Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Who gets that jail cell now?

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.


goof houlihan said...

I don't blame democrats, I blame Republicans for Conrad's defeat. All those republicans who voted for Rehberg but not Burns are the ones who elected Tester.

The left is sure that the ends justify the means, so I'd guess they feel prouder of their "secret indictment" campaign strategy now that it turned out to be a lie.

I'm proud of my support from day one of the primary forward for Bob Brown and Conrad Burns. I doubt Pat Davidson supporters and those who ate the little balls of wit from the left regarding Burns "secret indictment" can say the same.

Ed Kemmick said...

The bitterness all over Dextra Montana is something to witness. All this damning of the press ... which did what? Reported the news that Burns was under investigation, which of course he was. And that certain Burns staff members did well by Abramoff. And that Burns took more from Abramoff than anyone else in Congress. And that Abramoff said in an interview that "Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns's committee] we got. Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used Signatures as their cafeteria."

How could the press do this? What if any or all of those things had been said about Max Baucus and it hadn't been reported by the Montana press? Dextra Montana would have blown a gasket, and rightly so.

goof houlihan said...

Ed, here's a good start for you. My post isn't particularly aimed at the lee newspapers, although it was clear they had an editorial agenda. But this kind of rumor mongering was what was going on all over the state.

Burns indictment on ice until after the election?
October 26, 2006
Well, here’s an interesting rumor that’s worth passing on to you: an indictment is waiting in the US Justice Department for our very own Conrad Burns.
Rumors flying out of the US Justice Department say that…new indictments in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal are now prepared, but are being held back until after Election Day…The two about to face the music are Senator Conrad Burns of Montana and Congressman John Doolittle of California according to sources inside Justice…
But far beyond that, the last thing the Republicans need is more news stories about corruption in Congress. The question know is, have Bush and Rove interfered in an ongoing Justice Department investigation because of a political agenda?
So it looks like somone’s playing politics with the US Justice Department, and it ain’t the Democrats. Well, I’ve been saying for months that Burns is likely headed for the ‘pen, and it looks like his time is approaching.
It’s ironic, then, that Burns’ supporters are touting seniority as the reason we should vote for him. Take Brad Franklin’s endorsement of Burns in the Sidney Herald:
Conrad is on the committee on appropriations; committee on commerce; committee on science and transportation; committee on energy and natural resources; committee on small business; and the committee on aging. Max is on the finance committee; environment and public works committee; and the agriculture, nutrition and forestry committee. Denny is on the committee on appropriations. I have not included their sub-committee positions.Finance and appropriations committees in Washington, D.C., relate to financial benefits received by all Montana residents.
We, in Montana, cannot afford to lose the above positions, of which, the first criteria is longevity/seniority. Consequently, as I see it, we must re-elect Conrad Burns and Denny Rehberg in November 2006, and Max Baucus, if he runs, in 2008.
Remember, all you Republicans and Democrats, we have people in majority and minority positions of power, no matter if the majority is Democrat or Republican in the Senate.
Why would any Montana voter, regardless of political preference or whether you like or dislike the candidate personally, vote to lose our envious positions in national politics?
Besides being completely amoral, this line of thinking was well countered by Matt in a post today about this very issue of seniority. Basically he argues that both Burns and Baucus aren’t much longer for the Senate so in 8 years (tops!), we’ll have to start fresh anyway. Why not start building seniority now before Baucus retires?
Of course, if Conrad wins the election, it appears that this is the most likely scenario:
Burns Gets Reelected, Gets Indicted, Resigns: In this scenario, we’re in the absolute worst case we could be. Whoever gets appointed to finish Burns’ term doesn’t go in tied with his or her fellow newly elected Senators for seniority, they’re always a step behind. That will matter. And there’s no promise from caucus leadership for a seat on approps, so kiss that committee behind, if it’s truly a big deal to you.
Remember, if Burns loses his office, it’s the Governor who gets to name his replacement. If appropriations are your gig, it’s better to vote for Tester and allow him to racking it up right away rather than wait until Burns dons the orange jumpsuit.
–Posted by touchstone

Ed said...

Goof: I wasn't referring to your comment, I was referring to the Dextra blogs. It's true, though, that a lot of them did what you did: they extensively cited left-leaning blogs while trying to make the case that the "media" were responsible for Burns' defeat. If there were a stronger case for media bias we'd have seen examples by now.

Still waiting.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for others, because I think Burns made a lot of mistakes and the press had to report the facts as it knew them.

My guess is that many Republicans (I don't count myself as one) saw much of the press coverage as overkill. A quick search of the Gazette archives for 2006 using the words "Burns" and "Abramoff" comes up with 232 hits. Some of those are letters to the editors, but most are articles. And the coverage started before 2006. How many times do you need to say the same things over and over?

I'm guessing Republicans don't see the same sort of aggressiveness applied to the other party. Certainly, the MSM didn't get around to covering the Walt Schweitzer story until the Missoula Independent embarassed it into action. And there's plenty more stories waiting to be done. As for fundraising stories, there's the question of how Montana's trial lawyers have managed to find a loopholes that allows individuals to spend tens of thousands of dollars each to elect Supreme Court judges. There's the question of the best-funded Senate candidate in Montana history, Max Baucus: Who is giving him those many millions of dollars, and why, and what do they expect for their money, and will their expectations conflict with Montana's interests? There's the question of why the shady character Hsu was steering money to Tester, and what he hoped to accomplish by doing so, and what the people who contributed to Tester hoped to get out of the deal. How much money did the crazy Kos crowd raise for Tester? And there was talk of George Soros related money filtering into the state to help Democratic groups win carry the last election.

