every high school student in Montana explaining to them how this alternative energy works and how it is the energy of the future. I’m also going to instruct the budget director to put $5 million in the budget to protect those that live in Otter Creek and their water. I don’t know who the director of DEQ will be 8 years, 12 years, 20 years from now. I’ve no idea who will be seated on this land board…who will be responsible at the DNRC. We can’t control that – the people of Montana will elect those positions, and the rest of ’em will be appointed. So that’s why whether the DEQ or the DNRC has the fortitude to make sure that the mining companies are protecting the water assets of the people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children will not be in doubt – because there will be $5 million put aside. And those monies – $5 million and $5 million – would come from this bonus bid.

While the “people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children” can’t take that $5 million to the bank – only the legislature can appropriate – what they can take to the bank is proof, given to us today by the 3 yes votes, that corporate coal money reigns supreme over their water, their lives, their farms, their ranches and their children.

by jhwygirl

Inquiring minds are wondering. Tomorrow’s Land Board meeting may provide the answer, as the state’s executive branch (Gov. Schweitzer, Sec. of State Linda McCulloch, Attorney General Steve Bullock, State Auditor Monica Lindeen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau) consider whether to lower the minimum bid for the Otter Creek coal tracts.

Most readers may recall that the Land Board, after delaying the vote in November, went ahead and approved the leases (sans Denise Juneau’s vote), back in December.

But not before listening (for the upteenth time) to hours of opponent testimony that ranged from environmentalists, tribal members and ranchers who will be directly affected by the rape of the land, litany of industry lies, and the permanent assault on both the environment and private property rights.

Their testimony of which, notably, was kept to a 3-minute time limit while proponents representing big coal interests (the Montana Coal Council) and the only likely leaser (Great Northern/Arch Coal) were allowed to ramble on. Watch the video in JC’s post on Otter Creek to hear what one opponent had to say about that treatment.

And not before adding a .15/ton bonus to the minimum bid recommendation, which was, perhaps not so ironically, arrived at through negotiation with the only potential leaser Great Norther/Arch Coal.

So it should be no surprise that the only potential bidder on the coal is whining about the minimum bid. Which, speaking of – it’s a little ridiculous to call this a bid process, IMNSHO. It sorta creates an image that there is the potential for the bid to go higher – that someone else might place a bid. Which isn’t the case here.

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The level to which we find our electeds here in Montana kowtowing to corporate interests all in worship to the almighty – yet elusive – “business” and “jobs” still astounds me. Proponents say that these tracts will create massive numbers of jobs, yet the total of all 5 working coal mines here in Montana doesn’t employ even 1,000 people. Factor in that the highest paid of those jobs go to out-of-state engineers and corporate big dogs, and that number becomes even lower. Mining is highly automated – and is becoming more and more automated with larger and larger machines.

The level of corporate kowtowing won’t stop with a lower of the bid price – if they do it….it’ll continue with a tromping of private property rights over those of (yep, you guess it) the developer Great Northern Arch Coal.

Certain members of the Land Board (no sense in calling anyone out in particular, and yes, Denise Juneau can be exempted here) have gone through great pains through the several hearings on Otter Creek to say that “this isn’t about the rail road” and “this isn’t about the actual mine – what we’re talking about here is just the lease” as if leasing the tracts doesn’t bring the other two.

In federal language, this is called “connected actions” and this is where federal agencies often meet their legal woes. Simply put, actions that are a result of the intended outcome must be considered.

In this previous post, titled Montana GOP leaders support federal condemnation for Otter Creek, I explained how the railroad will require condemnation (i.e., eminent domain takings) of private property. Whether the railroad will be looked at as a common carrier has yet to be seen, but even if that doesn’t occur, state law can and will be used in an attempt to condemn for that railroad.

Great Northern/Arch Coal will use MCA 70.30.102 – using a pretty wide interpretation of “public uses” (since the only one truly benefiting from the railroad will be Great Northern/Arch Coal) – to condemn private property to build this railroad. A railroad that will help Arch Coal move its Wyoming coal more cheaply to markets both east and west.

And before any wingers go screaming “tax revenue” as a public use, let me remind you of the Kelo case (which is linked to within the condemnation piece above).

I’ll also remind you that the private property of Kelo, condemned in the Kelo case, still sits unused by a now bankrupt private entity that had successfully gained the property through eminent domain.

Yessiree, this Otter Creek is one big mess. The Land Board added the .15/ton bonus payment saying it wouldn’t sell the coal cheaply. That the kids would benefit (McCulloch had some constitutional blackout with that one, since only the legislature can appropriate). Even the Good Gov has long said he would not sell Otter Creek cheaply.

We’ll see, won’t we.

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For those of you interested, you can watch the Land Board hearing live by watching it on TVMT (Channel 67 here in Missoula, other channel listings for around the state can be found here.)

You could also stream it live from the state’s website, links which can be found here, at the top of the page.

Oddly – and even the Land Board’s website is pretty clear about this – the Land Board doesn’t archive its audio or video of the Land Board meetings. This is opposite the very efficient and public-information friendly legislative branch who archives not only audio and video from years past sessions, but committee meetings along with the written minutes.

SO – if you want to watch the Land Board hearing, you best set 4 or 5 hours on the DVR or VCR to tape, or catch it live. Because after that, it’s only a memory. Of course, a month later you can read the typed minutes, but those aren’t complete transcriptions.

Nothing like seeing your elected officials in action, peeps.

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In closing – please take the time to call or email the Land Board members tonight…or before 9 a.m. tomorrow. Tell them that leasing that coal at a lower price further perpetuates corporate welfare.

Also, don’t just listen to me – read Button Valley’s 2 most recent Otter Creek-related posts: Value of school children plummets and “If not now, when? If not us, who?”. You can also search the term “otter” over there for a whole wealth of informative posts on Otter Creek.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

by jhwygirl

Left in the West’s Yellowstone Kelly has a post up predicting tomorrow’s state Land Board decision regarding the leasing of the Otter Creek coal leases in eastern Montana.

I won’t be so bold as to make a prediction – and even if I were, it wouldn’t be the 4-1 supposition that Yellowstone Kelly put up, mainly due to my continued hope that Montana’s 5 highest elected officials will see the sense in their party’s platform that supports clean energy and the lunacy in bringing up a billion tons of coal from the ground. Someone’s gonna burn it, and it’s gonna be dirty and that is an unchanging fact.

Not only do we – do Democrats – have a responsibility to our school children, we have a responsibility to the environment. Leasing 1 billion tons of coal is not environmentally responsible.

Sec. of State Linda McCulloch can speak all she wants about funding the school children, but she makes that statement without any regards to the other income potentials to the Otter Creek tracts – income that can be cleaner and sustainable (as opposed to mining for coal).

In fact, the decision on Otter Creek has been framed as being “for the children” and “for the schools” – and anyone saying that is taking advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge concerning trust land revenue and how it effects school funding. It’s irresponsible, and it is dangerously close to being untruthful.

Let’s say this to be clear: Leasing the Otter Creek tracts will have NO direct effect on the funding levels for schools. That is a fact, pointed out aptly enough by MEA-MFT president Eric Feaver MEA-MFT is the union which represents teachers, and has been behind repeated calls for increased funding to the state’s K-12 schools.

Funding for schools is set by the legislature. Revenue from any income generated on school trust land is deposited in the trust (which is really what having a trust is all about) and the interest is what may be used to fund schools. It is the interest, and that amount it what helps fund schools. What is available and what the legislature uses are completely independent of each other.

Montana’s citizens – and its press – would do well to better understand the school trust and the school funding system. It’s complex – I won’t pretend to be an expert – but I will say that hearing what I’ve heard from a number of elected officials has made me cringe over the years.

Leasing of the Otter Creek tracts has along list of ramifications – degradation to the environment, degradation to water quality…condemnations under governmental actions of eminent domain – all of which being with the destructive act of bringing the stuff up out of the ground.

Help out the many ranchers who live in and near the Otter Creek tracts that will be effected, and write a short email to the Land Board members tonight and let them know that leasing the tracts is a bad, bad idea. Monday’s meeting is 9, so time’s a wastin’ people – get ‘er done:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

OR you could cut and past these into your email: governor@mt.gov; OPISupt@mt.gov; doj@mt.gov; mlindeen@mt.gov; sos@mt.gov Be sure to put “Otter Creek” in the subject line.

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For more information on Otter Creek, you can put the words “otter” or “Tongue” into our search here (over there on the rigth) or, even better, head on over to The Button Valley Bugle and do the same. The Editor at The BV Bugle has done the finest of jobs in covering the issues on Otter Creek – and both of us have peppered our posts with plenty of links providing additional sources of information. In fact, I see The Editor has a “final push” post up too – titled “Otter Creek and Utter Rhetoric” that shouldn’t be missed.

(jhwygirl) Public comment for the proposed leasing of the state’s Otter Creek coal closes soon. A public hearing, continued from last month, is next Monday. I question our state’s commitment to green energy. You don’t pull a billion tons of coal out of the ground to look at it. Coal is filthy. Someone’s burning it somewhere. Ironically, Otter Creek is an area identified as viable for wind energy. The Button Valley Bugle (who has been on a roll lately) reminds us that some dogs are best left sleeping.

