In spite of the fact that 2/3rds of all candidates in 2006 spent their own money on their campaigns, the AP writer was apparently unable to find Democrats to write about who had spent their own money on their races -- only two Republicans are listed.
This phenomenon of the self-financed candidate is only going to become more common, since raising any significant amount of money at $130 a pop is very slow going. The same is true on the national stage, where Senate races in particular are increasingly the realm of multi-millionaires. Montana would do well to raise significantly the maximum donations allowed to legislative and other state candidates.
Might candidates be beholden to someone who writes them a $1000 check? Well, maybe. But how beholden are they to a well-connected individual (such as a governor or a senior legislator) who uses his connections to raise $10,000 in $130 contributions? Or how beholden will they be to the party HQ that pours money into a tight race, even though the party's interests and their constituents' interests might not always coincide? These conflicts are going to happen no matter what -- they are just more hidden.
In another legislative election issue, the Sidney Herald had a good editorial recently about the negative effects that term limits have on a legislature. Here's an excerpt:
Rep. Walt McNutt (R-Sidney) used an example... when he spoke to House members about water rights. "I got a deer in the headlights look by about 95 of them."
He said having legislators with less experience is especially dangerous for eastern Montana and the agriculture industry. While the "old guard" understand the importance of agriculture in Montana, it's not always the case with new legislators.
Eve Franklin and the Demo-rockers: Charles Johnson reports that Gov. Schweitzer called the Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee "rock stars." We'll have to trust the governor on that one, we suppose.
But what did they do to earn this honor? They did sit in the room gavel to gavel, but appeared mainly to be answering e-mail, playing video games, and reading romance novels -- looking up only to vote "no" on any vote that came along.
We got to see Rep. Eve Franklin voting against funding for the College of Technology in her home town of Great Falls (something that didn't make the Great Falls Tribune particularly happy.)
We got to see 8 slightly pouty-looking Democrats refusing even to vote for a letter of legislative intent coming from the committee, even though their remarks made it clear that they agreed with the letter. They insisted that they would write their own "minority report" letter, apparently lest they be "tainted" (to use Rep. Franklin's words in describing why the Democrats were voting "no" on everything) by having their signatures on the same piece of paper with a Republican. Cooties, one supposes.
Since no votes were ever in suspense (unless an amendment drew a couple of Republican opponents to join with the Democrats to defeat it), it was more interesting to study faces and to listen to the way that particular representatives cast their vote.
Eve Franklin spat out "no" on every vote almost before the clerk recording the vote could finish saying the final "-lin" in the words "Representative Franklin." Rep. McChesney, D-Miles City, barked out his nasal "no!" as though he was worried that someone might not hear him and somehow accidentally mistake his "no" for a tainted "yes."
Rep. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton, was seen at least once mouthing the word "no" and tossing her head slightly while looking down, beating the Democrat to the punch whose vote she was predicting. Another time when temporarily chairing the committee she made an exaggerated expression of mock surprise when announcing that an an amendment had passed by a vote of..... 11 to 8! (Party line.) Her frustration is more than understandable (as is the Democrats') and we're sure that everyone is getting tired, but it still looked a little catty -- and we really don't need that.
Rep. Sinrud, whose composure and command of the situation has been impressive (again, it continues to become more apparent why the Democrats seem to feel so threatened by this smart and competent Republican leadership team), remarked that the Democrats' strategy seems to be to "cut off the nose to spite the face."
And as the Tribune said, "it's hard to disagree that that's how it looks."
Double scoop: Sen. Jon Tester scooped Republican Denny Rehberg by beating him to the VA hospital at Ft. Harrison. And again, the Western Word scooped Montana Headlines by pointing out that Rehberg had announced March 8 that he was going to tour Ft. Harrison to look for insights into how Congress should address the problems at Walter Reed in D.C.
Demonstrating impressive kleptoparasitic skills, Tester quickly arranged a meeting with the VA Secretary in Washington and then rushed out to Ft. Harrison to get there before Rehberg could. He promptly declared it "a Montana jewel" -- ensuring that Rehberg would be incapable of beating him on the obsequity front either. Again, very impressive for a wide-eyed "aw, shucks" rookie.
Baucus and his bag of CHIPs: It seems that one can hardly even read the Thrifty Nickel recently without learning about Max Baucus's advocacy for the CHIP program. It is a good program, and deserves to be funded well, since providing adequate health-care for low-income children is a basic responsibility of a society capable of affording it.
But one can't help wondering if all of this flurry isn't an effort to ease some of the growing heat on Baucus from the left wing of his party here in Montana.
You see, Baucus in 2005 was tied for third place amongst Democratic U.S. Senators in his American Conservative Union score. It was a measly 24, but even a score that low is too high for those in "progressive" circles.
Normally right about now, Baucus would be kicking into his late-term swing to the right in preparation for campaign season, after 4 years of voting left. But the leftish heat that he is getting these days is going to make that a bit trickier this time around.
But who can argue with something done "for the sake of the children?" He'd better milk this one.
"Flier-gate" continues at GOP HQ: As if the fliers weren't enough, GOP party chairman Karl Ohs says he "might respond" to a letter written by Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Farrell, who asked him to "explain the apparent hypocrisy" of having the GOP HQ send out attack fliers while GOP legislators denounced them. Um, write the letter and apologize, Mr. Ohs. It's called damage control, and if you don't do it now, you're just going to make things more difficult on the Republicans who are running for those legislative seats in 2008.
But for Mr. Farrell's benefit, the "hypocrisy" is really quite simple to understand. The GOP legislators probably didn't have anything to do with the fliers -- a rather believable proposition since the fliers were in abysmal taste, were incapable of accomplishing anything constructive, and wasted money and good-will that the GOP can't afford to throw around in this kind of close-quarters legislative fight. Say what one will about the GOP legislative leadership, they've run a rather tighter ship than that this session -- and we believe they probably were busy with other things.
Not that the GOP party HQ has a corner on bad taste. Some of the most offensive fliers we've received over the years have been from the state Democratic party. We sort of look forward to the day before an election, since we never know what kind of late-hitting tasteless and distorted flier or robo-call we're going to get from the state Democratic party.
Just when you think they can't go any lower -- they do. So enough of the sanctimony, Mr. Farrell. We're ashamed of the state GOP e-briefs and of these fliers -- but not because of any particularly high standards that you folks set.