Thursday, April 3, 2008

Unbreakable -- Congressman Rehberg 's re-election bid

Missoulapolis and Western Word have already commented on the excellent article in the Missoula Independent on U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg.

The article contains plenty of negative comments from Democrats about Rehberg, but they pale by comparison to the positive portrayal of Rehberg that can't help but come through. And those negative comments generally have a ring of desperation, such as this one from California trial lawyer (and now cowboy-hat-wearing Montana Dem chairman) Dennis McDonald:

"He’s been nothing but a lap dog for president Bush since day one."

The trouble is that the left has been trying the "lapdog for Bush" mantra for quite some time and it isn't sticking -- in no small part because it isn't true. As Montana Headlines has pointed out in previous posts, an at-large Congressman from a small state like Montana is wise to vote with his party caucus a good amount of the time -- otherwise Rehberg's legislation wouldn't have the support of the GOP caucus that it needs in order to pass.

But Rehberg doesn't have a particularly high ranking of party-line voting for someone who is a Republican from a conservative-leaning state. According to the Washington Post's system, he has a lifetime rating of 92.3%. This might seem high, until one realizes that this puts him as 266th out of 442 members on the Washington Post's list of party-line voters. How often does the average Democratic Congressman vote with the Democratic Party? Answer: 92.3% of the time -- does this perhaps mean that Dennis McDonald believes that his party is made up of lapdogs?

Anyone who has been watching Rehberg grow into the role of Montana's titular Republican Party leader can't help but be impressed with how he is handling the role. The Independent piece does a good job of conveying how sure on his feet Rehberg is, and how at ease he is in almost any setting in Montana. It also portrays accurately just how hard-working Rehberg is, with a tireless schedule of traveling the state, listening to constituents and keeping his finger on the pulse of places as diverse as Butte and Broadus.

Is Rehberg wealthy? Sure, he is. Given that the Democratic Party is the party of the ├╝ber-wealthy, it is hard to imagine why the Dems would want to try to make an issue out of that, but it seems that they do. Of course, their guy Jim Hunt (as we pointed out before) is so poor that he was able to dash off a 5 figure check just to make sure Justice Jim Nelson kept his job looking out for trial lawyers' interests on the Montana Supreme Court in his last election.

But the best quotation of the article on this score comes from Bob Brown:

Jim Hunt will have a tough time making the case that Rehberg has lost touch, adds Bob Brown.

“Rehberg is far more in touch with Montana and Montana values than Jim,” Brown says. “Jim’s certainly a competent guy, but Denny has the enormous advantage of having traveled this whole state and having been a student of the political process both in Washington, D.C., and in Montana.

A fellow who has spent most of his life as an attorney in Helena is more in touch than Dennis Rehberg?”

The writer, Rob Harper, adds this comment of his own after having watched Rehberg in action:

The better question might be: Is anyone better at staying in touch than Dennis Rehberg?

Answer: Right now? No.

When it comes to staying in touch with every corner of Montana, there is no-one else in Rehberg's league. Like the professional that he is, he will concentrate on his job, and as a politician he will concentrate on one election at a time. But in this year of the Sen. Baucus cash juggernaut, it is hard not to look a bit into the distance at 2012, realizing that Rehberg will likely face off against Sen. Tester with 6 straight winning statewide elections under his belt and having spent more than 2 decades building his statewide support and organization.


Matthew Koehler said...

"otherwise Rehberg's legislation wouldn't have the support of the GOP caucus that it needs in order to pass."

Ah, like what Rehberg legislation exactly?

From the article:

“Time and again,” Rehberg has backed legislation that matters to Montanans, Iverson says. He’s sponsored bills to recognize Billings’ 125th anniversary... congratulate Carroll College’s football team for its 2007 league win."

"Rehberg staffers will quickly point out that the congressman has co-sponsored or voted on important bills, but a brief silence ensues when you ask them to name his biggest legislative achievements."

Or how about this from the Clark Fork Chronicle on Rehberg's recent visit to Mineral County:

"Responding to questions from a crowd of about 20 in Superior, Rehberg also addressed a wide variety of issues in the nation's capital. He gave mixed reviews to President George W. Bush and offered a blunt assessment of his party's performance, acknowledging that the Republicans in Congress did not conduct the proper oversight on the war in Iraq.

In some ways, Bush is a victim of his own success, Rehberg suggested. “We haven't had an attack since Sept. 11. Someday we'll look back and thank him,” he said.

But while applauding the results of the troop surge under Gen. David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “should have been replaced sooner,” and Rehberg said members of Congress from his own party share responsibility for the conduct of the war.

“I'm very critical of the Republican Party as well,” he said. “We earned the minority. And one of the reasons we earned the minority is we didn't have the oversight.”

Montana Headlines said...

Your point is well taken. Perhaps a better way to have put it would have been to say that "otherwise Rehberg wouldn't be in a position to pursue Montana's interests."

When one is just one of 400+ legislators, taking the lead on famous legislation doesn't happen often. And when one is a conservative who believes that that government is best that governs least -- one isn't as likely to propose sweeping legislation in the first place.