Anne Millbrooke, of Bozeman, has done a lovely job at touching at the myriad of issues surrounding the decision on whether to lease the coal tracts. I thank Anne for sharing her letter to our State Land Board, which is comprised of Governor Schweitzer, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Attorney General Steve Bullock, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and State Auditor Monica Lindeen:

Dear Montana Land Board:

As the state’s website says, the Montana Land Board oversees more than five million acres of school trust lands in order to generate revenue for the trust — for schools in the state. But the task is not simply economic. Inherent in public education are responsibilities for the health and well being of the students and the future of the students. That is why the Land Board should carefully consider all decisions about coal lands.

The environmental damage and health consequences of mining and burning coal are enormous, and the projected 40-year life of the proposed Otter Creek mines means any contemporary decision to lease coal lands binds the future to a dirty-energy infrastructure.

Otter Creek is the decision at hand. There are options for revenue that do not required strip mining the land and polluting air, land, and water, and the associated negative impacts on the health and well-being of children. Coal is not clean, coal power is not clean, and coal mining is not clean: step by step, decision by decision, we should be going green.

Furthermore, Otter Creek is not about jobs, nor the economic health of Montana families. According to the coal companies’ own Montana Coal Council website, the five big strip mines and the new underground mine in the state employ a total of only 1008 people. The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation estimated in its June fact sheet that two proposed mines on Otter Creek lands would employ fewer than 500 people. Coal mining is highly mechanized. It is not labor intensive. The poorest counties in the poor state of West Virginia have coal mines: corporate coal takes the local resources to enrich distant stakeholders.

In the big picture, Otter Creek is not really even about revenue. The nearly $6 million coal revenue reported for 2008 is helpful, but it is a very small percent of the school funding in Montana. Coal mining is not funding our schools, and not mining will not financially break our schools.

By treaty and ethics, the State of Montana has responsibility for the young people of the indigenous tribes of Montana. A few jobs will not compensate for the negative impacts on Native Americans and their lands. Coal’s negative impacts on Native Americans are fact, as recorded in the documentary film “Power Paths” about the Navajo experience with coal.

Montana’s state lands are held in trust, for perpetuity, not for a limited revenue stream. There is a responsibility to protect the land in trust. Yet reclamation remains more promise than reality in lands already disturbed by coal mining, and much of the restoration done has not been to natural habitat.

The out-of-state corporation that holds an in-state railroad monopoly and the out-of-state coal corporation that wants Otter Creek coal could take the educational, economic, environmental viability and sustainability of coal development beyond state’s borders and perhaps beyond the state’s control and regulation.

There is even a question whether development would happen, or whether the coal corporation simply wants to acquire the rights as a immediate tax maneuver and for possible development someday in the future under the financial and regulatory terms of this depressed economy. According to the Trust Land Management Division’s 2008 Annual Report, there are currently 29 coal leases, but only four producing leases. I think the coal industry has plenty of reserves on hold without acquiring the leases to more state lands.

Coal need not be developed at Otter Creek, where the wind blows mightily; for example, the school trust lands could become fields of wind turbines. Now is the time to transition away from coal, not the the time to expand the dirty-energy infrastructure in Montana. Mining Otter Creek coal — with current technology — would not teach our children well about living in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, and it would harm the health of school children near the mines as well as downstream and downwind of the mines and coal-fired plants burning the coal.

Building new dirty-energy infrastructure designed to operate for 40 years is not in Montana’s interest in terms of the health and education of school children, the sustainability of local economies, clean air and water, and respect for downstream and downwind neighbors of the mines and the coal-fired plants to be fueled by Montana coal.

Please understand that Otter Creek has potential beyond coal and that coal lands should not be leased lightly. High environmental standards for any coal operations in Montana are necessary. Regulation and enforcement are necessary. But coal development is not necessary.

Yes, coal is a reality in our existing energy structure. Any new coal mining to support the existing infrastructure during our transition to clean-energy technologies, and any coal burning, should require CO2 sequestration. Coal seams sequester CO2 naturally. Mining and burning coal releases the CO2. The cost of developing and using new sequestration techniques will be offset by savings in terms of the health and in terms of the environment. Any plant burning Montana coal should be sequestering CO2 — by terms of contract as required by the State of Montana.

It is time to move beyond our historical reliance upon coal. In a popular and accurate analogy, we live in a global coal mine. We have since the 19th century. Now the “canaries” are dying: frog, bee, and bat populations are plummeting around the world, and those deaths are but symptoms of the larger problem of polluting our planet, our state, our homes. It’s time to clean-up our act, step by step, decision by decision.

Montana’s students need a clean, healthy environment in which to live and learn. They need a sustainable economy in which some day to work. They need to grow and learn in a setting with sustainable energy more than they need royalties from another coal lease. Please remember this as you consider appropriate use of Otter Creek and other trust lands.

by jhwygirl

This comes to me via a reader from Bozeman. I’ve edited it slightly for posting.

The Billings Gazette reports on the Otter Creek coal tracts and the decision to be made Monday by the State Land Board. Letters sent via email are needed NOW to stop the giveaway of state resources to out-of-state corporate coal. Slow down. Coal is not clean, coal power is not clean, and coal mining is not clean. If coal development happens, it should not happen in rushed manner without benefit to Montana.

This is NOT about jobs. With six big strip mines and a new underground mine, Montana is already the 5th largest coal producer in the country, and that has translated into only 1008 jobs total, according the the coal companies’ own Montana Coal Council.

The important thing is write an email NOW and send it to the members of the Montana State Land Board:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

OR you could cut and past these into your email: governor@mt.gov; OPISupt@mt.gov; doj@mt.gov; mlindeen@mt.gov; sos@mt.gov Be sure to put “Otter Creek” in the subject line.

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Monday’s Land Board hearing begins at 9 a.m., so as you can see action is needed now.

Many have blogged on Otter Creek. For a great start, Button Valley has done a number of pieces. Remember the Tongue River Valley and Maybe We Shouldn’t Otter are two that contain a number of links to other sources, including one to 4&20 hero and Indy columnist extraordinaire George Ochenski.

The Northern Cheyenne, who darn near border the area and who will be affected directly by any development, have – officially – barely endorsed the plan. As you can see from their comment provided to the Land Board earlier this year, they are suspicious that the promises made to them for jobs won’t be followed through. Seeing the facts on jobs from the Montana Coal Council, they should be suspicious.

Despite the official response of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, meetings held this summer showed even less support amongst the tribes, and native American news source Reznet has that perspective.

Coal isn’t clean. Montana is not the Saudi Arabia of coal as the Governor and Arch Coal and Great Northern would want us to believe. Many organizations have been working hard to drive this message home to the Land Board, including Northern Plains Resource Council and the the Montana Environmental Information Center, two very fine organizations that have fought the good fight, taking up against the state in a number of environmental cases and winning. Economists here in the state (and elsewhere) have said the Otter Creek tracts are overvalued.

Arch Coal will now use pressure to get final approval of its leases at the Land Board on Monday. They have no access – they have no railroad. Two significant impediments to that access are the heir to the Mars candy fortune – who has said “NO” to the railroad moving through his property – and FWP, whose board recently denied a request from Great Northern for its railroad through some of its land. Condemnations and eminent domain requests are messy and lengthy. Why should the state lease its land now when not only is access lacking, but once (and if) major impediments are removed, the value of that coal (if there really is value) and the leases themselves will increase immensely?

Please take the time as you read this to send and email and ask the Land Board to say “NO” to Otter Creek until all effects and affects of both the mine and the railroad can be assessed.

Below is the news alert from the Sierra Club. Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

We’ll give the link to the Great Falls Tribune, which broke the story this past Sunday – State Auditor Monica Lindeen – “in an abundance of caution,” has ordered an independent investigation into allegations by fired/terminated/resigned state (who knows?) administrator Laura McGee that Walter Schweitzer, Deputy State Auditor, had harassed Ms. McGee and solicited political funds on the state’s dime.

From the GFT:

McGee also said Schweitzer on several occasions solicited campaign funds from his sub-ordinates. The federal Hatch Act forbids such political activity if the agency receives federal funding.

The auditor’s office Web site showed that more than half the agency’s funding was federal, but spokeswoman Jessica Rhoades said that information was outdated and has been corrected.

“That (federal) funding was also a pass-through to counties and doesn’t apply to any of our programs, so the Hatch Act would not apply anyway,” Rhoades added.

(Please note that GFT links are only live for about 2 weeks.)

That would explain why the original story’s reference to the Hatch Act disappeared….

Here’s another version of the same story on Lindeen ordering an internal investigation, this time from the Flathead Beacon:

Lindeen said she wants to make sure with the external investigation that staff followed state ethics policies and laws. The auditor said the agency already has determined with an internal investigation that similar federal laws don’t apply to the state office.

(cont.)Rhoades said that Lindeen is currently reviewing candidates to conduct the outside investigation. She said an internal investigation was made when McGee first made the allegations.

Rhoades said that she could not say any more on what that found, other than that federal law does not apply to the office.

Reading both of those stories, what I see is a focus by Lindeen’s office on the fact that the previous internal investigation focused on whether there was a violation of the federal Hatch Act.

Anyone find it strange that the apparent defense that ‘nothing was wrong’ was that whatever it was that occurred didn’t violate any federal laws? Not a defense that is rooted in ‘it didn’t occur’?

Enough of that…

I also see that the focus of the next internal investigation is going to be whether there was any violation of state policies or ethics laws.

