The big news today is that Max Baucus is Obama’s choice for ambassador to China.
On the one hand it’s surprising, because Max has shown signs of slowing down in recent years and the ambassadorship to China is a demanding post. But on the other hand, it’s easy to see Max enjoying himself eating dumplings and drinking Tsing Tsao for a few years before hanging it up. Clearly as a powerful Senator, he had the juice to negotiate a nice landing, and he got it done. And it’s a big appointment, China being one of the top posts in the State Department.
There are a few big questions that now arise. (One of them is not, however, the ridiculous question that a few reporters in Montana have tweeted, which was “what will happen to Baucus’s pledge to work on tax reform?” (If you thought that was going anywhere in this congress other than the wrong direction, think again.)
First, the timing. If Max has a yen to to get to China ASAP, then Steve Bullock will be in the rare position of appointing a US Senator. He does have the option of not appointing anyone, of leaving it vacant until the 2014 election, but it seems to me that unless Max waits until the autumn, it would be tough to justify leaving Montana with 50% less US Senatorship for many months.
If so, then who is Bullock to appoint? The obvious choice is John Walsh, his lieutenant governor and a Senate candidate. The pro is that Walsh is running already, holds a high-visibility post in Montana government, is known to some voters, and has a compelling personal story as a soldier and firefighter. The con is that Steve Daines and the Republicans will naturally and obviously cry bloody murder, trying to ding both Bullock and Walsh by claiming that “the people” should choose the Senator, not the Governor. That’s on the first page of the “how to criticize a gubernatorially appointed Senator” playbook. The idea that the governor would be precluded from naming someone just because he is already a candidate just seems silly to me, especially when the person is qualified and already is a high elected official.
Daines would certainly not be amused by a Walsh pick. Walsh’s name brand would instantly grow, and the race would be fundamentally altered. Walsh would have a year to prove his worth as a US Senator, while campaigning, and he would instantly be turned into a fundraising powerhouse since sitting U.S. Senators don’t ask for money, but rather send invoices.
Now, if Bullock does opt to name a placeholder Senator, Williams or even his wife Carol could certainly be on the list. So could somebody like John Bohlinger or even Brian Schweitzer, on an oath that they not run for reelection. Although it’s hard to imagine Schweitzer taking a nine month job and giving up his plum gig as at the Stillwater mining company. Plus he’s making noise about running for president, not to mention he already passed on the Senate once.
Bohlinger would be interesting, although Bullock might be criticized by the GOP for appearing to be implementing a political solution–preventing a primary contest among Democrats. But I’d say that such criticism would be twice as silly as the criticism of a Walsh pick.
Then there are the statewides–Lindeen, Juneau and McCulloch. They all passed on a run for Congress, and they would have to give up their current jobs. But, that wouldn’t be a problem because a US Senator nowadays can make a fortune after leaving office.
If it’s Walsh, of course, then a new Lt. Governor must be found. That would not be easy. Some of the same names above could fit the bill, but there are others, too. There are Mayors and State Senators, cabinet officials, and so on. Pam Bucy, who ran statewide in 2012, could be in the mix. Plus if anyone turned Bullock down last time around, surely they would now reconsider since it’s no longer a 50-50 proposition, but a sure thing. And the job pays over $100,000.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post stated that Pat Williams said Walsh should not be appointed and that he, Pat Williams should be appointed for Max Baucus’s seat, based on this Mike Dennison tweet:
In fact, Williams did not say that the Governor should appoint him to the Senate. Yesterday he was called by both Lee Bureau and AP. He was asked two questions: Would he consider accepting an appointment? And if so why? Williams answered yes to consideration and to the “why” question he responded that he thought two of the criteria for selection should be experience and a pledge not to seek election to the post. He mentioned that he had both of those and that he would thus feel obligated to help this state if asked.