Tagged: Steve Bullock

Posted: March 11, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Much Ado

The media is abuzz today because they have discovered a few memos that Bullock received from his staff, advising him on how to handle the press in the lead-up to the appointment of John Walsh to fill Max Baucus’s seat. In the memos, Bullock is advised not to be drawn into having to explain himself before the actual appointment, but to wait until after Walsh is appointed to explain his choice to the press. And these documents also show that Bullock had made up his mind about Walsh a week or so before appointing him.

The Republicans have seized the story and are trying to claim that this is a major revelation of wrongdoing or mischief.   And the press believes, without explanation, that it is newsworthy that Bullock receives strategic advice from the people who work for him.

All of this is very silly.  First, Bullock was allowed to make his personal decision how and when he chose, and share it at a time, and in a manner, of his choosing.  True, memos on political strategy should be written sparingly (or perhaps created orally) so that the press and opponents cannot make hay over them precisely like they are now doing.  But this story is nothing more than a way for the press to make a big deal about very little.  The fact that a governor is getting advice on paper from his staff is nothing new or unusual and the advice was pretty sound.  And no, contrary to what the GOP seems to think, Bullock did not violate any law, rule, or public trust by making his decision in private and revealing it on the day that he made the announcement.

Posted: March 8, 2014 at 3:15 pm

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.

Posted: March 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

The Bozeman Whale Making Noise

The big news this week is that Greg Gianforte, the ultra-right-wing billionaire from Bozeman, is giving indications that he might run for office in the near future.

Gianforte founded the high-tech computer software firm RightNow Technologies, and sold it for few billion dollars in 2011. Interestingly, this means that Gianforte could be one of the first Tea Partiers in Montana history who knows how to turn on a computer.

Gianforte was profiled generously in today’s Great Falls Tribune, in a piece that openly promotes Gianforte’s new “jobs” website.  In creating this site, Gianforte is trying to raise his profile in the political arena, taking a page from Steve Daines’s playbook.

Daines (who was Gianforte’s Vice President at RightNow Technologies) launched his political career by creating a website entitled “GiveItBack.com” which urged the state of Montana to return the budget surplus to taxpayers. It was an idiotic, childish idea like Continue reading

Posted: February 3, 2014 at 6:59 am

The Process for Senate Appointment, that the GOP is so Curious About….

Here are the answers to the questions that the GOP is asking right now about the process for the senate appointment.

They are very easy.

First, the answer is yes, the process is very transparent.   The governor is going to select from the group of people who are running for the Senate seat.  If someone hasn’t already made the decision to campaign for it, then that’s probably not a person who should be appointed.  A person must want to serve badly enough to make the long slog, shake hands, talk to the voters, and make the case.

Thus there are four names for the governor to consider. Continue reading

Posted: December 23, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Choices for Everyone

The John Bohlinger and Dirk Adams campaigns are naturally pushing hard on Steve Bullock not to appoint John Walsh, the lieutenant Governor, to the US Senate to fill the vacancy left by Max Baucus. Continue reading

Posted: December 19, 2013 at 8:46 am

Baucus to China

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 Continue reading

Posted: November 5, 2013 at 7:35 am

When Hate is not Just a ‘Virtue,’ It Makes You a Viable Candidate

The man that may become the nation’s most wackjob candidate for U.S. Senate is also the darling of Montana right-wingers.

Texas pastor and nutjob radio host David Barton, dubbed “Ted Cruz 2.0″ by Politico, when the news magazine reported this week that he was being recruited to run against TX Sen. John Cornyn, who has fallen out of favor with the TEA Party crew. Barton was brought to Montana this year as the keynote speaker for the so-called 2013 Montana “Governor’s” Prayer Breakfast. (The event is not affiliated with the state government in any way, in spite of what Judy Martz may have wished).

In case you haven’t heard of Barton, he claims that the slaughter of American Indians was justified as “a defensive war against tribes who ‘declared war on all the white guys.’ ‘We had to go in and we had to destroy Indian tribes all over until they said ‘Oh, got the point,’ Barton said, claiming that the tactics were only necessary because Indians were resisting missionaries who were trying to ‘civilize’ them.”

He also believes that demons control parts of the U.S. capitol, that schools turn kids gay, and that the Bible opposes minimum wage. He holds a slew of other hateful and wackjob things, its definitely worth reading this whole list.

So this was no mainstream event–in fact the organizers of the “Governor’s Prayer Breakfast” made a point of refusing to read a letter from Montana Governor Steve Bullock [click here for the PDF] because he said that providing health care to poor people was consistent with biblical teachings. Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich has made a similar argument for the Medicaid expansion.

Not this guy’s Bible apparently. Barton says “tolerance is a bad thing and hate is a good thing.” “We’re tolerating a lot stuff that destroys our families, that destroys our own character and we can’t tolerate that stuff. We have to get back to the point where hate is a virtue, at least certain kinds of hate.” Barton said climate change is caused not by fossil fuels, but by a curse we brought on ourselves by permitting abortion rights. Yes, because the U.S. supports allowing women to choose whether and when to have a child we “‘opened the door to the curse,’ which includes floods, tornadoes, murder and pedophilia.”