Jessica Rhodes, spokesperson for Auditor Monica Lindeen, says that Lindeen also “wants to take this opportunity to conduct a review of agency policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with state ethics laws.”

Good for Lindeen. This is a smart move. She can’t and shouldn’t allow the serious allegations out there just hang. If she had just handed this investigation over to Political Practices Commissioner (and Governor Schweitzer appointee) Dennis Unsworth, anything he came up with would have automatically have been dismissed by critics merely because of whom appointed him, even though Unsworth has proven himself to be a fair arbitrator. I think, ultimately, though, that she should hand whatever her investigation finds over to Unsworth for a final pass – as it is his office’s responsibility to determine what violates state ethics laws.

Further, her investigation – whether it finds a violation or not – could educate Montanans on what state ethics laws allow and what it doesn’t. That all rests, of course, on the truthfulness behind the allegations.

Anyone want to bet on how many senate or house bills that this spawns in the 62nd legislative session?

by jhwygirl

As in the Governor and his brother, Walter.

Probably State Auditor Monica Lindeen, too, when you think about it.

I won’t editorialize too much, except to say that Governor Schweitzer caught his bad Sunday with this story and its accompaniment which tell what I’ve known – that Hagener was fired unceremoniously, and rather than throw daggers (Hagener by all accounts is a class act) he intended to move on. Hagener didn’t want to talk about it, and for someone in that situation, it’s very understandable.

That is until daggers were thrown in his reputation’s direction.

Walter – and State Auditor Monica Lindeen – caught the bad Sunday with this piece in the Great Falls Tribune.

In that story – it’ll fall to paid archives in a week or so – state employee Laura McGee claims she was fired in retaliation for bringing forward allegations of harassment by Deputy State Auditor Walter Schweitzer who was allegedly soliciting campaign funds.

The comments are quite interesting on that one, too. Don’t miss ’em…and a star for the day to whomever figures out which one is Larry Krajl first, OK?

She resigned a $45,000 a year job (in this economy!) but she was fired…but she got a letter of recommendation…aww, who the hell knows.

Only the Billings Gazette picked up on that story. Unusual, no? A story that involves the State Auditor and her Deputy, and only one other state paper picks it up? It’s not like it wasn’t on Associated Press.

