Chairman James Steele, Jr. of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal council gave a engaging address to gathered Republicans in Billings. Listening, it was hard not to get the sense that something historic was beginning.
He pointed out that in his search looking for Native Americans who have served in Congress, he found three names -- all of whom were Republicans, ranging from Herbert Hoover's Vice-President to Sen. Conrad Burns's Senate colleague Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado. He reminded the gathered Republicans that it was a Congressman from our party who introduced the bill that gave U.S. citizenship to Native Americans.
Not painting any rosy scenarios, Chairman Steele pointed out that the Montana Republican Party has a lot of ground to make up. But it is clear that we are entering a new era of Republicans engaging in dialogue with Indian Country in Montana.
Iverson could have invited a prominent Republican to give a red-meat rallying speech to the Winter Kickoff. That he did not, and instead invited his (and now our) friend Chairman Steele to keynote the meeting, is a testimony not only to Iverson's vision, but also to his serene confidence in a Montana Republican Party that needs no further energizing.
Some of the biggest cheers of the night at the final night of the Winter Kickoff came when Erik Iverson announced that Sen. John McCain's campaign had requested some equal time, introducing Sen. Conrad Burns as the new chairman of Sen. John McCain's campaign here in Montana. We appreciate the prompt response to the Montana Headlines appeal for a new McCain chairman.
There is a God.
Congratulations to Sen. McCain. We of course still want Lt. Gov. Bohlinger on the team, working to get Republicans elected, and as Chairman Iverson remarked tonight, while the Lt. Gov. couldn't make it to the Winter Kickoff to be with us this weekend, he will be invited to the summer convention and afforded the opportunity to speak and answer questions.
We'll look forward to it.
Look tomorrow on KTVQ for a televised debate between Montana GOP chairman Erik Iverson and Democratic chairman Dennis McDonald. McDonald apparently heard that Republicans were in Billings having a good time and decided he wanted to get on Billings TV, so when Iverson caught wind of that, he challenged McDonald to a head-to-head interview.
It should appear on the KTVQ website soon.
Attendees were treated to a clip of the interview in which McDonald lamely tries to defend his previous press-release accusations that a Roy Brown contributor was a tax evader (false) and that Denny Rehberg's state director, Randy Vogel, was under federal investigation for involvement with Jack Abramoff (embarrassingly false -- even liberal bloggers apologized for buying into that one and ended up complimenting Vogel's handling of the situation.)
McDonald's response was blustering sound and fury, signifying nothing. And he maintained that both accusations were true at the time he made them. If McDonald thinks that his obfuscating non-answer will fly with Montana voters, he is gravely mistaken. This guy was a top-notch trial lawyer? Iverson had him for lunch.
Amusingly, McDonald showed up at the interview wearing a giant white cowboy hat.
Aptly, Erik Iverson pointed out to the assembled crowd that McDonald is a trial lawyer from southern California. Iverson, on the other hand, is a 5th generation Montanan who grew up on a ranch in the Sweetgrass Hills.
"If my grandmother were to catch me wearing a hat indoors anywhere -- let alone in a television studio," Iverson noted, "she would have bent me over her knee, even to this day."
It was the quotation of the night, and one that got a roar of laughter and applause from the gathered crowd at dinner, heavily leavened with good, solid, Republican ranchers. All of them were wearing their boots -- and all had a conspicuous absence of head-gear.
Playing rancher is a bit trickier than it looks.