Saturday, November 17, 2007

Notes on the Kennedy withdrawal

It was quite a surprise to wake up this morning, grab a cup of coffee, and read that Bill Kennedy had withdrawn from the U.S. House race against Denny Rehberg.

We wish Kennedy the best in dealing with his health problems. And three cheers for this:

"I'd rather not," Kennedy responded when asked to expand on his health concerns...

Good for Kennedy. Things have really gotten out of control in recent decades with the press and public demanding to know the medical details of public officials or those running for public office. Excuse me, but it is none of the public's business whether the Secretary of Energy or a U.S. Senator is having hernia surgery or a colonoscopy.

There are some things that are on a "need to know" basis only -- and we don't need to know anyone's private medical issues. End of rant.

Second point: there will inevitably be those in the right-thinking world that will do a "yeah, right," in response to Kennedy's citing of health reasons. Yes, he was trailing badly in fund-raising and in the polls, but if the guy says health concerns are causing him to drop out... health concerns it is.

The reality is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to run even a local election campaign. A statewide campaign for federal office against a multi-term incumbent? Certainly no room for any health problems.

Even a "minor" health problem can mean the difference between being able to run an effective campaign or not. It doesn't take much -- particularly when you are already spread as thin as Kennedy is. Being County Commissioner in a large county like Yellowstone County is time-consuming, and he sits on what sounds like dozens of boards and committees of various sorts.

Some time back, in the course of critiquing the level of discourse in certain missives from the Montana GOP state office about Kennedy and his campaign, we noted the importance of a Gazette letter to the editor by former Republican Yellowstone County Commissioner James "Ziggy" Ziegler -- most famous locally for being owner/operator of Stella's, an eating establishment of fine repute in downtown Billings. (On a totally unrelated note, Ziegler is to be commended for his personal efforts to eliminate the death penalty in Montana -- a cause that Montana Headlines has also advocated.)

The Ziegler letter has taken on a bit of the status of an urban legend in Billings. For one thing, there were the curious reports of the more than 6 months that it took the Gazette editorial page editor to get around to publishing the letter. (OK, keep in mind that this sort of story can get exaggerated easily -- but one could hardly expect MH to ignore it.)

Additionally, after the letter appeared, word on the county street was that Kennedy was suddenly showing up for a lot more of his County Commissioner meetings than he had been. He was probably also not happy at the prospect of having Republicans expect him to return a hefty portion of the coming year's salary -- which, as the letter pointed out, Democrats had demanded that Conrad Burns do after his first U.S. Senate race while a sitting County Commissioner.

The point being that if Kennedy felt some outside pressure to keep up with his County Commissioner duties (something reasonable to expect of him) while raising funds and campaigning for the U.S. House, it would take a lot out of him physically. As noted before, this kind of schedule calls for incredible stamina -- a candidate can't afford any kind of health problem under such circumstances.

So again, we wish Kennedy well with his health, and look forward to him devoting himself to his County Commissioner duties here in Yellowstone County.

And while this relieves a little pressure on Republicans for the time being, we shouldn't get too confident. The Democratic bench in Montana is hardly a shallow one at the moment -- and Sen. Baucus has enough money for three major state-wide campaigns. Rehberg will have a serious contender, and he will be well-funded. Who knows -- perhaps yet one more of the pressures on Kennedy was having party bosses tell him that they have a stronger contender that they want to run... so think about getting out of the way.

But undeniably this event does even the playing field a little, even if only for a little while. With Sen. Brown coming on strong against Gov. Schweitzer, that race is going to be a close one that will keep the governor busy. At the moment, both Rehberg and Baucus are essentially without competition, which means that Rep. Rehberg can and should be working tirelessly to raise money that will build the GOP infrastructure and benefit all Republican candidates in Montana -- just as Sen. Baucus has done in the past in his own lop-sided races.


Anonymous said...

Your reference to the Gazette holding the Ziegler letter is intriguing. Does anyone have the inside skinny on what did happen? If they held it for a week or two, that wouldn't be too unusual. But if they held it for six months, that would -- by anyone's standards, I would think -- be unethical. Has Ziegler complained that it was held more than a couple weeks? And if so, did the Gazette ever explain why?

Montana Headlines said...

Can't answer any of those questions -- just passing on the urban legend, for what it is worth, with appropriate caveats, of course. But we can look at it logically.

There are any number of reasons why a letter might be held up or simply not published. The most important reason in the case of a letter like this would be confirming the information in it. Unlike a muck-raking amateur blog like MH, the Gazette has higher standards to live up to. It's why we give them such a hard time.

So, a lengthy holding of a letter might not be inappropriate in certain circumstances, although 6 months does sound like a long time, if that is a correct time frame.

Those who know Ziegler say that he's not a complainer -- from what I understand, he has a good relationship with folks at the Gazette -- no reports of animosity in either direction.

Truth to be told, the letter would probably have had less of a negative effect on Kennedy had it been published 6 months earlier, and more of a negative effect had its publication been delayed even longer -- so I don't think that you could say that there is any evidence, based just on the letter and the timing, of political motivation on the Gazette's part either for or against Kennedy.

Gazette coverage of late on the editorial page has seemed to us to be skewed against Rehberg -- but again, one would expect that if this were in play, the letter would either have been published back in the spring so there was plenty of time to forget about it, or simply not published at all.

As it is, it is just a curious story -- and we like mentioning curious things that come to our attention.