Anyways – thought I’d provide the links and short run-down. Our searches here for 4&20 show that people are looking for the pieces – I thought I’d provide ’em.

~~~~~
Addendum: More I think about it, there are some further questions to this story as it stands with its unproven allegations: Is she getting unemployment? Did she file?

If she was dismissed, as she says, then she should file for unemployment…it she quit, she knows better. She’ll be denied unemployment without extenuating circumstances. OR – if she gets unemployment, with no challenge by the employer, that tells a story in and of itself. If the employer challenges it, there’s hearings and everything to determine the validity of her claim

Puts the state in a position. They gave her a recommendation…but said she was fired. If they flat-out leave a claim for unemployment unchallenged (effectively granting her unemployment payments), then there’s more questions. I mean – they’re on the record saying she was fired.

If she gets unemployment, that’s costing the state (i.e., taxpayers,) directly. Under unemployment, the check comes, 50%, from unemployment insurance, the other 50% directly from the employers. Unless that’s changed….

So it seems to me, a relevant question is: Is Ms. McGee collecting unemployment? Taxpayers should want to know.

by Pete Talbot

Dear President-elect Obama,

I’m sorry we couldn’t deliver our three electoral votes to you. You worked hard for them. You visited the state and talked western policy. You set up offices and hired staff and had the best ground game I’ve ever seen. John McCain never set foot in Montana.

You came close — only 12,136 votes separated you from McCain. And compared to the 20-point win that George W. Bush had here four years ago, what you did was miraculous.

I’m still scratching my head, though. In almost every other statewide category, Montana went blue: senator, governor and all four tier b’s (unseating the sole Republican incumbent with a new secretary of state). And two-out-of-three newly-elected PSC commissioners are Democrats.

Another confusing example is Gallatin County. I hoped for better numbers from there. It did, after all, almost go for Sen. Tester in 2006 (Burns won by less than 200 votes). But this year, Obama goes down by over 1400. Perhaps Barack should work on a flattop haircut for 2012. Even Gallatin County voted for you, by a 1609 vote margin.

I don’t believe race was a factor. I think most Montanans who voted for McCain did so because of issues like taxes or defense or the “experience” card or some ingrained conservative Christian belief.

And guns played a role. Even though you came to Montana and assured us you wouldn’t take away our guns, ugly rumors persisted. Next time through, make sure to get that ubiquitous firearm photo op.

We wish you well, Mr. President, and may you bring people together to help solve the numerous problems facing our country. Godspeed.

An unpleasant aside

After saying race wasn’t a factor, well, you still run into this: On my way to Bozeman on election day, I stopped by the Cardwell Store, there between Whitehall and Three Forks, for a cup of coffee and a Slim Jim. Two good-old-boys were at the counter and one said, “I better go vote.” To which the other said, “Yeah, I’d hate to see this election get nigger-rigged.”

I’m not even sure what he meant but I left my merchandise on the counter and walked out. Came up with some really choice things I should have said about five miles down the road.

Now I’m sure that everyone in Cardwell isn’t an ignorant racist pig but I won’t be stopping by again, ever, to find out.

It’s a sad anecdote, but there’s one good thing about it; the guy was old and will soon be dead.

I love Missoula

On a more upbeat note: Missoula delivers. One or two flies in the ointment: that HD-100 race where Willis Curdy is losing by a measly 33 votes to Republican incumbent Bill Nooney (provisional votes still being counted, final results Monday). But that’s democracy; you can choose the anti-education, anti-senior, anti-young person, anti-environment candidate if you want.

Same with SD-7, which has a little bit of Missoula County in it and where veteran lawmaker Paul Clark lost to anti-government zealot Greg Hinkle.

Otherwise it was a sweep: Gutsche over Mood for the PSC, the improbable county commissioner outcome, nine-out-of-ten state reps, and two state senators.

The Emergency Operations Center Bond going down wasn’t really a surprise. With property taxes in the mail and it being a slow economy and all, folks are tightening their belts. In better times, I think it would have passed. It also wasn’t one of the strongest campaigns I’ve seen run in this town.

Ravalli County blues

Is it too harsh to recommend a toll booth at the Ravalli/Missoula County line? Those Bitterrooters should pay extra to come and visit an eclectic town that values education and planning. Maybe we could funnel the toll revenue into preserving Ravalli County open space, while there’s still some left.

I know that there are progressives in Ravalli County but time-and-time again their issues and candidates get hammered.

Both West Fork Blues and Rebecca have excellent comments on the results in the Bitterroot.

Statewide conundrum

Despite Democratic wins in most of the big-ticket races, the Montana House is tied and the senate losses seats (R’s 27-D’s 23). Throw in a Democratic governor and I smell gridlock. But maybe not, lots of talk from candidates of all stripes wanting to “reach across the aisle.” We’ll see.

I, like Jay and others, have to wonder about this split ticket voting. How can our Democratic governor win by an almost two-to-one margin and still have the Montana Senate lose its Democratic majority? Did the Republican Party focus on legislative races because it knew most of the others were hopeless? Any insights?

We’re a two party country

Third parties didn’t fare well. Libertarian Don Eisenmenger received about 7 percent in the OPI race, which I believe was the party’s best showing. Presidential candidate Bob Barr got 0.3 percent. In the U.S. House race, perennial candidate Mike Fellows got 3 percent, and Stan Jones got 2 percent in the governor’s race.

For Constitution Party candidates, Ron Paul got slightly over 2 percent in the presidential race. That party’s best showing was in Missoula County with Kandi Matthew-Jenkins getting a little better than one-third of the votes against Cliff Larson in SD 50 (there was no Republican in that contest). And in the SOS race, Sieglinde Sharbono received around 3.5 percent.

Nadar’s Independent ticket garnered slightly less than 1 percent.

And finally

Who ever thought we’d have a president with a name like Barack Obama? It pales in comparison, though, to the candidate from HD-15 — my favorite name on the ballot — Frosty Boss Calf Ribs. I’ve met some of the Boss Calf Ribs clan up in the Browning area but don’t know Frosty, who was unopposed. Kind of makes our Anglo names like John Smith and Jane Doe seem rather lame. Congratulations, Frosty.

by jhwygirl

The Good Governor Brian stops by to say hello to a little girl who was dancing away most of the evening. There were lots of kids there, of all ages – after all, this was a spotlight on Montana!

Monica Lindeen, Montana’s next State Auditor, looking lovely!

Butte is lucky – hell, all of Montana is lucky – to have Art Noonan around! Art isn’t seeking reelection to HD-73, and is now Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party. I’m a huge fan!

Another guy Montana is lucky to have around George Parisot, the Director of the Montana Lottery. I’m a fan of anyone who recycles!(note: see Ed Tinsley’s comment below. Sorry Steve!)

Missoula’s local get-‘er-done guy Mike Barton was pretty popular with all the movers and shakers. If you need to know who what where when why or how about anything in City Hall, Mike’s the guy!

by jhwygirl

State Republican Chairman Erik Iverson paints an absolutely rosy picture of the state’s Republican chances to grab up – at least – 3 of the 5 seats which comprise the State Land Board.

Iverson said he believes Montana Republicans have an excellent chance to control the Montana Land Board for the first time since 1992. That would mean winning three out of these five races: governor, attorney general, auditor, superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state.

Iverson seems to paint his hopes on State Auditor, Attorney General and Secretary of State. The Republicans currently have no challenger for School Superintendent.

Both the State Auditor and the Attorney General seats are being vacated by term-limited Mike McGrath and John Morrison.

There are two challengers for State Auditor – Rep. Monica Lindeen (D – Huntley) and former Sen. Duane Grimes (R- Clancy). Clancy lost to Morrison in 2004. Lindeen ran against Rehberg in 2006, in a race where the state’s Democratic party were almost wholly focused on unseating Conrad Burns. Iverson is banking on Grimes, saying “He’s run before and knows what it takes.”

There are 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans running for Morrison’s seat. Money is the winner in this race according to Iverson:

Iverson said whoever emerges from the Democratic primary will be “a great competitor and probably will be a little beaten up and not have much money. The Republican primary winner probably will have more money and be more politically stable than the Democratic candidate,” he said.

It is a sad reality when all a candidate or party chair can rest on is $.

But do tell, Erik Iverson – what is it, exactly, that the State Land Board has been failing at doing? What agenda is it that the MT GOP has for the state’s lands? Is big industry whining? Do they miss their “lap dogs”?

Follow the money, I guess, and maybe we’ll find out.

By Jay Stevens 

The excitement across Missoula is palpable today. The rally at the Children’s museum was raucous. Monica Lindeen, Max Baucus, Pat Williams, John Melcher, and Brian Schweitzer were all there to support Tester. Nearly everyone in the room – two hundred? – had already voted and had volunteered or is going to volunteer on Election Day. It’s safe to say that Missoula is firmly in Tester’s camp.

It’s not too late to volunteer. Tester’s blog has the numbers, addresses, and contacts for all the major Democratic headquarters throughout the state. If you’re shy about cold-calling or knocking on doors, there is plenty you can still do for Tester on Election Day. Transport people to the polls. Support the poll watchers. Paperwork, errand-running, anything.

You can also help out on your own. Proudly display a Tester button on your lapel, put up a sign in your window or on your lawn. Engage everybody who looks interested. If they’re unsure, tell them – honestly, but not condescendingly or with anger – why you’re backing Tester.

You can also call anybody you know who might not vote. An elderly neighbor. A single mom. Offer them a ride or babysitting in exchange for the few minutes it will take to vote. Call all your friends and remind them to go out and vote. Urge all your Tester-backing friends to do the same.

Both parties have organized machines to get out the vote. Give it the personal touch and start the landslide from your kitchen.

And you know what? Things look very good for the Democrats right now in Montana, based on anecdotal evidence. Here’s a comment from athene-owl here in Missoula:

I just voted early at the Missoula County courthouse, fifteen minutes before the cutoff for absentee ballots (noon) and there was a line out the door. It was a pretty charged environment. One guy said he hadn’t voted for ten years.

Does a guy come out of a ten-year hiatus to vote for Conrad Burns? No, I don’t think so, either.

Here’s part of an email from a Democratic activist in the Flathead involved in GOTV efforts there:

A friend of mine called me to go the Cheney event to scout the opposition. I said no, I would spend that time phone banking. (Which I did.) She went, and said it was a very low energy affair. They tried to get a chant going several times “Conrad”… and couldn’t… it just died. She said Burns didn’t work the crowd, he just appeared on stage for a few minutes and left. Dick Cheney spent his time talking about “Boogie men, Democrats.” She said the crowd did not appear to get energized by the affair.She then joined me at the Tester rally in Kalispell on Wednesday. She said the energy difference was very noticeable. We had over 500 people there. I grew up here, and I can’t remember seeing 500 Democrats together in the Flathead ever. And more importantly I saw traditional moderate conservatives excited about Tester. They have crossed over!

I spent about 5 hours house canvassing in Kalispell yesterday. We saw a rental car van, dropping college students with Burns campaign literature. People are getting tired of being called, and contacted.

I’m going to steal this next line of thought from the Governor, who gave a much more spirited rendition about an hour ago: A lot of people talk about the vaunted GOTV machine of the GOP. They’re shipping people in from all over the country. They’re sending in lawyers from Philadelphia and New Jersey to discourage voting in low-income areas and on the reservations across the state. And all we’ve got is you.

