The IR Enters the Gossip Game

Not to be outdone by the all-new Montana Cowgirl blog, the normally comatose and politically tone-deaf Independent Record editorial staff has wisely allowed it’s able political reporter to get into the gossip game. Jay wrote up a short post about it earlier.

This weekend, Chuck Johnson penned a column about “rumors” that Brian Schweitzer wants to run against Max Baucus or John Tester for the US Senate. It’s an interesting and fun piece, although it should be noted that the piece doesn’t cite any source at all for the rumor. Nevertheless, the rumor has in fact existed for many months about a possible Schweitzer-Baucus showdown. I haven’t heard the Schweitzer-Tester rumor.

The source of the rumor is four-fold. First, there was supposedly a telephone poll last spring that was making the rounds, received by some Democrats, asking about Rehberg, Baucus and Schweitzer. Many versions have been related to me as to what the poll actually asked exactly. Some say that a primary match-up question was asked as between Baucus and Schweitzer. The second source of the rumor is that Schweitzer has only two years left on his term, meaning he’ll need a job. The third source is the friction seen in the press recently between Schweitzer and the federal delegation, regarding protection of the Flathead river and Glacier. The fourth source is the anecdote Chuck relates about Baucus being furious with Schweitzer for razzing up the pre-Obama crowd in Belgrade in 2008, about the merits of Universal Healthcare, and thus being a bee in the Baucus/Obama healthcare bonnet.

My take is that even if Schweitzer is interested in the Senate–and by all accounts, he is not, since he makes fun of the institution seven days a week–he would not be researching his chances against Max Baucus in a race four years from now. Politicians don’t poll that far ahead, ever.

As for Chuck’s anecdote about Baucus being pissed at Schweitzer for working up the crowd at the Obama event last summer by calling for universal healthcare, that story has been making the rounds for a while. Baucus gave a speech about the importance of compromise, etc., and then Schweitzer then razzed up the crowd by calling for a Canadian health system, and then Baucus supposedly got in his face and told him he was, by giving such a speech, destroying the entire health-care policy endeavor. UPDATE: A commenter found the speech on youtube! You can watch it here.

This issue will continue to separate Baucus and Schweitzer, and we will see where Tester comes down on it. Schweitzer sees political value in taking on drug companies and the health industry and in fact he began his career doing so by running bus trips to Canada to buy cheap drugs. Baucus is definitely much closer in his working relationships with the health industry. For example, Liz Fowler recently went from Insurance Company executive to Baucus staffer to White House staffer in charge of writing health care rules. But what I would like to note about Schweitzer’s populist health-care approach is that it doesn’t seem to have cost him any popularity. That should be a lesson to progressives and democrats that sometimes the most liberal position on an issue is the right position, and one that can be defended articulately, and not cost you votes, can can even gain you votes.

Overall, I think the rumors are nonsense. As to Tester, Schweitzer spent a fortune in political capital on Tester’s campaign, raising money, barnstorming across the state, and appearing in ads wiith Jag, his dog, talking about what a great Senator Tester would be. And Tester is a great Senator,  and progressives love him, and he and Schweitzer seem to have a strong relationship. S o that part of the rumor has little basis. Nobody I know has ever even heard it. As for a Baucus-Schweitzer showdown, that’s far off but it is definitely buzzed around inside the beltway. Baucus has reason to fear Schweitzer because Schweitzer gets Democrats excited, and gets progressives excited too. However, my prediction is that by 2014, one of these two men will have moved on to become a judge, an ambassador, a cabinet officer, a CEO, a Congressman, or maybe even a presidential or vice-presidential nominee. I honestly can’t imagine Baucus and Schweitzer vying for a Senate seat in a primary. So while the rumor is fun, it is probably an empty one.


22 Comments on "The IR Enters the Gossip Game"

  1. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers! | July 20, 2010 7:35 PM at 7:35 PM |

    “That should be a lesson to progressives and democrats that sometimes the most liberal position on an issue is the right position, and one that can be defended articulately, and not cost you votes, can can even gain you votes.”

    That’s in a nutshell. And speaking of nuts, Schweitzer is one of the few politicos I know that has’em! He is absolutely unafraid to speak the truth.

  2. He is a good man. He’s not afraid of taking bold actions. One of my favorite things that he has done so far is to stand up in the middle of the health care debate, when all eyes were on Montana and the President came to Belgrade and he wasn’t afraid to say the right thing on health care. Pretty gutsy.

  3. Schweitzer has an executive’s personality, so he’ll end up in Obama’s cabinet if Obama wins a second term. The real question is whether Baucus, who will be 73 at the end of his present term, should run again or follow the example of Paul Sarbanes, who retired at 73 while still a man of vigor and sound mind. Baucus might well be hale at 73, but at 79 he could be another Senator Bunning.

