Tag Archives: Jon Tester

Big Weekend in Montana Politics: Dem Dinner, and Bohlinger, Driscoll, Turiano, Arntzen enter race

It’s a big weekend for Democrats in more ways than one.  Tonight is the Mansfield Metcalf Dinner, the annual soiree at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds at which people drink, eat, and cheer on their favorite democratic politicians.

Make sure to look for me with my spurs and my chaps, and my donkey pin.

Tonight’s guest speaker is Cecile Richards, who is the head of Planned Parenthood of America. This is a good choice as it shows the that Democrats are becoming more comfortable in recognizing how important their stance on medical privacy really is.  And her appearance could not be more timely, coming on the heels of a horrible incident of vandalism of an abortion clinic in Montana.

Others on the list include John Walsh, our new senator, as well as Governor Steve Bullock, Senator Jon Tester, and Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen, Superintendent Denise Juneau and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. And don’t forget the popular Ed Smith, the clerk of the Supreme Court, as well as state House and Senate Leaders Jon Sesso and Chuck Hunter. Bring your money but don’t drink too much, especially if you are giving a speech. Hopefully, we can at least be assured there will be no poetry.

Even bigger news occurred Friday, when a number of politicians entered some of the top races. John Bohlinger officially entered the race against Senator Walsh. John Driscoll, the nominee for U.S. House in 2008, filed to run in the Democratic House primary against John Lewis. And Drew Turiano, a white supremacist, has filed to run in the House Race as well (the GOP always tries to have at least one white supremacist on the ballot). And Elsie Arntzen made her candidacy official, too. She presents a stark contrast to the other candidates in this crowded primary (and most other GOP primaries), and was immediately endorsed by Rick Hill.

The Bohlinger deal is interesting since he had given indications, around the time Walsh was appointed Senator, that he would bow out. But now he’s in it for certain. The 77-year-old Republican turned Democrat is a former Lt. Governor, former clothing merchant from Billings and former Marine boxer, and is well known among voters and has a freewheeling style and says what’s on his mind, contrasting to the more measured Walsh. Bohlinger has not raised much money and Walsh has raised a good clip (half a million or more), but that stuff matters only when the money is spent. We shall see how and when (or if) the Walsh campaign chooses to spend some of its war chest in the primary against Bohlinger. Bohlinger, meanwhile, is trying to fashion himself as a progressive, outsider alternative to Walsh. He says Walsh was anointed by Harry Reid and others in Washington.

By the way, word on the street is that Bohlinger has been denied a speaking spot on the program tonight. That would be okay, I suppose, if the rule were that only incumbents or unopposed candidates got to speak. But that’s not the case. We will see if Bohlinger causes a fuss (or even attends). We might even be lucky enough to hear from his and outspoken political advisor on the subject. I can’t wait. Dirk Adams, by the way, is also not listed on the program.

Nor is Driscoll, the new House candidate. But that is definitely a good thing because he is the Democratic equivalent of a Tea Party imbecile (if such a thing could even be said to exist). He has said that he plans to run for office without raising any money. We’ll see how that works out for him. Driscoll also claims the odd distinction of being the only Democrat in Montana history (so far as I can tell) to win a nomination and then immediately endorse his Republican opponent.  As the Democrat nominee in 2010 he endorsed Rehberg. That’s reason enough not to listen to anything he has to say and to let your Democratic friends know that Driscoll is simply a fraud.

You can buy a ticket at the door, and don’t miss it: 6-9 P.M.  Eat, drink and be merry, and cheer on (and donate to) our candidates. And if at any time during the festivities it gets slow or boring, just remind yourself what the Republican dinner must be like.

First Day on the Job

On his first day on the job, U.S. Senator John Walsh (D-MT) got right to work.

Among his first acts was to announce his plans to co-sponsor the Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, the Center for Public Integrity reports, which will make campaign finance reports more transparent, more quickly.

The bill requires senators and Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign finance disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. Its main sponsor is fellow Montanan Jon Tester, who Montanans sent to Washington after becoming fed up with the corruption and pay-to-play games of Conrad Burns.

You can read the full story here. 

 

Poll: Daines in Trouble

A public opinion poll was released today showing that Congressman Steve Daines has an abysmal 39% job approval rating. The poll is conducted annually by Montana State University professors and students, in Billings. Steve Bullock has a strong rating at 53%. Baucus and Tester are in the 40s, Tester having perhaps been unavoidably dragged down by what’s going on in Washington, and by Obama whose numbers in Montana are very poor (29%).

If we are to believe this poll, it means that Daines is the most unpopular Montana elected official since Judy Martz.

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Barry Beach Tries for Clemency, Again

Barry Beach, serving a 100 year prison sentence with no possibility of parole, has applied to the Montana Board of Pardons for clemency.  If he gets what he wants then the Board will recommend to Governor Bullock that Beach be made eligible for release, having now served 30 years in prison for a 1983 crime he says he did not commit. Bullock could then accept or reject the recommendation.