Advantage, ours.

One quick last note. Schweitzer mentioned in his speech today that Missoula was instrumental in his election. He got 31,000 and change votes from this county. If Tester wins a thousand more – 32,000 and change – he’ll go to the Griz-Cats football game and allow Monty to tackle him in the North End Zone.

Let’s let that bear loose on our governor!

The Missoula Independent’s endorsements are up. They’re fantastic, and I pretty much agree with each. Here are the statewide endorsements. The Senate:

Hot damn, an easy one: Jon Tester for Senate!

The Indy calls him “genuine,” and better able to represent “average” Montanans in DC. Also:

He has established himself as an unrancorously mainstream politician with an independent mind, and while running a campaign necessarily tilted toward the missteps and implied misdeeds of his opponent, he has successfully communicated a message of progress and hope.

And Burns?

His opponent, on the other hand, is an embarrassment, nationally and, more painfully, at home. He speaks poorly, he appears not so much to think as to repeat, his campaign has been an endless parade of base indignities against the very idea of civil democracy, and he is the veritable tottering headmaster of the more-of-the-same school.

The Indy rails against his tax policies, support of the President’s war plans, his attitudes toward public lands, his negative campaigning, his foot-in-the mouth disease, etc. and company.

The endorsement was whole-hearted and sincere.

And for the House?

Rehberg is a formidable legislator who throws around a lot of weight as Montana’s sole representative, but given his persistent “stay the course” attitude on the ill-conceived war in Iraq, his votes favoring turning over public lands to private developers, his vote in favor of a bill authorizing the Bush administration to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions and eliminate habeas corpus for “unlawful enemy combatants,” and his unwavering support for the most disastrous and frightening administration in modern American history, we think a change is long overdue.Lindeen has run a serious and passionate campaign, even if it has gone largely unnoticed. She can hardly be blamed for the low-profile nature of this contest given the overwhelming attention paid to the nationally targeted Senate race. But Lindeen has been solid in her support for renewable energy and biofuels, and we believe her when she says she won’t be simply another rubber stamp for the Bush administration. Those are reasons enough to earn our vote.

Amen.

The Indy also supports the lobbyist reform initiative 153. They give the nod to the hike in the state’s minimum wage, initiative 151, with this zinger: “If a business can’t make it in this state without riding on the backs of people making $5.15 an hour, then it deserves to fail.”

Again, amen.

Posted by touchstone

Another publication has tapped Dennis Rehberg over Monica Lindeen. This time the Billings Gazette. Again the reasoning is weak, and the criticism for Lindeen non-existent.

So, why is the Gazette backing Rehberg?

Pork.

Rep. Denny Rehberg could be accused of working around the clock. He’s on the House Agriculture, Appropriations and Transportation committees, a member of the Rural Health Caucus and a founder of the Rural Education Caucus. He’s been involved in writing the multiyear highway bill that funds roadwork in Montana and across America as well a writing the multiyear farm bill that can make or break some Montana commodity growers.

Again it’s likely Rehberg will be a minority member of the House next year. And it’s not like he’s demonstrated any willingness to work with Democrats. He’s a social conservative radical who will be relegated to the role of bitter critic in a Democratic-led lower house. You think Democratic leaders will want to reward Rehberg’s years of partisan bickering with juicy appropriations?

The Gazette also bravely tried to portray Rehberg as an independent-minded lawmaker who’s not afraid to take on the President. (Yeah, I heard Rehberg claim that, too.) So…how did he oppose this President? Does he oppose torture? The current losing strategy in Iraq?

Rehberg, for example, has argued for expanded U.S. agri-trade opportunities with Cuba, which puts him at odds with the White House. And he’s defended the national country-of-origin labeling program, which has been repeatedly delayed at the behest of Texas cattlemen, packers and their White House and Capitol allies.

How courageous! Of course, if you don’t support Montana farmers and ranchers, you don’t serve public office in this state. Plus, as a rancher himself, it seems that particular legislation actually helps himself.

But what apparently put Rehberg over the top for the Gazette was Rehberg’s commitment to alternative energy and high-tech business, exemplified by his tour of the state in a biodiesel-fueled bus. Okay, I’m joking about the bus, but the reasons for which they picked Rehberg are actually the platform planks of Lindeen’s campaign. This election I’ve watched Rehberg distance himself from his record and paint himself as a Democrat – and apparently it worked on the Gazette.

But the truly odd thing is that the Gazette’s endorsement mentioned none of the issues that Montanans and Americans are passionately concerned with: health care, Iraq and national security, and corruption.

Let’s face it: the newspaper business is a business. Period. Last thing the Gazette editors and publishers want to do is say or do anything risky. Like endorse a candidate behind in the polls because of divisive issues playing out in the community. That’s a good way to lose subscribers, no matter who you back.

On the other hand, what is the media for if not that?

Posted by touchstone

So the Billings Outpost endorsed Tester:

We need a senator who will stand up for a balanced budget, even if that means voting against money that would line the pocket of his constituents. We need a senator who will stand up for the civil liberties that have made this country worth fighting for. We need a senator who resists ill-conceived attacks against foreign nations. Sen. Burns has demonstrated, amply and repeatedly, that he is not that senator.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Outpost also endorsed Rehberg – even after admitting our Representative shares many of the same failings as our junior Senator:

Sadly, much of the criticism of Sen. Burns above could also be applied to U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. Like the senator, Rep. Rehberg has been willing to sacrifice liberty on the altar of the war on terror. If he has a better plan for handling Iraq than we have heard in the other house of Congress, then we haven’t run across it.

Moreover, he has a dismal record on environmental issues, and he has backed dubious constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage and prohibit flag desecration. This is government at its most intrusive, running roughshod over the rights of states and of citizens to direct their own lives and loyalties.

The Outpost then admits Lindeen is “articulate and focused.” So…um why is the Outpost plugging Rehberg?

Still, we are not quite ready to cast Rep. Rehberg aside, especially since it seems likely that we already will have a freshmen senator in Congress. While we don’t like everything Rep. Rehberg does, we do like the way he handles himself and his office. We watched him grow as a candidate, from an inept race against Max Baucus for the Senate to a well oiled campaign against Nancy Keenan to reach to the House. He is personable and diligent, and he has managed as much as possible to avoid antagonizing groups that disagree with his votes.

I’m a little flabbergasted. The Outpost is endorsing Rehberg because of pork and because he’s a slick campaigner who avoided airing his views in public? You’re rewarding him for that? You’re throwing US soldiers, our public lands, and the Constitution under the bus because Rehberg looks good in a suit???

First, on the pork. In all likelihood, Rehberg will be a member of a bitter and caustic minority party in the House after November. (He better be, I’ve got five bucks riding on it.) He won’t get his appropriations any more! If elected, Monica Lindeen would have more say in the House than Dennis Rehberg will next year.

This endorsement smacks of the Outpost’s attempts to remain “objective.” If you endorse two Democratic candidates, then you’re at risk of being labeled a “liberal” paper. So you endorse Tester, then find some reason to like Rehberg, even if you have to throw the country to the sharks in doing so.

Or maybe the Outpost likes a safer bet. You want to stay on your Representative’s good side, right?

Seriously, if the Outpost couldn’t think of one negative quality for Monica Lindeen, why did it endorse her opponent who it already accused of endangering our civil liberties and contributing to the Iraq War mess? I wish they had the courage of Kansas’ The Johnson County Sun, who boldly claimed “the Republican Party has changed, and it has changed monumentally,” and stood by its principles, appearances be d*mned.

Enough of the mealy-mouthed platitudes towards “balance,” “objectivity,” or futile gestures to a non-existent “center.” Just vote your principles. Do the right thing.

Posted by touchstone

Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t, but Monica Lindeen and Representative Denny Rehberg assessed the situation in Iraq. When I saw these articles, I got pretty excited; after all, last time Rehberg left his views on Iraq, it was pretty durn bloggable.

I wasn’t disappointed this time, either.

Once again, our Representative urges us to “stay the course”:

Accomplishing this mission can, at times, be a frustratingly slow process, especially when our young men and women are in harm’s way. But our troops understand that the importance of this mission is worth traveling the difficult path to success. Our men and women in uniform are working side by side with the Iraqi security forces to bring stability to the country. Slowly but surely, the Iraqi army and police forces are taking the lead in providing security.

And just think, earlier in this piece, Rehberg claims to take pride in staying up on the issues! Considering that recent efforts to secure Baghdad have failed and even Bush is comparing Iraq to Vietnam, Rehberg’s position seems to be dangerously out of touch.

It gets better, of course. Take his attempt to make parallels between Iraq and WWII:

We must not allow the culture of criticism and pessimism to distract us from the main focus in Iraq. Iraq continues to be a central front in the war on terror. In World War II, our country lost a generation of Americans because our leadership saw a threat and did not react quickly enough. How much shorter could the war have been, how many fewer lives would have been lost, if America had acted swiftly against the looming threats posed by Japan, Germany and Italy? Unfortunately, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor forced us to act. Today, we are in a similar situation in the war on terror. For far too long, we ignored the growing threat presented by terrorism. Sept. 11, 2001, forced us to rethink this threat. To ensure that we do not lose another generation of brave, young Americans, we must continue to fight terror wherever it resides and provide our soldiers the resources they need to carry out the tremendous job of keeping America safe.

I agree we didn’t take terrorism seriously enough before 9/11, but I’d also argue we’re not taking it seriously in 2006, either. I mean, why waste all this time in Iraq? Why craft heinous legislation intended to steal our civil rights first, “anti-terror” tactics that have no discernable effect in catching terrorists? “Staying the course” is the worst sort of time wasting: it means more unnecessary American and Iraqi deaths while ensuring the conditions in Iraq deteriorate.

But the biggest load of cr*p is this continuing effort to make the current war on terror the equal of WWII. If so, where’s our enemy state? If so, where’s the conventional army to fight? If so, why did we do the pre-emptive strike? Seriously, there’s no parallel to be made. In 1936, you had one of the most powerful states in the world with millions posed to expand its power. In 2001, you had a few thousand Islamic radicals scattered around the world. On September 12, these few thousands were extremely vulnerable with governments across the globe willing to give the United States a hand in destroying al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.

Most egregious is Rehberg’s claims he’s interested in the condition of the average soldier:

I am 100 percent committed to ensuring that our troops have the best equipment and resources they need to get the job done and return home safely.

[snip]

We cannot forget that our obligation to our troops doesn’t end when they get back home.

Unfortunately for Rehberg, his voting record is available to the public.

Monica, on the other hand, cites the facts:

