Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding

George Ochenski on toxic waste: The Missoula Independent has a great column by the inimitable Ochenski about the shenanigans in Helena. Read it all. He likens Republicans to the "monkey-wrench gang" (BTW, Democrats will be surprised to know that a lot of us old-fashioned conservatives actually have a soft spot in our hearts for the late Edward Abbey -- you've just gotta like a guy who was so MYOB that he made sure no-one knew where in the desert he was buried.)

He talks about "the Democrats’ strategy, if you can call it that...." And so on.

The most important section is this, though:

The budget battle isn’t the only game in town. Last week Republicans asked where Schweitzer’s energy bills are and when he expects them to be introduced. Evan Barrett, the governor’s point man on energy development, glibly replied the administration was still working on them because they wanted them to be done right.

Needless to say, since energy development has been Schweitzer’s single-minded focus for most of the last two years, it’s more than a little puzzling why his administration wouldn’t have had its package of energy bills ready long ago. In fact, Republicans and Democrats alike should wonder why these particular policy bills weren’t drafted long before the session started so Montanans could take a good hard look at what’s coming our way in the energy arena.

Indeed. Republicans are right to be somewhat dismissive of Democrats' complaints about the lateness and secrecy of the "split the budget" plan, especially since the administration surely knew the ball-park figure of a 23% increase in proposed spending -- but neglected to tell anyone until after the election.

But the lack of any ability to examine the proposed energy plans (which we assume actually exist) this late in the session is truly remarkable. And it should be recalled that when Republicans said about their "6-pack" that they were "still working on them because they wanted them to be done right," Democrats didn't think it was an acceptable response. And the GOP got their bills in a month earlier than the Democrats' energy bills -- a month and counting...

Episode IV: A New Hope: "We capitulated," House Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, told reporters .... He characterized the GOP offer as "holding out an olive branch" to Democrats.

We said a couple of days ago that we have assumed that Republicans always had a plan B in case Democrats refused to cooperate in any way in passing their appropriations bills.

Speaker Sales made a good move by giving Democrats two things:

1. Bragging rights: after all, the Republicans capitulated, and they can be quoted as having said so.

2. The ability, it seems, essentially to write the Public Health and Human Services funding bill -- funding it exactly as the governor originally wanted, if they so choose. Given the importance of this Department to key Democratic constituents, this is no small thing.

It is a good backup plan. Now, we expect that Republicans have yet another plan in reserve. For this plan, too, depends on some level of Democratic cooperation -- something that has been in understandably short supply. While there is hope it might materialize under these circumstances, there is no reason to expect it, and Republicans need a creative plan C.

The Butcher of Winifred: We're not exactly sure when Democrats are going to stop being surprised or shocked by Ed Butcher's inability to open his mouth (or now, type on a keyboard) without saying something goofy. In elementary school, disruptors were most effectively dealt with by not giving them the attention they seemed to enjoy.

With as many educators as the Democrats have in Helena, one would think they would know how to apply this principle. We suppose they're using one of those those new-fangled disciplinary methods -- you know, the one's that don't work.

Anyway, getting back to Butcher, it seems that when offered the option of replying to an e-mail enquiry by writing something like, "I regret to inform you that I really can't support the 'Indian Education for All' bill -- thank you for writing to express your concern," Butcher rather wrote an essay on Native American anthropology and linguistics. It sounded like he said that Indians communicated in sign language rather than by speaking because of the primitive nature of their languages.

Ordinarily, we would assume that Butcher meant that Native Americans didn't have written languages, and thus a lot of knowledge about them is based on speculative reconstructions and possibly unreliable oral traditions. But this is Ed Butcher, so we unfortunately have to assume that he wrote what he actually meant. Sigh.

He also was criticized by Democrats for saying that some proponents of the program were "semi-literate." Democrats were wrongly bent out of shape about this, since we believe Butcher was actually referring to the writer of the AP article, who wrote about the "department that overseas" the educational program in question.