An all-star lineup of politicians has written letters on Beach’s behalf including Conrad Burns, John Tester, Brian Schweitzer and John Bohlinger.  Bullock’s duty as Attorney General was to argue in support of Beach’s conviction, but that doesn’t preclude him from now allowing Beach to be paroled.  But this is all assuming that the Board gives Beach a favorable ruling.  If the Board turns Beach down then it’s the end of the line for Barry.  He will live out the rest of his life in prison unless he lives to the age of 118.

In 2011, a district Judge in Lewistown ordered Beach released after a hearing was held in which new doubt about his conviction was raised.  Six months later the Supreme Court overturned the order and sent him back to jail.  Beach took advantage of his freedom and started his own business, and otherwise lived out his brief respite without incident.

The doubts surrounding Beach’s conviction are well known to anyone who has followed the sizable amount of journalism on the case.   The short story is that his conviction was based entirely on a confession, which he says was coerced by the policemen who had him in custody.  There was no forensic evidence of any kind that tied Beach to the crime.

The Missoula Independent did a very thorough write-up a few years ago, which I encourage you to read.  To summarize, in 1983 Beach was convicted of the murder of Kim Nees, a high school classmate.  Beach was 17 at the time of the murder.  There were many fingerprints and footprints found at the crime scene, which was a muddy river bank where Kim Nees’s body was found face down in shallow water not far from her truck.   None of these prints matched Beach.  There were eyewitnesses who told police investigators that they had seen a gang of women in the truck with Nees shortly before she was murdered.

Beach was arrested in Louisiana three years later, for a misdemeanor.   While in custody, the police took his confession to four murders, three local murders and the Nees murder, which they learned about after calling up to Poplar Montana to ask local police about Beach.  The three local Louisiana murders which Beach confessed to were later determined to have nothing to do with him because he hadn’t even been in the state at the time of their occurrence.

Beach has always claimed that his confession to the Nees murder, in which he admits to beating Nees with a wrench for rebuffing his sexual overtures, was coerced with deprivation, intimidation, threats of torture and the electric chair, and many deceptive promises made to him by the four officers who were present when they took the confession.   The confession was taken in a notoriously corrupt Louisiana sheriff’s office. There was a tape recording of Beach’s confessions including his confession to the Kim Nees murder, but it vanished, as did all of the physical evidence collected at the crime scene, including items such as cigarette butts with unidentified fingerprints on them.

And then there was the prosecutor, the future Governor Marc Racicot who tried the case. In his opening statement to the jury, Racicot announced that he would soon be showing the jury a single pubic hair that had been discovered on the sweater of the victim and which had similarities to Beach’s hair.  But Racicot never produced any such piece of evidence.  Worse, he referenced the hair a second time, in his closing statement.

Racicot also called to the stand one of the the Louisiana cops who took Beach’s confession, an officer named Jay Via.  Via testified that Beach’s Louisiana attorney was in the interrogation room when Beach confessed. But Beach’s attorney, upon hearing this (he was in Louisiana during the trial), denied it vehemently in a sworn affidavit, essentially accusing Racicot and Via of perpetrating a blatant lie into evidence.

Three local girls (two of whom had immediate relatives who were working in the Poplar police department at the time of the murder, including one who broke into the evidence room during the trial) were among the initial suspects, in part because they were known to hold a strong animus against the victim.  In the years since, a number of locals in Poplar have come forward to say that they have heard first hand admissions of guilt by at least two of these women.  These locals testified at the 2011 hearing that led to the release of Beach by district judge E. Wayne Phillips who presides in Lewistown.

Judge Phillips, you will appreciate, used to work for Tea Party wingnut Art Wittich  when Wittich was counsel to GOP governor Stan Stevens.  So Phillips is no bleeding heart, apparently, and might even be a Tea Partier.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has stated that Beach should remain in prison for the next 70 years because he confessed and was convicted, and thus is guilty.  This has been the line out of the AG’s office since the early 2000s.

Nobody will ever know what took place on the night that Kim Nees was murdered, nor has Beach proved his innocence despite what his advocates might say.  Innocence cannot be proven here, I suppose, unless one of the other suspects admits under oath or on video tape to having committed the murder.

But given the history of this case and the facts surrounding the trial, it’s hard to imagine that the Board of Pardons would not at least make a recommendation to the Governor that Beach’s sentence be restructured so that he can apply for parole.  We should all be concerned with a case in which a 17 year old kid gets sent away for life with no possibility of parole, in which an a prosecutor with political ambitions presents lies to a jury to substantiate his case, in which a questionable confession is the sole piece of evidence, and in which much evidence was destroyed or simply disappeared.

This is Beach’s third try at clemency.  The first time he represented himself.  On his second try he was represented by pro bono attorneys from Centurion Ministries, an outfit which has freed over 100 wrongly convicted individuals, usually on DNA evidence but sometimes on false confessions.  That was in 2006, and he sought a full pardon and a declaration of innocence.  He lost.  This time, he is simply seeking a commutation of his sentence to time served.   We will see how he does.