    Can Baucus win another term? Probably. Should he try? I think he should not.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers! | July 20, 2010 10:19 PM at 10:19 PM |

      Good comment, James. And I agree with all EXCEPT the part about the “sound mind”. I think ol’ Mini lost his long ago. ‘Bout the time he sold his soul…to the devil.

    • Do you think Baucus will retire completely? I was thinking he might become an ambassador. Or perhaps write a memoir.

      • Both are possibilities, and not entirely dishonorable. Both often involve a creative presentation of facts. And both are more respectable than the post senatorial occupations adopted by John Melcher and Conrad Burns.

        If the Republicans regain a majority in the Senate (not to be confused with their current minority stranglehold), I think Baucus would view retirement much more favorably than he would if still in the majority.

  4. How excactly did Schweitzer cause a problem simply by giving a speech about the benefits of universal healthcare? I don’t get it.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers! | July 20, 2010 10:22 PM at 10:22 PM |

      He crapped on Mini Barfus’s corporate donor buddies! BIG time! You see, with Mini we got O’Bamacare. With Schweitzer, we’d have gotten REAL care! And that angered Mini’s corporate benefactors and johns.

  5. Gumbo, I have the same sentiments. I found the Guv’s Belgrade speech online today (here: and cannot understand what upset Max to the point Chuck Johnson wrote about. But boy, did the Guv have the crowd roaring!

  6. Viola – Thanks so much for the link to the speech. I will add this to the above post, as I think folks might enjoy seeing it. I remember it was on public radio, but I didn’t know that there was video. Great find!

  7. I only want to clarify one thing: It’s not accurate to say the IR editorial staff “allowed” its political reporter to indulge in speculation and the trafficking of rumors. Chuck does that all the time with his political column, and he doesn’t ask permission of the IR editorial staff before writing it.

    He is the chief of the Lee State Bureau, which means he writes for all four Lee papers in Montana, and I believe his status is equal to or nearly equal to the status of the editors of those four papers. He is given considerable autonomy, mainly because he knows more about Montana and Montana politics than all four editors combined.

    • Kemmick-this is kinda silly. What does this distinction matter? They published a gossip-based item. What status the writer has is not really relevant.

  8. Interesting. Thank you for sharing this information Ed. I’m glad to hear that he is given this status and autonomy, as he seems indeed to deserve it. Still, some papers choose not to include the column, so in that sense the editor is still in control I guess.

  9. even bears sit up and take notice when chuck johnson’s name is in the byline….

    he is one of the most astute journalists in montana. and lee knows it.

  10. While politicians do not poll four years out, they do talk to money people. If Schweitzer were going to make a run at Baucus, he would be jetting around the country and talking to corporate executives. It is more important to line up money backing than public opinion, which follows TV ads that are purchased with the money.

    But then there is the idea that a major state politician would challenge another major state politician in his own party. It is simply not done. Rumors to that effect are either deliberately planted, or someone is having a joke. If deliberately planted, then Schweitzer is sending Baucus a message. But it doesn’t compute, in my view.

    I think that Schweitzer having national appeal is overrated. He sells well in a rural environment,and maybe people wonder what a sophisticated urbanite like him is doing in a rural setting. But charm would quickly wither under the Klieg lights, and the dog doesn’t travel well beyond rural scenes.

    And if Baucus were to leave office, he would probably take a job lobbying for health care corporations, just like Tom Daschle did, and as Chris Dodd will go to work for Wall Street. It would really just be a promotion from his current low-level job in that industry.

    Cowgirl – you are doing a gossip blog! I think it is the ideal place for you. I mean that sincerely and without snark and condescension. There’s a place for this sort of thing and it is fun.

  11. Thanks Mark, and thanks for giving me a second chance at showing that I have no intentions of having you banned.

  12. Banning is for sissies.

  13. MTCowgirl said, “Tester is a great Senator, and progressives love him.”

    Do you care to provide any examples or evidence to back up this statement MTCowgirl?

  14. Hi Matthew, Welcome to the Montana Cowgirl blog and thanks for your comments. I based that sentence on what I hear from the progressives I hang out with. I am guessing you are referring to the controversy over the forrest jobs bill or whatever it is being called these days. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the latest guest opinion up at NewWest about it:

  15. here’s what i think about it….

    the post at new west has lots of words but the fact remains…. this bill is dead. D-E-A-D unless tester removes timber quotas. no self-respecting environmental organization will support it otherwise. and without the support of at least one of the nationally recognized big wilderness groups, congress will not support it period. end of discussion.

    if tester wants to propose a wilderness bill fine.
    if tester wants to propose a logging subsidy/jobs bill, fine.

    but you simply cannot connect these two separate elements without raising a stench that smells like dead bill….

    i like jon myself, but this bill of his (warmed over leftovers from conrad burns by the way) is dead on arrival. the timber market is simply nonexistent so there is no logical fiscal argument and it only infuriates staunch wilderness supporters who are livid that jon would put “forced logging mandates” into what should simply be a long overdue wilderness bill ever since ronald reagan pocket vetoed our last one over 35 years ago.

    the fact that the montana wilderness association supports this is a horrendous example of people being paid to walk away from their principles.

