Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The governor -- feeling the heat, putting out fires at the Hardin Prison

Forget the over-confident talk from the sinister side of the political spectrum.

This governor's race is going to be very competitive and close. The governor's actions show that he is feeling the heat from a Roy Brown campaign that continues to build momentum in spite of the fact that it is the governor who has the big bucks.

Most recently, the governor was down in Hardin trying to bluster his way through the morass of the Hardin detention center. It is as clear as the summer sun that at the very least, the governor has been treating that situation with neglect. It just doesn't deserve the kind of attention that important things get. Like, say, a fundraiser at the Kentucky Derby or jetting to California to do the Daily Show. After all, it's just Eastern Montana.

Yet, he's complaining that he is being blamed for something he didn't do. Well, actually, in a sense that's right. He hasn't done anything. He hasn't, until now, even deigned to talk to the community of Hardin about their concerns, even when they made a much publicized trip to Helena to get his attention.

A glaring omission in the Gazette article is that the governor doesn't appear to have been asked "why not?"

The good people of Hardin have been trying to get a response from him or a meeting with him, and it has never happened. Why not?

What it took to get his attention was apparently having an angry Hardinite leave a banner up at the Capitol after a recent demonstration that said "We've been Schweitzerized. Was it as good for you governor as it was for us?"

Ed Kemmick rightly describes the governor's reaction as "thin-skinned." (He also correctly deducts style points from the sign-writer for not knowing where to use commas.) If the guv is truly surprised that the folks down in Bighorn County would be unhappy with him, then one wonders if he is really the highly skilled pol that he is made out to be. Let alone whether he has the right temperament for the job.

Of course, the important skill is in the ability to convey, via the media, a sense of righteous indignation. And there, too, things seemed to fall just a bit flat on the governor's visit to Hardin. Because there are just so many obvious questions that a single visit isn't going to fix.

The governor's statements basically amount to saying "I really wish this would all go away, and since I want it to all go away, that should show I care."

This isn't over by a long shot. Perhaps the real reason that the governor was down in Hardin (besides being personally miffed about the banner) is that the Republican Party down there is in a resurgence. They've got a newly revamped and energetic organization, and the community as a whole is really disinclined right now to be cutting slack to Democrats -- especially in the governor's race and AG race. The resentment at being cut out of the state prison business in favor of the for-profit prison in Shelby whose corporate executives have cut all of those checks to the governor's campaign -- well, it's not showing signs of going away.

This past weekend, Bighorn County Republicans had an unheard-of gathering of well over 100 people for their annual Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner. All of the statewide candidates were there, and energy levels were high, by all reports. Most people would be surprised to know that 100 active Republicans in Bighorn County even exist, so this is a sign of a fire having been lit down there.

And it is a fire that a quick visit and some glib talk and indignant posturing isn't going to put out any time soon. Maybe the governor will get serious about helping Hardin solve the problem that he and his Democratic friend, Attorney General McGrath helped create. Maybe it will happen even though he hasn't shown any signs of being interested in solving it prior to this election year.

A fix of some sort would be good for Hardin, and we'll be happy for them if it comes about. A healthy economy for Hardin is more important than scoring political points. But we'll still be asking why it took the pressures of an election year for the governor to focus on it, even though this train has been bearing down on Bighorn County for his entire term of office, headlight glaring and whistle blowing.

The fact that this meeting in Hardin happened at all is a testimony to the inroads that Roy Brown is making in the governor's race.


Anonymous said...

Occasionally Montana Headlines has some decent commentary. But trying to convince your readers that Roy Brown is putting the heat on Schweitzer in this race is laughable. Roy Brown is a worse candidate that Bob Brown, and that’s an accomplishment in its own right.

So, how would Roy Brown solve the problems that Hardin created for itself? Would Brown support importing out of state prisoners into Montana? Or is this just another topic that Brown does not yet have an opinion on?

Montana Headlines said...

Whether you are engaging in routine spin or genuinely misunderestimating Roy Brown doesn't really matter.

Just keep up the good work.

You'll have to pose your question to the Brown campaign, which is where that answer is to be found.

One thing that can be depended on -- Roy Brown would at least be talking to the people of Hardin rather than ignoring the problem.

Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

First Governor Schweitzer angers the teachers for saying they would not get a big increase in funding. So, two teachers decide to run against him.
Now, he’s angered the Native American folks in our state by not helping them with their new prison. Yes, the teachers and the Native Americans have been Schweitzerized.
Maybe they can Schweitzerize him back by voting for someone else?

Montana Headlines said...

As we noted, he is feeling the heat.

You are right -- playing fiscal conservative with the education budget didn't go over well, so now he's trying to back off on that, too.

He's trying to be on both sides of that fence, and his attempt to play the Hardin Prison situation is more of the same.

Nick said...

You must be kidding... Regardless of the status of the Schweitzer/Brown race, the fact that you're still plugging the Hardin prison debacle as a legitimate issue is laughable.