Over 2,700 American heroes have lost their lives – 70-plus in just the past two weeks. Twenty thousand have been wounded, and half of those injuries are critical. Over 600,000 Iraqi citizens have died. Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies report that the war in Iraq has fueled terrorism and increased sectarian violence. Two billion dollars a week and almost half a trillion taxpayer dollars have been spent.Six out of 10 Iraqis say they approve of attacks on U.S. troops. Four of five say the U.S. military presence in Iraq provokes more violence than it prevents. An overwhelming majority, 70 percent, wants the Iraqi government to ask U.S. troops to leave within a year, and two-thirds favor an immediate withdrawal.

Boom! What more do you need to know?

The bottom line is that the current policy isn’t working. Rehberg has done nothing to speak up against President Bush and his policies. Nothing.

If the mission ever had a chance to be successful, the administration needed to use skillful diplomacy, needed to understand Iraq and its culture, and needed to rebuild a functional Iraqi society from within on Iraqi terms, and absoutely, positively needed to keep big US corporations out of the rebuilding process.

Guess what. The administration fouled up every diplomatic and political component of the war, and Montana Representative Denny Rehberg was there rubber-stamping Bush’s failed policy.

Posted by touchstone

It’s official. Dennis Rehberg has come unhinged.

Now we know why he’s been in hiding.

The first glimpse into Dennis’ world is a Billings Gazette piece on the House candidates’ stance on the Iraq War.

Rehberg, who has twice visited Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion there, said the situation is not a failure. Things are getting better, he said. The Iraqi army and police forces are improving; the government continues to become more functional.”Real progress is being made,” Rehberg said.

Progress? If falling into civil war is progress…then…perhaps…H*ll! Who am I kidding? I can’t even joke about it! This is a moronic statement!

On Monday…just Monday!…thirty-nine Iraqis were killed in Baghdad alone! Thirty-nine! And that doesn’t include the seventeen tortured bodies found!

Progress???

But let’s revisit the fantasy world of our Representative:

Rehberg said he views the war in Iraq as a way of creating democracy there and stability in the Middle East.”What is the mission in Iraq? It is to make something positive happen in Iraq or keeping something from happening there or somewhere else,” he said, adding that a free Iraq with a stable, democratic government will be a “springboard” for freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

What is the mission in Iraq? Maybe it’s to give Bush administration lackeys a job. Where is our representative on this issue? Why hasn’t he spoken out?

Here’s the best part, where Dennis Rehberg plays Montanans for idiots:

Rehberg said he thought oil played no role [in the origin of the war]. The war, he said, is about freedom for the Iraqi people and bringing “security and stability to a country that has harbored terrorists (and) used weapons of mass destruction against its own citizens.”

Dennis – and I know you’re reading the blogs (more on that later) – um…if you’re so keen on stabilizing Iraq, why do you support the administration’s rudderless war policy? Don’t you care about our troops? Don’t you want some semblance of victory? Bush has had more than three years with this thing, and it’s only grown worse. He’s totally and utterly bungled the war.

Let’s quote Monica Lindeen, who summed it up nicely:

“Obviously, the status quo is a failed policy,” she said.

Go and read the article. See who has the better grasp of reality. See who recognizes Iraq is a distraction, that our reasons for going in were bogus, who understands the situation on the ground. See who thinks maybe we should actually be going after terrorists.

Honestly, our Representative’s views are vintage 2002. The views were questionable then, and downright dangerous now. We’re in a time of crisis. It’s time for good men to act.

Unfortunately we’re stuck with Dennis Rehberg.

That can change.

Out here in the West, there’s a strong movement to retake our communities from corrupt and incompetent politicians. Western values have always tended towards a hands-off, live-and-let-live approach alongside strong neighborly values. In other words, it’s none of my d*mn business what you’re doing over there, but if you’re stuck, I’m here to help.

Over the past 20 years or so, Westerners had been attracted to the small-government message of Republicans, resenting what they thought were social engineering experiments and too much bureaucracy from the Democrats.

How things have changed.

Since President Bush was elected, the Republican leadership has repeatedly shown its incompetence, corruption, and indifference to the values that won it elections. President Bush has had five years to strengthen our national security and has instead squandered our good will and willingness to help on an ideological crusade in Iraq, while allowing government and our national debt to balloon to obscene sizes. Not only that, but the administration has also begun to wage war on Americans – government officials are listening in on our phone conversations, are following our web traffic, have dumped the Patriot Act on us, threatening our right to bear arms and our very liberty.

The West has had enough.

Here in Montana and in our neighboring states of Idaho and Wyoming, several strong Democratic candidates have emerged to challenged heavily-favored incumbents. All of the candidates have made a strong and public commitment to national security, health care costs, education, and ethics reform. In other words, they are representing the values and issues of ordinary Westerners. Of America.

I’ve written up a quick blurb about four important races I’ve talked about here on my blog: the Montana Senate race, the Wyoming and Montana at-large House races, and Idaho’s 1st House district race. Check out the candidates and issues and do what you can to help America take back Congress.

Montana’s Senate race

The Senate race is, of course, the marquee race. Democrats need to turn six seats from red to blue to win a majority in the Senate, and Montana’s is one that’s vulnerable. The two candidates couldn’t be more different and aptly represent the larger issues that are at stake this election cycle.

On one hand you have Republican Conrad Burns, one of the five worst U.S. Senators, according to Time magazine. He was in thick with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff (pdf), and is suspected of changing his vote in Congress for Abramoff clients at least two times: once for the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, once on behalf of the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association — on a bill that would have effectively ended forced prostitution, among other things. His former chief fundraiser is accused of fraud.

If that weren’t enough, Burns is renowned for saying stupid things. He called firefighters lazy and taxi drivers “terrorists.” He’s made a series of racist and sexist remarks, and has been caught on video sleeping during hearings, answering phone calls during campaign speeches, and more.

In Congress, he’s been a rubber stamp for the Bush administration on the Iraq war, torture, warrantless wiretapping, and the Port Dubai deal. During the campaign season, he’s run a decidedly negative campaign that deliberately and falsely smears his Democratic opponent.

(That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Check out Montana blogs for more: Left in the West, Intelligent Discontent, Cece-in-MT, Wrong Dog’s Life Chest, the brothers Moorcat and Wulfgar!, and Granny Insanity for more of the gory details.)

On the other hand you have Jon Tester:

In many respects Tester is running less on the issues than on his personal character, pragmatic outlook and salt-of-the-earth heritage. He has a good sense of humor, a big, genuine smile and a certain folk charm people out here respect — not the canned, political persona that campaigns sometimes try to sell to unassuming farmers and ranchers. He stresses that he’s not a career politician….He emphasizes his instinctive empathy: “For some reason, I don’t know what the hell it is, but we can connect with people,” he says.

Tester is a third-generation Montana farmer, former basketball referee, music teacher, and butcher. During his term as the Montana state senate president he built a reputation for honesty and the ability to build bipartisan consensus. It was during his tenure as senate president that Montana reaped a $500-million budget surplus.Jon’s concerns are also Montanans’: health care, alternative energy, national security, a solution to the mess in Iraq.

Jon’s candidacy has sparked a stunning and effective grassroots movement in the state, which in large part enabled the Big Sandy farmer to stage a 25-point upset over Democratic primary front-runner and State Auditor John Morrison, despite being outspent 2-to-1.

The choice really couldn’t be clearer. Help Jon bring integrity back to Congress. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to send some with the vast potential to change Washington for the better. Jon Tester is exactly the kind of man who should be representing us.

Montana’s At-Large House race

The other statewide race this election – the House race – just isn’t getting much attention. It pits incumbent Republican Dennis Rehberg against challenger Monica Lindeen in another battle between a corrupt and out-of-touch DC insider and a feisty Montana Democrat with an excellent record in the state legislature.

Rehberg is a real winner. Not only has he supported Bush at every turn, he received a failing grade from the Drum Major Institute for his votes affecting the middle class, he voted against the minimum wage the same week he gave himself a pay raise, wants to eliminate the estate tax, and opposes Net Neutrality.

Rehberg’s also involved in a number of Montana-based scandals, including INSA and the Carter county lobbyist scandal; like Burns, he apparently feels that government exists to personally enrich himself and his pals.

Lindeen, on the other hand is an advocate of Net Neutrality, ethics reform, affordable health care, and energy independence, and is a strong opponent of the encroachment of the executive on our civil liberties. In the state legislature, Lindeen was an advocate of affordable secondary education.

Like Jon Tester, Monica Lindeen is a hard-nosed Montana Democrat and a lifelong native of the state. The daughter of a truck driver and a waitress, she put herself through school, started her own business – an early local Internet provider – and then served four terms in the state legislature marked by her reputation for competence, hard work, and ability to forge bipartisan coalitions.

She’s just the right kind of person we need in Washington DC right now. We need someone who knows how to govern, who won’t fleece the taxpayers, who won’t be influenced by lobbyists, and who will stand up to the Republican party.

Unfortunately the House race is getting overshadowed by the Senate race in traditional media circles and here on the Internet. Rehberg as the incumbent has all the financial advantages. Monica needs our help.

Help turn Montana BLUE! Contribute!

Idaho’s 1st House district race

In the country’s most conservative and reliably Republican of states, a Democrat threatens a Republican stronghold, and for good reason. In this district, the Republican nominee is so incompetent and extreme that even his fellow conservatives are deserting him in droves.

Meet Bill Sali. He’s backed by the fiscal extremist group, Club for Growth, who advocate the dismantling of Social Security and public schooling. In the Idaho state legislature, Sali lost his committee seats through sheer incompetence and is rumored to enjoy the enmity of Idaho’s other Republican representative, Mike Simpson, because of his tendency to grandstand for television. Idaho’s Speaker of the House, Republican Bruce Newcomb, said of Sali, “That idiot is just an absolute idiot. He doesn’t have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body.”

Ever since Sali won the primary, Republicans have consider the seat in danger. In July, Sali was a recipient of national GOP largesse as a member of a group of Republican candidates who are in “vulnerable” seats or who face “serious election difficulties.” Disgruntled Idaho Republicans have formed a group supporting Sali’s opponent, Larry Grant, and during a fundraiser with Dick Cheney, only 3 of 104 state legislators attended.

Larry Grant, on the other hand, former executive of Boise-based Micron Technology Inc, is well-known for his competency and fairness. He’s a fiscal conservative and moderate on social issues, running a campaign around ethics reform, health care reform, a plan for Iraq, and responsible federal spending.

(Grant has fantastic support from the blogosphere, including Julie Fanselow’s Grassroots for Grant and Red State Rebels, 43rd State Blues, Fort Boise, IdaBlue, Liberal Idaho, and F-Words.)

