Saturday, March 10, 2007

What's the big news?

Opening today's Billings Gazette and turning to the State and Local section, we saw page 1 graced with an article on CHIP sign-ups, a report on sleep apnea screening, and an article about a death penalty bill that has zero chance of becoming law this session.

"Slow news day," we figured. So we almost flipped past a little piece tucked into a corner of page 4C surrounded by nearly two full pages of ads.

You know, that inconsequential AP story about a meeting between the governor and Republican House Speaker Scott Sales.

Come again? Page 4C?

This is only the second meeting between the governor and a member of the GOP legislative leadership since the start of the legislative session. The outcome of that session is coming down to the question of whether Governor Schweitzer is willing to work with the House GOP leadership. At all.

Now granted, the last time the governor had such a meeting, he told the Speaker that he wasn't "married to any of this" in his budget. And then last week his budget director was ordering department heads not to cooperate with Republicans in any way on amending appropriations bills.

So we suppose that the significance of any meeting between the governor and the Speaker needs to be taken in context. Still, we'd say that this was one of the most important stories of the day, and we wondered why, if not a front cover story, it was not at least on the 1st page of the state and local section.

The answer is perhaps to be found in the fact that Speaker Sales comes off a lot better in this article than does the governor. He sounds more upbeat, more positive, more gracious, and more open-minded. He says nice things about the governor even while making it clear Republicans aren't going to roll over and play dead.

The AP writer could only report one positive thing said by the governor -- namely, that he described the meeting as "cordial." Someone needs to remind the governor that he is the most powerful man in the state and that he and the Democrat-controlled Senate have the ability to cram his budget priorities down the collective throat of the state's Republicans if he wants -- whether it is in the form of one bill, six bills, or twenty bills. Given his position of dominance, he could at least try to act a little more magnanimous.

One can't help wondering if this stark contrast between the tough but gracious Scott Sales and the testy-sounding Schweitzer is why the Gazette editors buried the story.

Other than that one "cordial," the governor sounded like a broken Democratic record, implying that he will only accept his bill that's "stuck in the 'bottom drawer of a dusty old desk."

He also confirms what Montana Headlines has been suspecting for some time: the real Democratic priority is not to be found in the details of a bill. It is rather to try to break the back of this particular Republican leadership team. And in the process, the governor reminds us that Democrats have developed a very annoying habit in recent years. They believe that chanting incantations like "for the sake of the children" should cause all discussion to end:

"I think it (HB 2) will be back in some form," (Governor Schweitzer) said. "It will take a group of moderate Republicans who will put family first."

Right. We keep forgetting that we conservatives hate children and families. That's why we're more likely to have both than any demographic in America.

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