Monthly Archives: November 2010

More Driving Problems for Rs: This Time, a Hit And Run

Something about Republicans and traffic ordinances simply doesn’t mix.

First it was the infamous and tragic Shane Hedges DUI accident and death of the House Speaker, and felony charges all around, with Judy Martz barely escaping a prosecution for evidence tampering. Rs have kept a steady pace since then. Greg Barkus got a few DUIs on the road over the last decade; Scott Boggio, a GOP legislator from Red Lodge, ran up on a curb while driving around with another repub, Elsie Arntzen, and got pulled over, and turned out to be massively drunk, though of course Arntzen, a DUI Task Force member, expressed the usual right-wing-passenger-shock, and said she “had no idea” driver Boggio was impaired.

Then Brad Johnson, the Secretary of State, got pulled over for a DUI and went subsequently to treatment, though it didn’t seem to phase him: from a rehab center, he actively continued campaigning in his PSC race.

And of course then Barkus went for the hat-trick, a third DUI, this time in style by running a boat up into the rocky shore of Flathead Lake, causing injuries all around, with passenger Rehberg, drunk himself, taking a page out of Arntzen’s script and saying he was shocked to hear that the driver was impaired.

Then there was recently Brad Molnar, who mowed his car into that of some hapless girl a few months ago, and fled the scene and yesterday was placed under a restraining order from any contact with the victim.

Drinking, Driving, Boating, Hit and Runs. What is most important is that Republicans will often fight publicly for stiffer sentencing for criminals, and against the evil smoking of marijuana, and in favor of “values”.

Bought, but by Whom?

Who are the moneybags that own the new Republican legislature? For starters, at least a half-million dollars was spent by a group called Western Tradition Partnership was directly Republican legislative candidates to help them get elected in 2010. Let’s assume that 20 races were targeted by these funds. That’s $25,000 per race. To put that in perspective, I’m told the average legislative candidate in Montana usually raises $10-15 grand for his or her own campaign.

Western Tradition Partnership is a group founded by his Royal Shadiness John Sinrud. We know this because an investigation by Dennis Unsworth, the Political Practices Commissioner, uncovered a power-point presentation belonging to a WTP operative, showing some sort of flow-chart of money and some rough calculations and budget items, and indicating a plan to spend half a million bucks in Montana on legislative races. What we don’t know is who funds the Western Tradition Partnership, though we may soon find out. At the end of Unsworth’s investigation, he found WTP guilty of breaking Montana campaign laws by not revealing where its money comes from. WTP claimed, in its defense, that its hundreds of negative mailers and other advertisements, blasted out during the closing weeks of the campaign and trashing democratic legislative candidates in every way imaginable, was not “campaign related” activity but rather “issue advocacy”. “Issue-related” organizations can set themselves up as non-profit entities under federal law. This means they can hide their donors as long as each donor gives less than $25,000. The only thing they may not do is “directly advocate” for or against a candidate.

The Commissioner’s ruling, however, means that the state of Montana has found that the WTP’s activity crosses the line from issue-advocacy to campaign activity under state law. So we may yet see the WTP’s books as the State of Montana continues its prosecution of these jerks. That would be a fun thing. We will then know who, exactly, owns the new Republican legislature.

Right now WTP has taken the offensive, suing the State, the Attorney General, and just about everyone else, claiming that Unsworth had no power to investigate them and claiming that Montana’s campaign finance laws are unconstitutional. Bullock should step up and slam these A-holes.

That Didn’t Take Long

The first order of business for Republicans should be to get rid of Schweitzer, and “delouse” the Governor’s residence, according to a source who saw Jana Taylor’s before her fellow Republican House members two days ago in her bid to become Whip. Nice gal. She made a speech littered with insults at the Governor, to a grinning chamber of fellow R lawmakers.

I wasn’t in the building but I’ve gotten bits and pieces from people who saw it and could remember it. Anyone recall some of the specifics? Please share.

Montana Poll Reveals Undressed Wounds

Time heals all wounds, the saying goes, but perhaps not when it comes to rehabilitating Montana Senator Max Baucus’s poll numbers after public views of the health care bill became what they are.

According to a new Public Policy Polling survey, the 70-year-old incumbent’s rating has hardly seen an uptick since it plummetted after the health care bill became what it is.   Baucus’ favorables now stand at 38 percent, fifty-three percent of Montanans meanwhile continue to view the Senator unfavorably.