Despite having a 2-to-1 funding advantage (thanks, Club for Growth!), the latest poll shows Grant leading by eight points, 22 to 14 percent with a shocking 61 percent undecided. Sali’s lost half his support since the last poll; now we just need to get Grant’s message out there, so people will feel comfortable voting for him.

You can help oust Sali and put an honest man – Larry Grant – into office.

Wyoming’s At-Large House race

One of the more unheralded pick-up opportunities for the Democrats is in in Wyoming – Dick Cheney’s home state. There in the at-large House race Democrat Gary Trauner is giving incumbent Republican Barbara Cubin a race.

Trauner is another example of a Western Dem. A businessman – co-founder of an Internet Service Provider in the state – he’s running on a slate of no-nonsense issues: lobbyist reform, alternative energy, and health care reform. Basically he’s a competent and honest candidate who has pledged to bring an end to the kind of improper and unethical doings of the GOP and other fat-cat Congressmen in DC:

I will always raise my voice against wrongdoing, improper action or abuse of power, no matter the party or the political consequences. I will ‘do the right thing’ by putting the people I serve ahead of political calculation and party politics.

Incidentally, he’s got his own blog, of which he’s the sole contributor, a rarity these days.

Jackson Hole News and Guide has an excellent profile on Trauner that shows why he’s put this race into play:

From afar, Trauner’s campaign strategy seems like the wanderings of an idealist whose rose-colored glasses have obscured the modern political landscape. Trauner’s campaign manager, Linda Stoval, a 20-year veteran of Wyoming politics, argues exactly the opposite. Trauner’s approach is the only one that will work in the quirky political landscape of this large and scattered state.

“Even though the state is so big, people still expect to know the people they have elected,” she says. “Whether it happens or not, it means a lot to people that they have met him, especially at this level a race. In my mind [going door to door] is a necessity for Democratic candidates but I have been campaigning here for 20 years and have never seen it at this level.”

Meanwhile his opponent Barbara Cubin, who narrowly escaped the Republican primary, is…well…not quite all there. A 2003 incident sums up her competency nicely:

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) was engaged in a heated debate yesterday with Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) on the floor of the House yesterday over a gun control bill Watt was urging lawmakers to support an amendment to the legislation that would prohibit drug addicts or people undergoing treatment for drug addiction from purchasing guns; Cubin was working to defeat the amendment.

Cubin said, “So does that mean that if you go into a black community, you can’t sell any guns to any black person?”

Trauner and Cubin are nearly neck-and-neck on campaign funds: Cubin has $235K to Trauner’s $205K. A May poll (the latest I could find) showed Cubin leading by only four points, 47-43%, an astounding figure considering the state where the race is taking place.

Trauner needs help. Check out his website. Donate or volunteer.

There’s a lot to catch up on – I’m running a few days behind the news. Specifically, I haven’t commented on the Montana House race’s dueling guest editorials in the Billings Gazette written by Democrat Monica Lindeen and Republican incumbent Denny Rehberg, in which each candidate listed issues they saw as important for this upcoming election.

Lindeen’s issues were the expected slate of Democratic stances: support the troops with full benefits, equipment, and an Iraq plan; invest in alternative energies; reduce the federal deficit; and preserve Montana’s public lands.

These are the issues important to Montana, and issues that the Democratic-controlled legislature have done well with during its tenure under Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer. These are promises, not political spin.

Then we look at Rehberg’s issues: invest in alternative energy; improve access to health care; protect children from drugs; win the “war on terror”; and provide quality education.

Um. With the exception of the “terror” thing, aren’t these the planks of the Democrats’ party platform? Was Ralph Nader right when he claimed there was no difference between the two parties? Is Denny Rehberg just a Democrat who has a skewed view of American history and current events (more on that later)?

Hardly. When Rehberg claims he “helped craft and pass a comprehensive national energy policy,” he’s probably referring to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, in which Congress – and Denny Rehberg – gave the big oil companies a bunch of tax breaks and subsidies. So much for alternative energy.

While Rehberg claims the Small Business Health Fairness Act would allow for more coverage and cheaper health care, it appears we have the House version of Sen. Mike Enzi’s (WY) insurance bill, which would actually free insurance companies from state regulation, dropping people off insurance rolls, and increasing coverage costs for most small businesses. In other words, this dog puts $$ into the pockets of big-business insurance companies.

No comment on the meth issue. Not exactly controversial. But it is worthwhile to point out that Rehberg seems to be grabbing a little credit for the state’s meth program, which is independently funded.

And education? He is rated 25% by the National Education Association on education issues. (That’s a failing grade for the educationally impaired.) Apparently Rehberg’s efforts have been saved for trying to inject Christian prayer into schools.

Rehberg says he’s for all these things, but his actions show otherwise. (Matthew 7:20, “Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Amen.) The question is, of course, why do Republicans feel the need to run as Democrats during the election? Rehberg isn’t the only one. Burns is doing it, too. Pogie:

It seems that Senator Burns is having a real dilemma in this campaign. He seems so ashamed of his real record that he feels the need to manufacture one. This latest identity, as a defender of the environment, shares one thing with the Republicans’ energy policy and that old high school plan: they all rely on a lot of bullsh*t.

Come on, be honest! Tell us what you really believe in! I want to know how Rehberg can claim giving subsidies to big oil helps alternative energy, or how freeing insurance from regulations helps lower costs. Because right now, Rehberg’s stances can be interpreted one of two ways:

–He believes giving subsidies or breaks to corporate America will somehow lead to solutions, but he doesn’t trust us to understand his thinking.

–He’s a corrupt, well-fed Congressman more interested in his next donation or golf trip than in the livelihood and interests of his constituency.

Which is it?

The other statewide race this election – the House race – just isn’t getting much attention. It pits incumbent Rehberg against challenger Lindeen, in another battle between a corrupt and out-of-touch DC insider and a feisty Montana Democrat with an excellent record in the state legislature.

Rehberg is a real winner. Not only has he supported Bush at every turn, he received a failing grade from the Drum Major Institute for his votes affecting the middle class, he voted against the minimum wage the same week he gave himself a pay raise, wants to eliminate the estate tax, and opposes Net Neutrality.

Rehberg’s also involved in a number of Montana-based scandals, including INSA and the Carter county lobbyist scandal; like Burns, he apparently feels that government exists to personally enrich himself and his pals.

Lindeen, on the other hand is an advocate of Net Neutrality, ethics reform, affordable health care, and energy independence, and is a strong opponent of the encroachment of the executive on our civil liberties. In the state legislature, Lindeen was an advocate of affordable secondary education.

Like Jon Tester, Monica Lindeen is a hard-nosed Montana Democrat and a lifelong native of the state. The daughter of a truck driver and a waitress, she put herself through school, started her own business – an early local Internet provider – and then served four terms in the state legislature marked by her reputation for competence, hard work, and ability to forge bipartisan coalitions.

I’ve met her personally, and she’s just the right kind of person we need in Washington DC right now. We need someone who knows how to govern, who won’t fleece the taxpayers, who won’t be influenced by lobbyists, and who will stand up to the Republican party.

And she’s got a real chance to win, too, especially if the INSA scandal breaks this summer as it threatens to do. And if she gets enough funding.

Unfortunately the House race is getting overshadowed by the Senate race in traditional media circles and here on the Internet. Rehberg as the incumbent has all the financial advantages. Monica needs our help.

Let’s turn Montana BLUE! Contribute!

Election season is great, isn’t it? Ask for some info, and wham! It’s in your inbox! The other day I mentioned that Snidely Rehberg opposes Net Neutrality. I also wondered where Monica Lindeen stood on the issue and queried her office for a stance.

Last night I received a press release-type answer I’ll print in full:

Monica Lindeen, Democratic candidate for United States Congress, said she believes that Net Neutrality legislation pending in the Senate needs to insure protections not included in the House measure.

“The internet is a resource that was created by public dollars,” Lindeen said. “Any neutrality legislation needs to insure that citizens can continue to access all the resources it provides, and small businesses and non-profits should not be priced out of using the net to get their message and products out.”

Lindeen says the House legislation does not provide adequate protections, and she is disturbed that Congressman Rehberg voted against an amendment that would have strengthened that protection. “This is just another example of Dennis Rehberg’s commitment to big business and not to the people of Montana who deserve access to all the resources the internet provides.”

Amen.

Even Net Neutrality opponents admit that allowing telecomm companies to solicit fees for bandwidth will adversely affect sites that don't pay up. In effect, striking down Net Neutrality would commercialize the 'Net at best or, at worst, turn it into a vending machine for porn and advertising.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not a moral crusader looking to eliminate porn from the Net. I've got nothing against porn. It's just that I think the Net should be a place for other things, too. Like snappy partisan political blogs, for example.

Ultimately what Lindeen said about public dollars creating the industry is key. We paid for the thing. We own it. We shouldn't give it away to corporate interests, even if Rehberg gets some nice golf trips out of the deal.

So now the real races have gotten underway, and they kicked off here in Missoula. I learned a lot at yesterday's debate – not so much where each candidate stands – but how the races look like they'll play out. I also learned something new about Conrad Burns' character, and it wasn't good.

But before I plow on into my impressions about the debate, I noticed an interesting shift in my own thoughts and in my own writing here at “4&20 blackbirds.” Now it's “us” versus “them.” In the primaries, it took a little while to realize Tester was the better, more electable, more genuine candidate, but until then I had to weigh the issues and ideas carefully.

Now I'm prejudiced. I do not support Republicans. It would take an extraordinary Republican candidate to get me to cross the partisan line I've drawn in the sand – a choice, for example, between Joe Lieberman and John McCain. Neither Burns nor Rehberg are those candidates. (Quite the opposite.) So you know where I stand right from the start. How much of what I write can you trust not to be colored by the fact I want “my” candidates to win?

The word “partisan” has gotten pushed around a lot lately, vilified by the Republican spin machine, which was trying to coerce Democrats into supporting their conservative programs. Do I think partisanship is bad? The short answer? No.

Behind each party lies a certain ideology. Each party has appropriated their issues. Each party draws to it individuals that believe in those issues and the candidates that represent them. Is that wrong? Not in itself, of course. Where things go astray is when the respective sides of each issue go at one another personally for the beliefs they hold. It happens all the time, especially on the blogosphere. I know I've been guilty of it sometimes – it's easy to rail against someone you never see.