Rehberg has, for instance, managed to make his way onto the coveted House Appropriations Committee. That accomplishes more than proposing a hundred bills.

And given that Democrats lied to Montana, promising that Tester would have a seat on Senate Appropriations (so don't worry about losing Conrad Burns and his Appropriations seat,) this is of no small importance to Montana.

As to the rest of your comment, it illustrates very nicely that Dem Chairman McDonald is talking through his (doubtless very expensive) hat when he says that Rehberg is a "lapdog for Bush."

Thanks for the ballast.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing out the story. It was a good read. In fact, it's probably the best piece I've seen in conveying the essence of Rehberg.

Democrats got in their shots too, though McDonald's complaint that Rehberg had lost touch seemed rather silly given--as you note--his own background as a California trial lawyer and Max Baucus's much longer stay in DC.

One wonders why the tiny Missoula Independent, with its limited resources, keeps producing such superior journalism.

David said...

I like Denny, as I have often said, and I agree with most of your analysis. But I do think that he is vulnerable on the question of sticking to Bush. People don't care about a percentage point or two on the liberal-vs.-conservative voting scale. But they do care -- at least I hope they do -- about the war, about alienating our allies, about the environment, about civil liberties, about torture, about responsible budgets and about excesses of presidential power.

Montana needs a congressman much more forceful than Rehberg has been on those issues. Hunt may not be the guy, but he seems to be the only hope.

Montana Headlines said...

David, I can't disagree with your critiques, especially on torture. Whether the American people as a whole disagree with the President on torture, I don't know.

As an MH reader, you probably also know that I am one of the minority of Republicans who opposed the war from the beginning, even though I do believe that expansionist Islam is a long-term threat to Western civilization.

I have a hard time faulting Rehberg, however, for believing what a majority of politically active Republicans believe on that score.

On some of your points, I would point out that Rehberg has shown the ability to change -- such as changing his position on Real ID when he understood that Montanans were more concerned about this as an infringement of civil liberties than they were supportive of it as a means of keeping them safe from terrorism.

With regard to out of control spending, I personally would rather have seen Rehberg (and Burns, while he was in office) take principled stances like Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, or Jeff Flake. But it is hard, again, to fault a lone Representative for bringing home as much money to Montana as possible when money is going to be spent anyway by a Congress that has decided to try to play the pork game.

Keep in mind that what Democrats are saying about the war is that we should be spending all of that money here at home, rather than on the war. They most certainly aren't saying that we shouldn't be spending it. So if current rhetoric is to be believed, we won't see a decrease of federal spending under a Democratic Congress.

And a freshman Hunt will just go along with that, while a Rehberg gaining seniority and aiming toward a Senate bid in 2012 will be able to take principled stances that buck his party without adverse effects on Montana.

Anonymous said...

I got a chuckle out of David's lament about Rehberg. He runs down a laundry list of issues, basically the same complaints you hear from liberal Democrats about the Bush administration, and seems to think that Rehberg should be pushing a Democratic agenda instead of the Republican one he was elected on. (The one exception to that may be "responsible budgets," except I have a suspicion he isn't talking about cuts in social programs here)

Although Montanans have elected Democrats to top state offices in recent years, I think most voters here still tend to be more conservative than liberal. He doesn't list jobs as one of their concerns--I suspect this would be their top concern--but does list the environment. I think most Montanans have some concern about this issue, but my recollection is that the Lee papers have polled on the top issues and this one always ends up toward the bottom.

A problem for liberals is that they want people to think that the Bush administration is destroying the environment, but most people are sensible enough to know that, by virtually all measures of environmental quality, the environment is slowly, steadily improving. Just ask a wolf.

Similarly, the left wants Americans to think that we're "losing" our civil liberties. Yeah, right. Since the left has raised such a big stink over this issue, David must be able to provide the names of half a dozen Montanans who have had their civil liberties violated by the Bush administration. What? Can't? How about three? One?

The torture issue is a serious one, but I think it too is an overblown one. There's not room here to go into all the angles of this complex matter. All I'd say is, it'd be interesting to see Jim Hunt make it one of his main issues in the campaign and see what happens. My prediction: It would be a big flop.

All in all, I think David's list of the sins Rehberg should be more forceful on are ones that might get the folks in Liberal Land (places such as Seattle, San Francisco, NYC, Boston, etc) riled up, but won't be high on the priority list for Montanans. Here, they'll be more concerned about jobs and the economy, government spending and taxes, schools, infrastructure, etc. I too could be wrong, but I can't ever remember a MT candidate running on the issues he's talking about.

Anonymous said...

To all GOP Bloggers:

I hate to burst your bubble but denial isn't a river in Egypt. This general election is going to be about one issue in Montana. A word that I would bet Denny doesn't bring up--unless of course he was asked about it--it is a short word. 140,000 Americans are there today. 4,000 Americans have died there. 2/3 of Americans say we should have never gone there.

And Dennis Rehberg did all he could to put us there.

Montana Headlines said...

Hate to burst your bubble, but the election in Montana isn't going to hang on that subject, either.

But I certainly hope that Jim Hunt tries to make it so -- not only will he lose the 2008 election, he'll not even get the privilege of losing to Rehberg in 2010, either.