But perhaps Montanans can take solace in the fact the public is more keen on his counterpart, as Pogie writes, the same poll showed that Tester is looking good early.

The poll surveyed 1,176 Montana voters from November 10th to 13th.  The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.9%

The Montana GOP Hypocrite of the Week Award Goes to…

…the Montana Chamber of Commerce, which has come out in favor of out-of-state corporate tax cheats, namely Travelocity and Expedia, who are short-changing the state of Montana on taxes when they sell hotel rooms. No surprise here.  The last time the Chamber took an action on taxes, it tried to get a tax break for big oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil, around the same time the CEO of Exxon was paying himself a $400 million retirement bonus.

As the IR explains in this editorial, and as Montana Revenue Director Dan Bucks describes here, every hotel owner collects and gives to Montana a seven percent tax when a room is sold, and the money the state collects goes toward promoting tourism. But Travelocity and other such websites are evidently keeping the dough for themselves, or at least they are engaged in some fishy bookkeeping. Bucks thinks these companies might owe the state millions of dollars.

The pathetic part about this decision by the Chamber to support a bunch of billion dollar out-of-state tax avoiders is that apparently the Montana hotel owners have come out against what these online giants are doing.

That’s right: One of the most important groups of local business owners in Montana has come out against the nefarious practices of a few multi-billion dollar out-of-state corporations, and yet the Montana Chamber of Commerce has sided with the latter group. That’s kinda hard to believe. At least when they come out in favor of tax breaks for Exxon, one could note that Exxon has a refinery here and is thus a member of the business community.

Why the Chamber would take the side of the big bad guy from another state, rather than the small good guys from Montana, is a mystery, although it probably has something to do with the fact that the national chamber, headquartered in Washington, is a lobby dominated by large corporations, and gives orders to Webb Brown and Jon Benion, the conservative Republicans who run the Montana chamber.

It would not be the first time that these guys went against the prevailing will of the Chamber’s constituents. Recall that the local businesspeople who make up the local chambers of commerce across Montana strongly supported Schweitzer in 2008, and yet the Chamber state leadership, with little input from the rank and file, quietly engineered an endorsement of Roy Brown.  Similarly local chambers have supported mill levies to fund education and the statewide entity fought against increased funding for schools in the legislature.

The other wrinkle in the Travelocity dust-up is that Travelocity, Expedia and the others are evidently lobbying Congress for a bill that would preempt all state power to collect taxes from them. That law, if they could get it, would clearly be worth hundreds of millions to the companies. It would get the companies off the hook on all back taxes they owe states. But it would screw the rest of Americans.

When you cut a giant corporation a break on its taxes, someone else has to make up the difference.

It’s unclear what the Chamber’s position is on that federal law, but I could probably take a guess.

Running from the Nazis

Belated congratulations to Derek Skees, who overcame a well-earned reputation as an extremist to edge out Will Hammerquist for the Whitefish seat in the Montana Legislature. As elsewhere, in Whitefish the R candidate got massive corporate out-of-state money to pull him over the edge.

But there is a new post-election wrinkle. Skees has sent out an email to supporters, solemnly declaring (no joke) that he plans to sue the PAC that claimed, during the campaign, that Skees is a right-wing extremist.

This should be good. Could be the Montana political trial of the century.

Required Reading: “The Liar’s Club”

Here is an interesting piece by Tim Egan, who spends a lot of time in Montana but has been covering the national Republicans.  It is a must-read for anyone who thought I was engaged in hyperbole when I said that the GOP and it’s candidates and attack-groups have descended into pure pathological lying.

Michelle Bachman made up a story about how Obama’s trip to India cost $200 million.  Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and others then run with it as fact.  Beck actually went further, claiming it was two billion dollars.  Of course, the trip didn’t cost any more than any other overseas presidential visit (which are expensive, probably a few million if you factor everything in, including fixed costs).  But facts no longer matter among the right wing, because they can rile up 40 percent of the population with lies.

It’s just like Roy Brown or Derek Skees or Will Deschamps saying that the problem in Montana is taxes and spending, when in fact taxes and spending are less of a problem here than any other state in America, according to every paper in Montana and most national ones including the conservative bible the Wall Street Journal.