(I'd argue the worst of it comes from the right. There is a concerted extremist movement on the right to not only prevail in politics, but to remove the left from public dialog. The continued railing against the “liberal” press cows traditional media from publishing news favorable or reflecting the values of the left. The attack on “leftist” elites at colleges is an attempt to ensure that right-wing rhetoric get equal play in classrooms, even if the rhetoric is academically invalid or even untrue. The evolution controversy wasn't about whether evolution is good science, it was about proselytizing Christianity during science class. The recent erroneous labeling of moderate Democrats as “socialists” is an attempt to silence the the voices of health care reformers, say, by linking them to Stalin.)

So I'm a partisan hack. You've been warned.

Here's why you should still listen to me: I'm also right. In the two statewide races this election cycle, the Senate and House seat battles, both of the Republican candidates are incompetent Presidential sycophants linked to corrupt lawmakers and apparently incapable of acting in the best interests of Montana without getting a little kickback. And over the course of the summer, I'll give you examples. Let's just say that at least one Montana lawmaker is headed for an orange jumpsuit.

On the other side you have two candidates who have worked with an excellent Montana legislature and Governor, whose budget, slate of bills, and policies actually help Montanans – and do so under budget constraints and without the usual charges of corruption and incompetence. In other words, Lindeen and Tester are good lawmakers. They're honest and competent. And over the course of the summer, I'll give you proof.

If you can find evidence to the contrary, I'm all ears. But I expect to hear nothing but lame excuses and a stunning display of rhetorical gymnastics from the “other side.” Personally I think if you still support Burns and Rehberg (especially Burns), you are either unfamiliar with the facts or believe that the purpose of government is to serve as a feeding trough for a lawmakers driven by self interest over community.

I'm ready for change. How about you?

The House Debate

First time I've seen both Lindeen and Rehberg. I admit, Rehberg draws more eyes – he's got this weird knife-blade body with long, effeminate wrists and hands and a startling porn 'stache. He's a good speaker, but his voice was full of barely repressed, sarcastic anger – he spoke like he was talking to a room full of malicious idiots. (Who knows? Considering he was in Missoula, he might have actually thought so.) His speeches were laced with overt “folksy” references that were heavy-handed and repulsive, and I swear that he and the Libertarian candidate, Mike Fellows, colluded during the debate, tossing him softball questions to allow Rehberg to talk about goat farming and national security. The Rehberg portion of the debate reminded me of one of those carnival sideshows where a guy gets volunteers to come up and punch him in the stomach. It was entertaining, but left you a little uneasy afterwards.

Lindeen, on the other hand was more understated. She was direct and confrontational. Her ideas were clearly given and she concentrated her attacks on associating Rehberg with the House's repeated failures over the last six years. I think she needs to work on her outrage a little (Tester is amazing at this), and I think she should have attacked Rehberg more clearly, citing, for example, Rehberg's votes that supported the President's wayward spending policies.

Thoughts:

Like Tester, Lindeen's approach towards energy independence was awesome and coherent. They both have a vision of how we can reduce ourselves off of oil and involve Montana and Montana's economy in the process. Good stuff. I think this will be a strong talking point during the election, especially with gas prices going up, up, up. (As a contrast, Rehberg basically said he's going to keep sitting on his hands.)

I almost retched in the aisle when Rehberg brought up the estate tax and his opposition to it. “Yes, my family farm is an example…” Are the rest of us supposed to feel sorry for the guy? Oh, he had to sell some land to pay the estate tax (and made a killing off the sale, from what I hear – more on this later), poor fella. Come to me when you have to decide between a dentist's visit to fix a tooth ache or meeting the interest payment on your credit card. Then I'll feel sorry for you. Especially when we're embroiled in a war largely the making of the big money GOP – if you can't pay for a war you believe in with your own service, you should at least shut up and help pay for it. If you signed off on all the budgets that got us into this fiscal mess, you should pony up the taxes to help erase the deficit. Period.

Another retching moment came for a question about the war. Rehberg talked up his two visits to Iraq, which apparently, if you apply rightie logic, is mere political “grandstanding.” (I don't agree: I think lawmakers should be obligated to go over and see what they're responsible for.) First Rehberg thinks progress is being made, but it's probably hard to tell when it's not safe to leave the Green Zone. Second, and this was the retching part, Rehberg pointed out a staff member who served in Iraq, made him raise his hand during the debate, implying his moral superiority for having the kid working for him. Um, great. A new political prop! Using the war for politics! It makes my stomach turn when people do this. Honestly if you believe in the war you should serve. You shouldn't take any moral superiority for your service: with enlistments drying up, it's your duty! (On the other hand, if you're between 18 and 40 and support the war and are reading this from the comfort of your civilian living room, you should feel shame.)

Lindeen's response to the war was not particularly strong. She was at least honest, though. It's true there's no easy solution to Iraq, and even I don't advocate abandoning Iraq altogether. (Murtha plan! Murtha plan!) But a plan that offers gradual withdrawal as soon as she hits office, now we're talking! Give 'em a plan! Set the electorate's expectations that the Dems want an “honorable” withdrawal. That's what both the American people and the soldiers on the ground want. Let's do it.

The highlight of the debate came when Lindeen challenged Rehberg on his recommending to the Carter County commission the name of a lobbyist to get a road project done instead of working on behalf of his constituents himself. Rehberg sputtered and fumed, claimed the local board had the money to burn, and he actually got the project done. The implication was that it was necessary for the group to hire a lobbyist to get the work done. We can conclude from this one of two things: either Rehberg doesn't have the standing in Congress to get funding for a rural road project, or that the Republican Congress is so corrupt the only way to do things is through lobbyists. The reality may be different, however: maybe Rehberg is a corrupt pork master ensuring quid-pro-quo perks for his fat-cat lobbying buddies. Anyway you look it, it stinks.

Lindeen's strength was comparing Montanans dismal outlook for the nation's future with Rehberg's participation in the government that's loaded us with so much odious policy. Like domestic spying, torture, the Iraqi quagmire (and the poor leadership for Haditha and the other atrocities), suspension of habeus corpus, impending inflation (bye bye, savings), loss of family farms, spiraling health-care costs, tax cuts for the super-rich, and on and on and on. Lindeen knows what Montanans want and knows how to direct the government towards solving some of those problems – her service in the state legislature proves this. It's a remarkable contrast to Rehberg's participation in the worst government the country has seen…in a hundred years? Ever? This is Lindeen's strength, and she plays to it well.

The Senate Debate

Tester walloped Burns yesterday. Gave him a drubbing. Dragged his name up and down the aisle, stepped all over his reputation and make him look like a fool.

Just think what Tester will do when Burns actually shows up for a debate!

Honestly, what is Burns thinking? The conventional wisdom has front-runners avoid appearances where he could come out looking foolish. Like a debate. Only Burns isn't the front runner in this race. At least according to a mid-May Rasmussen poll that shows Tester leading Burns by four points. And who else thinks the lead is at least a couple points higher after Tester's amazing momentum and the press he's gotten – nation-wide – for his stunning upset-slash-mauling of DC insider, John Morrison?

Burns' preference for a DC fund-raiser over a public appearance in his home state only emphasized where Burns' interest lies.

On the other hand, Stan Jones impressed me. Yes, he was blue. But his answers were coherent, forceful. If you believed that kind of Libertarian stuff, you'd have come away from the debate excited about Jones' performance. It's an alluring message: blame the federal government for all our problems, say we'd do better without it, encourage rural lawmakers to play cowboy with forest rangers.

I'm not going to go down the rabbit hole of arguing Libertarian principles. I'd argue it was…somewhat?…unrealistic? (No National Parks, are you kidding me? Have you seen how some state lawmakers would sell their grandmother for a few bucks, let along state lands?) Anyhoo…one phrase in Western lit sums up my feelings about Jones' views, the last line from The Sun Also Rises: “Isn't it pretty to think so?”

Still, Burns' absence allowed Jones to be the only opposing voice to Tester on the stage yesterday. In today's Missoulian, he got equal coverage to Tester (can't find the link, but trust me). That never happens. Newspapers practically do somersaults to keep third-party candidates' views off their pages. But if Burns doesn't show up…

If that keeps up, Jones' forceful message might lure many conservatives from Burns. Especially if Burns doesn't bother to stump.

So…in conclusion, I see Burns as the big loser in this one. It was huge drubbing. What's that sound? It's coming…from out behind the woodshed. Why it's Tester and Jones applying a willow branch to the junior Senator!

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. 

2:30

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.  

2:29 

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. 

2:28

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 (?).

2:25

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." 

2:20

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. 

2:10

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.  

2:00

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…)

1:55

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.

1:50

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.

1:40

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… 

1:30

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!

1:20

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.

1:10

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!

DEBATE: Monica Lindeen faces Denny Rehberg in the House race’s first debate. This is the first general election statewide office debate in Montana, and could be an indication of the political landscape shaping up this summer. Details:

Day: Saturday, June 10

Time: 1:15 pm

Location: Holiday Inn Parkside, Missoula

Meanwhile, as we come down off our post-election glow that saw grassroots hero Jon Tester pummel his opponent, it’s time to start thinking about the House race, too. After the Senate race, it’s the next most important.

It’s only natural the House race has been overshadowed by the Senate primary: Tester was pitted against a DC insider, and the focus was on the cherubic Big Sandy farmer. And Lindeen’s stiffest competition thus far was gas-station owner Eric Jon Gunderson, best known for his website (which is down, sadly). Well, now she’s up against a serious candidate, incumbent Denny Rehberg, by all accounts, the favorite in the race.

That’s not to say Lindeen won’t win. Quite the opposite. I think she can take the House for the Democrats this summer. Why?

She’s got that “Tester-esque” way with people. Character is key this election. We need lawmakers who are honest and competent, and who will take back Washington for average Montanans, like you and me. Lindeen will also no doubt benefit from Tester’s popularity: with previously disinterested Montanans coming out of the woodwork to vote for Tester, a large percentage of them will no doubt vote for Lindeen, too.

Rehberg is vulnerable. Basically he’s mini-Burns. I think we’re going to see some scandal news on this guy over the summer. And I’m thinking it’ll be over INSA. (If you pore over this and other articles involving that group, you’ll see his name crop up…often.) He’s also got ties to Abramoff. If Burns goes down, it’s possible he’ll take Rehberg with him.

Let’s be poised to take advantage of his miscues.

Here’s what we can do to help Monica:

Contribute. Volunteer.

Show up at the debate’s honk and wave at noon in front of the Wilma.

Let’s see if we can tap the energy bubbling up in the state to get rid of incompetent and corrupt right-wing extremists.




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