What part of a shady Texas company building 464 bed prison in one of the few states with a shrinking prison population don't you understand?

I've got to give it to the proprietors of this joint -- they've got a knack for marketing. I mean, who would've thought that blaming a public official for your business boondoggle would result in a bit of public sympathy?

Nevertheless, I imagine this hornswoggle will end up the same archives as the last Texas-based scam (INSA: best friend to cohorts, spouses and 3rd cousins of Denny Rehberg and Connie Burns) to hit the papers in Montana did -- annoyingly malinger until everyone forgets.

Ed Kemmick said...

I noticed you made the same mistake I did when I first looked at the photo. I didn't realize I had misread the banner until I looked at the video. The problem is that "z" in the guv's name. The banner says "Schweitzered," not "Schweitzerized." Yours for accuracy, Ed.

Anonymous said...

This post is really beyond the pale. First, some basic facts on the situation in Hardin.

1). An out-of-state Texas corporation and poor planning by local officials are responsible for this situation.

2). US Marshall Dwight MacKay (a Republican) is the federal official who supported and allowed this boondoggle to happen.

From the Gazette:

The detention facility would be used to temporarily house inmates who are awaiting trial or sentencing.

The short-term arrangements would be available to federal agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Prisons and others as well as state and local jurisdictions.

"Law enforcement agencies all over the state are fighting a tough situation where there isn't enough space," Kern said. "Everything I hear is that something like this is needed."

Dwight MacKay, U.S. marshal for Montana, said his office would be interested in housing inmates in Hardin if the facility meets all requirements. The Marshals Service now pays for jail space in Big Horn County, Wyo., he said.

"I advised them ... build something, we'll probably use it," MacKay said."

Now to the Governor and Corrections.

1) This Governor has done more than any Governor since Tom Judge to improve and enhance corrections in the state of Montana. The efforts of his administration, which where led by a good Republican named Bill Slaughter for over a year, have saved taxpayers millions of dollars and helped get thousands of Montanans the treatment they need.

Read it here:

This week the Governor went to Hardin and basically said he was willing to work with the community to avoid a bond default, which I think most people would agree with.

So, in essence, your fantasy that this whole Hardin situation is a) the Govenor's fault and b) helping Roy Brown is, above all, humorous. And more anything shows how just NOT close this election is going to be.

Keep trying...

Montana Headlines said...

Nice again to see the pros starting to show up around here in force. Quite a compliment.

Ed, I have to confess that I didn't even look at the sign. I'm embarrassed to say that I just did a cut and paste of the quote about being "Schweitzerized" directly from the Gazette article. I'm getting lax in my old blogging age -- maybe I should change the subtitle of my blog to "if it's in the Gazette, it must be right." Good pick-up.

Nick and anonymous -- maybe there is nothing to this story, but if so, you'll have to explain why the governor found it necessary to make a special trip down to Hardin in order to try to put out the fire.

Either he bears some responsibility for leaving Hardin hanging by directing all state prisoners to Shelby and ignoring the situation in Hardin -- or it is hurting him politically in his re-election bid. Or both.

We all knew that the Democratic mantra would be to blame George W. Bush for everything, but these comments and some of the comments on Ed Kemmick's blog are pretty interesting. Those nasty Texans (read Bush/Cheney) are to blame for the Hardin mess.

Maybe. But it's about time that it is getting some attention in the press. It's sure been festering down in Hardin, while the problem is being ignored in Helena.

One very good point that anonymous makes is that Dwight McKay is not a Democrat. It is also correct that the fact that the U.S. Marshall's service is not using the Hardin prison can't be blamed on the governor or on anyone else in the state government, since this is a federal agency.

But to that must be added that the U.S. Marshall's business was never going to be the entirety of the Hardin prison population. The plan was for a mix of prisoners that included state prisoners.

Does anyone want prison-building to be a growth industry in Montana? Not really. Should the Hardin group have found a way to hammer out details in writing before building the prison? One would think so.

But the prison seems to have been built on understood assurances from the state that it would be receiving state prisoners. The governor was well aware of this when he took office, and instead of handling it directly, seems to have chosen to take another path, leaving Hardin hanging without directly dealing with the situation.

Since his preferred means of dealing with the situation in Hardin seems to have been to ignore it, the logical conclusion is that the fact that this is an election year was the operative factor in his decision to do a quick about-face and visit the Hardin facility and to start making assurances that he will try to find a way to make it work.

Anonymous said...

I always thought a governor's job was to solve problems. Even if they weren't of his/her own making.

This governor just seems to get irked when someone asks him for help with a problem.

As Kemmick noted, he's got awful thin skin for a public official. And from I've heard from friends in Helena, even his fellow Democrats try to steer clear of him, even on his good days. You don't read about that in the press, but I'm told they get the same treatment and are cowed to.