Regardless, Montana Headlines is beginning to wonder whether the Majority Whip shouldn't, in circumstances like these, take his job at least "semi-literally."

An earmark by any other name: A Great Falls Tribune editorial talks with joy about the fact that our U.S. Congressional delegation managed to bring home a few of pieces of bacon: a housing project at Malmstrom, the purchase of some Rocky Mountain Front conservation easements, and funding for 3 northern Montana water projects.

Very nice. Funny thing -- we haven't seen much in the Billings Gazette about nice pieces of pork coming our way here in Billings and eastern Montana. And we probably won't, since Conrad Burns is no longer on the Senate Appropriations committee to look out for our interests, and we doubt that Sens. Baucus and Tester will be doing anything much to help Denny Rehberg look good by bringing much to his home-town.

We've said it before to the Billings Gazette editors, and we'll say it again: thanks for "helping out" the city and region that makes you money by working to defeat its most powerful and heart-felt advocate in Washington.

Where's Sam?: The Sidney Herald has an update from its area legislators, but Sam Kitzenberg, who represents half of Richland County, was again missing from the line-up. Does the Herald not invite him to these phone conferences, or is he not particularly interested in the Richland County part of his Senate District? Topics of conversation include concerns over excessively strict environmental laws that will hurt traditional energy development. We really want to hear from both Richland County senators on that and other subjects of concern to eastern Montana.

"A Zumboing we go": Steve Woodruff at the Missoulian had a good piece on the firestorm drawn by the blogging comment of one of the deans of American outdoors writing, Jim Zumbo -- including excerpts from Woodruff's interview with Zumbo himself. Zumbo made the seemingly innocuous comment that "assault-style" rifles were inappropriate for hunting, but then unfortunately went so far as to say that "game departments should ban them from the prairies and woods."

We apparently have been living in the same vacuum that Zumbo was, since like him, we had no idea that these had proliferated in some corners as hunting rifles. While we understand and fully support the concern that Zumbo's detractors have for 2nd amendment rights, we certainly have thought (as apparently does Woodruff) that the fire Zumbo drew was unfair and disproportionate.

Zumbo is a hunter's hunter, and a bit of a purist -- might we say "traditionalist?" Proposing restrictions on a particular firearm in hunting is not the same at all as banning it from ownership or from non-hunting recreational use -- there are all sorts of restrictions of this sort. The problem with Zumbo's critique was that he proposed legislating aesthetics rather than safety or "fair chase" principles.

Zumbo is contrite, and not because it will cost him money, but because he doesn't want "to go down in history as a guy who betrayed America's gun owners." One hopes that America's gun owners take a deep breath and forgive the poor guy. And all of us who write regularly on the internet should take note of this passage from Woodruff:

I tracked Zumbo down by phone the other day, bracing myself for an unpleasant interview with a defensive, possibly combative subject.

I was surprised to find him open, contrite, reflective and not even the least bit bitter. He was thoughtful and engaging. He struck me as a nice guy.

As we spoke, I wondered whether the critics who cut him down might have been less brutal had they talked with him instead of merely typing responses to the words they read online.

Where's my Senator?: Anyone who has been around the blogosphere is aware of the "gotcha" lectures given by self-righteous lefties to Denny Rehberg's staff. For the uninitiated, when Jon Tester said his schedule would be posted on the internet for all to see, Rehberg responded to questions by saying that anyone who called to ask has always been able to learn what he is doing.

So, a few folks made it their mission in life to call the Rehberg office daily to ask for a schedule, and have made much about the fact that they haven't received a copy. Rehberg of course should simply have done what Max Baucus did when asked the same question and mumbled something unintelligible rather than say something clear that he could be held to.

Anyway, kudos to the The Western Word for noting that the famous Tester schedule hasn't been updated since March 14th. Wonder what Sen. Tester was up to late last week that he doesn't want anyone to know about -- and we wonder whether liberal bloggers will be writing solemn tomes about Tester's honesty, since he promised that he would always post his schedule.

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