Tim Fox, now Montana’s Attorney General, served as co-chair of the event to bring Barton to Montana. Scott Mendenhall, a Republican who represented House District 77 in Jefferson County for four terms, was the events chair. The Helena IR covered the event, and controversy, at the time, but for some reason neglected to report some of Barton’s most infamous beliefs and statements.

 

Posted: October 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm

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.

Continue reading

Posted: September 29, 2013 at 6:37 pm

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.

Posted: July 16, 2013 at 11:04 pm

2014 Field Shaping Up

Now that Schweitzer will be on the homestead and not the hustings, what will the field of candidates look like in 2014, for either Senate or House, assuming Steve Daines runs for Senate?  Anyone looking for a ticket to DC needs to get in the the game soon, to start raising money and organizing.

There are many names being floated on the Dem side.  Many have statewide name recognition.  Denise Juneau is in the second term of her stint as the popular state schools chief in Montana.   If Juneau were the nominee, she’d be the first native American nominee for federal office since Bill Yellowtail in the 1990s (unless you count Schweitzer, who was adopted by at least one tribe, but I don’t think that counts).

John Bohlinger, Schweitzer’s Lt. Governor, is quoted today in the Billings Gazette as saying that he, too, might be interested in filling the vacancy left by his old boss.  Though he is sprightly for 77, Bohlinger could nevertheless campaign with great authority on issues such as Medicare and Social Security.   He could also, in theory, run as either an Independent, Dem or Republican, which makes for great blogging.

There is Franke Wilmer, a state legislator from Bozeman who ran for Congress in 2012.  She is a professor of political science at MSU, and very active in politics and knowledgeable on public policy.   John Lewis, Max Baucus’s senior aide, has also been mentioned.  Would his boss hand over to Lewis a piece of his giant campaign-cash nest-egg to help his right hand man?  Stephanie Schriock, who is the president of Emily’s list and a Butte native, has been mentioned.  Schriock could raise significant money, making her a very strong horse, perhaps as good as any we have–even despite the fact that she’s been gone from Montana while, and lives in the one place that you don’t want to live when you are considering running for office in Montana–Washington, DC.    Stephanie knows campaigning and fundraising, the two things usually missing when candidates make weak showings. Kim Gillan, a former state Senator from Billings, has valuable experience running against Daines in 2012.

There’s been talk of John Walsh, the current Lt. Governor and former national guard commander.  Walsh would make an interesting candidate.  Democrats with military backgrounds always present problem for Republicans, who like to warmonger but don’t like to serve, or who like to complain about deficits but also like to create wars while cutting taxes.  It’s hard to imagine why Walsh, who as LG makes a good salary and gets to work with Steve Bullock would want to do the DC thing. Walsh told Chuck Johnson that he hadn’t really thought about it at all, but did not deny interest.

Lee Newspapers is reporting that Amanda Curtis, a tough, smart young legislator from Butte, America, is taking a look at the house seat. Her name has also come up for the senate.   Curtis took transparency and making the legislature work for people to a new level –she made daily youtube videos during her first legislative session this winter, and they were phenomenal. She is a natural–a Wendy Davis type in MT– and we will hear more from her.

Kendall Van Dyk, unfortunately, has said he will not run for statewide office in 2014.  Given his record of winning tough races (he ousted Roy Brown from his senate seat in Billings), that’s a loss for us.  Monica Lindeen, the state auditor, likewise said this week that she does not want to go to DC.

On the GOP side, we have Ryan Zinke and Jon Sonju and Corey Stapleton.  Zinke’s career looked bright for a while, but it took a slight hit after he chose to run on the ticket with Neil Livingstone, whose gubernatorial campaign did not go so well (he was revealed to have authored a manual for business travelers about how to pick up hookers).   But Zinke has a powerhouse resume because he is not only a navy seal but was actually a member of Seal Team Six, in the decade before that outfit went in to get Bin Laden.  And he is rumored to have “shot many Arabs” during the Gulf War, a fact that will no doubt appeal to conservative voters in Montana.

Jon Sonju was Rick Hill’s running mate, so in theory, he has the same credential to run for Congress as Steve Daines did. Daines had been Roy Brown’s running mate in 2008.  Actually, Sonju got significantly more votes in 2012 than Daines did in ‘08.   The Sonju name is big in the Flathead Valley, where Sonju Industries, the family business, has long had a major presence.

Stapleton, who stepped up and took hard shots at Rick Hill during the gubernatorial primary but then came up short on election day, is a former naval officer and raised a decent amount of money in his race for Governor but lacked Hill’s name recognition.  This would be his third run for statewide office.  He ran for auditor once, too.

Speaking of Rick Hill, he too might run, I’m hearing his name from a few sources.  He would have to overcome the bad taste that he left in voters’ mouths when he took an illegal campaign contribution of $500,000, only to be ordered by the court to give it back.  That case is still being litigated, not a good thing for an aspiring US Senate candidate.  Court is not a good place to campaign from.  The only place worse is rehab.

Then, a trio rounding out the field of possibles, we have GOP legislators Scott Reichner of Big Fork, and Champ Edmunds of Missoula, and……drumroll please…..Krayton Kerns, the chairman of the state House Judiciary Committee and the biggest wingnut this side of the Mississippi.  Kerns has written that our society will soon collapse, because of the Obama presidency, and that we will all soon be without power, food or fuel and will have to take to the woods to survive.