It's over, it seems. (HT: Western Word.)
We remember listening to the governor wax eloquent late in the 2006 campaign about the jail cell that was waiting for Sen. Conrad Burns -- "that auctioneer from Missouri," as he sneeringly referred to him.
We remember not being exactly sure what was so dishonorable about being from Missouri or about being an auctioneer. But then, our own backgrounds are humble, and we don't move in the same kinds of rarified social circles that the governor does, so we probably wouldn't understand.
The governor spoke of a Burns conviction as a certainty and as a matter for jocularity -- we found it somehow comforting to know that the person who is ultimately responsible for corrections and justice in the state of Montana had such a sober view of crime and that he had such a deeply rooted sense of "innocent until proven guilty."
And of course the Montana press based their opposition to Conrad Burns in no small part on the fact that Burns had been convicted in their own pages -- an interesting circular process.
All of it put together spelled a razor-thin defeat for Conrad Burns and the Republicans. Which was always the point of the casual smears coming from the Democratic Party. And the complicity of the Montana press in uncritically repeating such things was hard to stomach.
But it seems that Conrad has been cleared. It will be interesting to see how the Gazette editorial board handles and rationalizes this one.
One thing is clear, and that is that the Burns defeat had a silver lining. As our future governor, Roy Brown, likes to put it as he encounters enthusiastic crowds around the state who are meeting and getting to know him, the sleeping giant of the Republican Party is awakening across Montana. The Burns defeat was a major wake-up call for a complacent Montana GOP.
The excitement and momentum of Sen. Roy Brown's campaign for governor is the highest profile example of what Republicans are preparing to do next fall.
We see it in the quality of the legislative candidates being recruited in the Montana GOP and the speed with which they are being recruited. We see it in the quiet determination of Republicans across the state to take back our state, starting by sending the governor a nice Christmas present of a Republican Senate and a Republican House.
We see it in the failure of Democrats to find a credible candidate to run against Denny Rehberg -- when even not too many months back there was such brave talk on the sinister side of the blogosphere about how Democrats were going to run the table in Montana by sending Denny packing.
We see it in strong campaigns for Auditor by Duane Grimes, a pair of strong candidates for AG in Tim Fox and Lee Bruner, and in strong candidates for regaining control of the PSC.
And of course we see it in the fact that the leading candidate of choice for President by Montana Democrats -- Hillary Clinton -- has a staggering disapproval rating of 52% in Montana. This is the crown jewel example of just how not about to go blue our state really is.
Republican and conservative fundamentals are strong. What we make of those fundamentals is up to us. Ultimately, Burns could have prevented all of this by running a tight ship in his Senate office -- one that went out of its way to avoid every appearance of impropriety -- so Burns failed us, too. He had the same strong Republican fundamentals to work with that exist today -- in fact he had stronger ones.
The fact that he is no longer a U.S. Senator should forever be a reminder to Republicans in Montana about how they need to conduct themselves in Washington, knowing that they will be cut no breaks.
And of course, he convincingly demonstrated to the Republican party that conservatives don't win elections in this state by bragging about how much of the taxpayer's money they have spent -- even when it is spent in Montana. Let's hope those pages are forever torn from the Montana GOP's playbook.
But in the end, just as we felt bad for Conrad in his loss, we can feel some joy for him in this first step toward putting all of it behind him. He deserved better, and we suspect that he will be viewed with increasing sympathy as the years go by.