Even if he had been proved guilty with overwhelming evidence, I might still support an opportunity for parole after 30 years of prison given his age at the time of the crime.  In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court no longer allows life without parole to be meted out to a minor, even in cases in which guilt is overwhelmingly obvious.  But with the amount of doubt surrounding his conviction, justice probably requires Beach to be free now.

Fox apparently disagrees.  I’d be interested to know how Racicot feels.  All Racicot has ever said to the press is that he has “no doubt that Barry Beach is guilty as charged.”   That was in 2007.  He has not specifically ever addressed the size of the sentence, and whether it might be a tad too heavy given the case history.  My guess is that we won’t hear from Racicot on this issue.  Because he probably knows, in his heart, that parole eligibility would be proper; and yet to express support for it would be to admit that he has doubts in his head about what he did in the courtroom in 1983.

Syria and Montana’s Vote

I’m tempted to have a violent, allergic reaction to the President’s advocacy of using force in Syria, given our hangover from the Iraq War, given that the Assad family has been killing Syrians wrongfully, tens or even hundreds of thousands of them, with conventional weapons for decades with no apparent concern on the part of the free world, and given that the White House has not provided much of a vision for a post Assad Syrian regime.

But of all the people on earth to be advocating for a new military engagement in the middle east, Barack Obama is probably the least likely.   For this reason alone, I believe, we should avoid a rush to judgment and think critically about what’s going on.  Barack Obama does not strike me as a person who shares George W. Bush’s love of military invasion.

Also, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, two giant right-wing jerks who have never before supported anything the President has put forward on any topic or issue, immediately announced their support for the President.  This, despite the major political peril of doing so–a strike in Syria, and a bad result, could mean the ouster of both of them, from leadership, or even from office by Tea Party primary challengers in their own districts (conservative voters are anti-war as of late, now that a black man is President).

I assume, therefore, that whatever intelligence Obama showed them was not of the George Bush Dick Cheney Don Rumsfeld junk-bond variety, but of the blue-chip variety, the kind with 99% certainty, the kind that we should have demanded before giving support to Bush to invade Iraq.  I find it impossible to believe that Cantor and Boehner would go out on this potentially suicidal limb based on speculative intelligence.

Obama may also have planned a two-step all along: get authorization and prepare to bomb, and look resolute, knowing (or hoping) that Assad will be forced to make a deal. Then tell Russia’s Putin that if he’s going to carry on a bromance with Assad, he needs to step up and broker a deal.  This is the outcome that might actually now be in the offing.

But it could not occur without Assad’s belief in a credible military threat from America.

Seen this way, if things work out for Obama and America with regard to Assad’s chemical weapons, people like Steve Daines–who announced yesterday that he opposes granting the President the option of using force–might end up finding themselves on the wrong side of history.  Obama may end up masterfully solving the problem by bluffing Assad into folding his hand.  Daines and his faction will be found to have tried to obstruct it all, worrying instead about opinion polls.  So, for that matter, might Tester and Baucus if they vote against authorizing force.  Presumably, Democrats are going to try to buy a little time here, and keep neutral while they carefully analyze what’s happening.  That would be smart.

Then again, it’s been only ten years since we were lied to by an administration that cooked up false intelligence to create a war.  We should recall the pathetic appearance of Colin Powell at the UN, where he played a scratchy audio tape of two Arabs mumbling something barely audible, and presented it to the world as evidence that Hussein was a nuclear threat.  It was laughably unpersuasive.  But, sheepish Democrats, fearing a vote against a war that might eventually prove successful in a narrative written by Republicans, buckled.  They did the wrong thing, and ended up on the wrong side of history.  It cost Hillary Clinton the presidency, most likely.

And so, ironically, could Republicans do the wrong thing in this case by opposing the President’s request.  It’s hard to tell.  I might ordinarily be inclined to say “Fool me once, shame on you.   Fool me twice, shame on me”  (or as George Bush’s famously butchered it, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….uhhhh….fool me I won’t get fooled again!!”)

But the fundamental difference between now and then: we had an imbecile for a president; now we have an intelligent leader.  And one thing I do know: Obama is not the type to falsify intelligence for the purposes of taking the country to war.

One more thing: as Dick Cheney and company went around on the eve of the Iraq war, trying to claim that Hussein was behind 9/11 and that he was on the verge of having a nuclear missile pointed at us (all complete nonsense), we can imagine that Steve Daines was out there cheerleading for him, acting like a young Republican in all of his asinine conservative glory, pumping his fist on behalf of Bush’s team, parroting the Bush team’s idiotic slogans, and accusing anybody who opposed the the President of not being a patriot, and of being “with the terrorists.”  Now he is suddenly a dove. He apparently thinks war is unjustified even though, from the sound of it, the presence of WMD in this current case is unquestionable, whereas the last time it was doubtful.  What is his standard, therefore, for when force is necessary?