The Billings Outpost

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Kennedy remembered; Rehberg in boat wreck

The Kennedy family of Massachusetts is probably as close as the United States has ever gotten to royalty. This liberal political dynasty spawned a president, an attorney general, members of Congress, state officials, lawyers and activists.

The Kennedys have also suffered more than their share of tragedies, sometimes called the “Kennedy curse.” These include two assassinations, fatal accidents, legal troubles, serious health problems, substance abuse and mental health issues, and many others.

U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was the only male of his immediate family to die of natural causes. During his 46 years of public service, he held fast to his beliefs and never gave up trying to achieve universal health care (and equality) for all Americans. Although he didn’t live to see his major goal come to pass, he or his staff reportedly wrote more than 300 bills that became the law of the land.

Sen. Kennedy was behind some of the most important bills ever passed in Congress. These include the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act Extension of 1970, the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program of 1972, Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act of 1990 (Ryan White CARE Act), Violence Against Women Act of 1994, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997, Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, and many more. Few members of Congress have been so effective.

Watching part of his funeral service on Saturday, I was struck by the bipartisan nature of the crowd. There were former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, plus his longtime friend U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and many others from both sides of the aisle. Such a turnout indicates the wide-ranging respect Sen. Kennedy enjoyed, which is a rarity.

From what colleagues had to say, Ted Kennedy could deliver impassioned rhetoric on some favored issue while turning red and pounding the podium, then turn around and have a convivial drink and some lively conversation with his political opponents. Apparently, he didn’t hold grudges, a refreshing quality in today’s political climate.

Because of his death, Democrats no longer hold a 60-seat majority in the Senate, and a special election will be held in Massachusetts to fill the seat.

Sen. Kennedy had tried to change state law so the Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, could temporarily appoint his successor before a special election. However, given that Sen. Kennedy had advocated the law be specifically changed in 2004 to avoid such a scenario when Republican Mitt Romney was governor, this last-ditch effort didn’t work.

Some speculate that Sen. Kennedy wanted his widow, Vicki, to take his seat, but she declined. Former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, D-Mass., son of Robert Kennedy, is considered a successor possibility, as are U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Barney Frank. On the GOP side, former Govs. Romney and William Weld have been mentioned as possible replacements.

While it’s unclear who will end up being the next occupant of the late Sen. Kennedy’s seat, it’s a good bet that he or she will have the tacit backing of this legendary American political family.

Rehberg wreck

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., suffered a broken left ankle and a fracture around his right eye this past Thursday night after the 22-foot speedboat he was riding in crashed into the rocky east shore of Flathead Lake at Wayfarers State Park. He had three hours of surgery Friday for the ankle injury and was released from a Kalispell hospital on Monday.

Also hurt in the accident were Rep. Rehberg’s state director Dustin Frost, who reportedly suffered a serious head injury, and Rehberg staffer Kristin Smith, who sustained nose, wrist and foot fractures, broken ribs and various cuts and bruises.

The boat belongs to State Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, who was apparently at the helm. It sounded like he was not seriously injured. His wife, Kathy, was also on board and said to be doing OK. Sen. Barkus, a stockbroker who was minority whip during the 2009 legislative session, is referring inquiries about the accident to an attorney.

Rep. Rehberg’s blood-alcohol level after the accident was .05, according to press reports, although his spokesman emphasized that the congressman was not at the controls of the boat. The legal limit in Montana is .08 for those older than 21 and driving.

Butte boost

Results from a survey of about 600 people who attended the National Folk Festival in Butte in mid-July indicate that the average person spent nearly $180 in the area during the three-day event.

Estimates are that 120,000 people came to Butte for the second year of the free festival. Even with a more conservative attendance estimate of 95,000, the economic impact to the area was set at about $17 million.

Butte will host its third and final festival July 9-11, 2010. See for more.

Quote of the week

“You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons.”

– Ted Kennedy Jr., in his eulogy at the funeral of his father, Aug. 29

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