  16. MT Cowgirl. Thanks for the reply. No, I wasn’t just referring to Senator Tester’s logging bill. The progressives I hang out with are pretty upset with Senator Tester and his staff on a host of issues.

    My thoughts on the FJRA have been well documented over the past few years, so I don’t want to take up too much of your screen space here repeated everything.

    However, you do realize that Robert Saldin, the person who wrote the most recent guest column at NewWest that you reference above, was a 2009 “Lone Mountain Fellow” of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC)?

    And that PERC is considered the pioneering organization of “free market environmentalism” and the organization is a die-hard, staunch supporter of the property rights movement? Check them out for yourself at:

    Given these facts, I find it rather ironic that some of the Tester bill supporters have been touting the essay of a fellow for a private property rights, “free market” organization that has a long history of outreach and research that can be best described as pro-property rights, pro-corporations and anti-public lands. I just offer up this information for a little added perspective. Much of the “spin” in the article (both on the specifics of the Tester bill as well as some of the Wilderness history) needs to be looked at through the filter of the author.

    Besides, the guest column first appeared in a University of Montana publication earlier this summer, so it was likely written in April or May and therefore is pretty out of date. For example, the column makes no mention of the fact that the Senate ENR Committee rewrote Senator Tester’s bill back in late May. Therefore, it’s really not accurate to claim that somehow the USFS, Obama Administration and ENR Committee are on the fence with key provisions of Tester’s bill. Anyone who’s read the ENR Committee’s draft can see quite clearly where they stand. Ironically, many of the ENR Committee’s recommendations mirror exactly the recommendations and concerns that I expressed during the Senate hearing on behalf of the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign…and that Forest Service top dog, UnderSecretary Sherman, also expressed at the same hearing.

    Sure looks like Senator Tester and the collaborators should have taken more seriously the substantive concerns expressed for over a year now from many public lands conservation organizations in Montana and around the country, as well as from the Forest Service, Obama Administration, ENR Committee and a host of retired Forest Service chiefs and officials. Instead, we’ve been treated to a dumbing down of the Wilderness and forest management debate, while we all watched the collaborators spend hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on polling, messaging and the type of advertising campaign we normal only see during election cycles.

    However, none of those slick ads or feel-good, flowery rhetoric could gloss over the very real substantive concerns with key provisions within the FJRA.

    If this bill doesn’t pass, Montanans should not forget that it was the unwillingness of Senator Tester and the Collaborators (including Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, RY Timber and Sun Mountain Mountain Lumber) to compromise a little bit. Over the past year they’ve done a fine job selling and promoting their proposal as the best thing since sliced bread through one-sided meetings and panels, but Senator Tester and the Collaborators weren’t so great at working together with those who had concerns with the substantive parts of the FJRA, including the Senate’s ENR Committee, the U.S. Forest Service, the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign, Beaverhead County and a host of other citizens, who are equal owners of these public lands.

    On the other hand, if the bill does pass, it will only be because the concerns brought up for over a year now by the likes of the U.S. Forest Service, the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign, Sierra Club, NRDC and others have finally been addressed. As I’ve been saying all along, the ENR Committee will not let Tester’s bill move forward with the mandated logging, profoundly negative budgetary implications and motors and military helicopter landings in Wilderness, among other issues.

    Finally, I should point out that the Senate’s ENR Committee version of the bill is not a Wilderness only or a true Wilderness bill. In addition to protecting over 660,000 acres in Montana as Wilderness, the ENR Committee draft also establishes a “National Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative” that would “preserve and create local jobs in rural communities…to sustain the local logging and restoration infrastructure and community capacity…to promote cooperation and collaboration…to restore or improve the ecological function of priority watersheds…to carry out collaborative projects to restore watersheds and reduce the risk of wildfires to communities.” Much of this work would be carried out through stewardship contracting. The ENR Draft also adds language requiring that any project carried out under the bill must fully maintain old growth forests and retain large trees, while focus any hazardous fuel reduction efforts on small diameter trees.

    That ENR Committee draft doesn’t sound half bad, eh? Too bad Senator Tester, Montana Wilderness Association, MT Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation and some Montana timber mills oppose it.

    Below are some links to additional information and developments over the past two months. Thanks.

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