The unfortunate part is that the Obama White House doesn’t pin down the Republicans when their propaganda machine goes out and makes these outrageous things up.  It comes and goes, but nobody pays.  Obama should no longer be distinguishing between the GOP and its media wing.  He should throw the lies back at Boehner and Bachmann and the rest, as if they created them and are responsible for them because they and their propagandists are one and the same. They should remind America that these individuals are at the center of a lying machine, and the behavior is unpatriotic, classless, small, and bad for America and would be frowned upon by all of the founding father that these nut-jobs revere and dress up as at “rallies.”

Barkus

The crooks who calls themselves judges and prosecutors have given Republican State Senator Greg Barkus a free pass, a slap on the wrist, for being twice the legal limit drunk (and that measurement was taken several hours after the accident) and almost killing several people and putting one in a coma.  No jail time, and in three years the conviction will be completely wiped off his record. This even though Barkus has at least one prior DUI.  As Michael Jamison reminded us last year,

“The defendant, Barkus … has a previous arrest for driving under the influence. The prosecutor’s deputy attorney has a previous arrest for DUI.

The original judge’s ex-husband – who was city attorney in a nearby town – has a previous arrest for DUI.

Even Barkus’ own defense attorney has a previous DUI arrest. The lawyer’s case, however, was dismissed, in part because the arresting officer was not available to testify – he had been killed by a drunken driver.”

And yet, Ed Corrigan, the Flathead Prosecutor, cooks it up so that a week after the election (Corrigan just got re-elected last week), he’d give his old buddy a slap on the wrist. I’m told by a prominent Flathead community member that Corrigan’s wife and Barkus’s wife are very close friends.  Anyone with any information on that should feel free to pipe in.

Important question here is whether Corrigan and Judge McKeon treat normal citizens with the same level of punishment for a similar type of incident. Someone needs to do that research.

Once again, we learn that there are two things Republicans do very well, drink, and cover up their drunken messes.  And, let’s remember, Shane Hedges got a similar treatment when he killed the House majority leader trying to drive him in a drunken stupor on an icy road.

The truth is that DUI is a terrible problem in this state, but nobody seems to want to do anything about it. Especially not legislators, for many of whom drinking is a full-time job.  Alan Hale, a new legislator (R), just elected in the Helena area, says that the laws are too strict and he wants to make them more lenient.

If your children are driving tonight, remember that there are drunks driving out there, who had that extra one for the road, because they knew they could.

You’re also going to want to read James Conner’s take on this at the Flathead Memo.

Gov Candidates Personify Cracks in Unstable TEA Party Republican Alliance

The GOP 2012 gubernatorial hopefuls this week struggled to define themselves in the era of the unstable new TEA Party Republican alliance.

Former Congressman Rick Hill, stealing a line from Derek Skees, of all people, in a statement thick with irony because he, as a former member of Congress, is the epitome of the establishment candidate,  told reporters afterward that he has been described as

“being in the tea party before the tea party was cool.”

Right. The only thing he has going for him that is remotely TEA is his Palin-esque is his drop-out of the 2000 Congressional contest with Nancy Keenan.

Hill is not only the quintessential establishment candidate, but his political skills appear to have slipped, leaving further doubts about his ability to pull off a campaign in the modern era.  He announced his candidacy late on a Friday afternoon, guaranteeing his announcement will get the least possible circulation (the Saturday paper).

Stapleton also tried to go the establishment route (probably a wise move for him given that he is emerging as the goofball in the race) saying

“I don’t really think of myself as running for governor as anything other than the party I am,” he said. “I am a Republican.”

However, he seemed to have realized the mistake as soon is it was out of his mouth and was quick to hedge that with

“I love the energy the tea party brings, especially because it engages people that may not previously have been engaged.”

Miller, who first announced his candidacy in a misspelled Facebook post, tried to stake out the ground held by the tired old social conservative movement, problem is, that is the ground from which the current GOP is actively distancing themselves.

Of the three, Miller was most outspoken in his campaign announcement on social issues favored by Christian conservatives by making it clear he will oppose abortion by working to “protect life at all stages.”

So far, that leaves no candidate as the clear front-runner.

Hill, Daines Announcing

In the next few days, Rick Hill and then Steve Daines will announce that they are running for Governor and US Senator in 2012.  No surprise there. Of the two, Daines has the more serious chance. Politics has passed Hill by, and I don’t expect him to make it through the primary.  A younger crop will produce the eventual nominee, I believe.