I dunno. Maybe I'm out to lunch, but these seem like valid and interesting questions regardless of your political point of view. It just seems like, when the press can devote hundreds if not thousands of inches of stories like Burns/Abramoff, they might be able to spare a few inches for stories like the above ones.

Montana Headlines said...

Ed, you raise valid points and objections, as did David Crisp in his blog.

Not wanting to speak for anyone else in the Dextrasphere, I will admit to being perhaps ruled more by my heart than by my head when it comes to the question of whether Conrad was treated fairly by the Montana press.

Ed Kemmick said...

Anon: You've got some good story ideas there, but please note that Lee's Washington correspondent, Noelle Straub, recently did a great job of showing that Max Baucus has received more out-of-state money than other senator this year. She even did a breakdown of contributions by zip code, showing that Max is getting more money from New York than anywhere else. The reaction to this story on the blogosphere was pretty muted. I guess it's much more entertaining to sniff out bias than to applaud a job well done.

As for Max running the most expensive re-election campaign in Montana history, that's become rather an old story. Each of our incumbent senators has raised the bar during each of the last 10 or 12 elections. Welcome to modern America.

Montana Headlines said...

Ed, are you implying that if the Dextrasphere had gone wild over the piece on Max's money (which was a good piece, to be sure) -- Lee's reporters would have been inspired to start sifting through all of those contributions and looking for votes Max has cast or even changed that might match up with a given K-street lobbyist's interests?

With all of that money and all of the votes going on in Washington, one would think that there would be some interesting alignments.

And those would make for a great series of stories. Even without them, maybe the Gazette could run an update front cover piece every so often about all of that out-of-state money.

One-time articles have punch, but it is repeating them over and over with little updates and twists that really conveys the message about what is important.

Ed Kemmick said...

MH: You also make good points, but it is largely a question of time. Noelle writes for all the Lee papers in Montana and Wyoming, which explains her fairly heavy output. The luxury of doing open-ended investigations in the faint hope of turning up something interesting is a rare one. Some bigger papers have full-time investigative reporters, people who can use computer-assisted reporting to sift information from data bases and so forth, but I wonder how many are left after the cutbacks of recent years.

When other people---political opponents, investigators, the perps themselves---start to spill the beans, however, and give reporters good reason to believe such research might actually yield results, there is a much better chance of the research being done, though even then it is usually a hell of a commitment on the part of the reporter and the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Some of these comments are darn funny.

The highest rated comment to the “article” on the Gazette website about the Burns story said, “This was a classic case of being convicted in the press. Reporters like Mary Clare Jalonick from the Associated Press, Gwen Florio formerly of the GF Tribune, and Lee Newspapers’ Jennifer McKee failed the most basic journalism standards by citing many unnamed sources and not sticking to the facts. Montana lost a fine Senator. The MoveOn.Org folks, with a lot of help from the three reporters above, did a fine job in electing their man.”

A few hours ago it was rated at +30, which is the highest rated comment of the 145 comments about that story. It seems to be one of the higher rated comments I’ve seen on any story.

So it seems many readers agree that the Montana media added to the crap that was being thrown out of the toilet by the democrats against Burns. These same readers also buy newspapers and advertising, so the Gazette and other rags should take a closer look on what they allow their reporters go to print with.

Of course, until Burns has got a U.S. Justice Department logo with the words “not guilty of any wrongdoing” tattooed on his forehead, there will always be someone who says he is corrupt.

I doubt he’s losing any sleep over it. He’s that type of person.

Anonymous said...

I hate to keep harping on this stuff, especially since Ed is gracious enough to come on here and take some heat, but today brings another incident that just shouldn't pass without being noted.

On Friday, Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu was sentenced to 3 years in prison for breaking campaign finance laws. He's the fellow who steered questionable contributions to Montana Sen. Jon Tester. Hsu's sentencing made the evening TV news, but I searched in vain this morning for mention of it in Montana newspapers. In one of my searches, the paper's search engine helpfully asked: "Do you mean 'Sue?"

But the MT papers did have a story this a.m. on Burns and Jack Abramoff who, ironically, has never been sentenced, as I understand it, on any campaign finance violations. (I think he's serving time on some weird Florida boat scam he was involved in)

In any regard, can you imagine the coverage there would be if Abramoff had been sentenced? No doubt it would be front page news. My question: Why wasn't Hsu on the front page of every paper in MT, along an analysis of his ties to Tester?

Ed Kemmick said...

The story was on Page 3 of the dead-tree edition. Unfortunately, the AP wire stuff is funneled to our Web site by the AP, and the national and international news doesn't stay on our Web site very long, which is usually why I link to some other site if I want to comment on a national or international story I read in the Gazette.

And "gave some money to" is a lot different from having very close ties to, as it was clear Abramoff had to Burns' staff.

Anonymous said...

Kemmick is circling the wagons for his fellow journalists.

Speaking of close ties to Abramoff, It’s amazing that nobody in the MT media looked into which senator had more fundraisers at Abramoff’s restaurant than any other: It was Max Baucus. ( news January 3, 2006 on-line edition last graph)
Or, that Baucus held fundraisers at Abramoff’s skybox at the MCI center and failed to report about $2000. (December 20, 2005).

It appears to me that Max Baucus had closer ties to Abramoff than Burns. Burns is innocent. Baucus broke campaign finance laws.

Ed Kemmick said...

Those sites aren't much for archiving. Would you happen to have links, rather than just dates?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for tardy reply: