Political news dominated Big Sky Country during the past week. The big news is that Montana now has a new U.S. senator and a new lieutenant governor in John Walsh and Angela McLean, respectively.
Former Lt. Gov. Walsh, whom Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Feb. 7 to fill out the remainder of U.S. Max Baucus’ term, was sworn into his new position by Vice President Joe Biden on Feb. 11. He is reportedly the first Iraq war veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate.
McLean, a high school teacher, Twin Bridges native, and chairwoman of the Montana Board of Regents, was appointed by Bullock to replace Walsh on Feb. 10, with the announcement made in her honors government classroom at Anaconda High School. McLean was formally sworn into office by District Judge Ray Dayton of Anaconda.
Of course, the U.S. Senate seat has a much higher profile than does the position of Montana lieutenant governor, but these developments are just the beginning of what could be a very interesting ride for both of these gubernatorial appointees.
Apparently recovering some of his political courage, Gov. Bullock asserted last Friday that, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called him back in December to discuss his choice to replace the resigning Sen. Baucus, D-Mont., he told Reid that “it was none of your damn business.”
First off, I’m guessing that a Democratic governor doesn’t talk to a Democratic Senate majority leader that way, but I wasn’t there and Reid hasn’t yet offered his version of the conversation. Since Reid also called former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who filed to run in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat, and asked him to drop out, there must be brazen qualities lurking in the relatively milquetoasty Senate majority leader.
My second assumption is that Bullock is getting mightily tired of dealing with the lingering criticism about how he’s handled the U.S. Senate appointment. This is understandable, and no doubt he’s gotten increasingly ticked off about it, but it’s also his own fault. So, governor, quit playing semantic games with the public and we will all be happier, including you.
My third assumption is that Reid and Bullock actually had the same appointee in mind – namely, John Walsh – so the content and tone of their December conversation is really beside the point. Perhaps we can all agree on that one, at least barring any new (and more believable) information.
John Walsh has a new campaign manager for his U.S. Senate run. It’s Aaron Murphy, who has been based in Billings as a principal with Washington, D.C.-based Hilltop Public Solutions. Previously, Murphy was communications manager for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and had worked in a similar capacity on Tester’s 2012 successful reelection campaign against former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Murphy, originally from Wyoming, has a journalism background and has worked at TV stations in Billings and Portland, Ore.
He sent out an email Feb. 14 on behalf of the Walsh campaign stating that “draft-dodging Karl Rove” and the Koch Brothers had launched an attack ad in Montana critiquing Walsh’s “lifetime of service and his record on fighting for Montanans.” A new ad for Walsh was attached to the email, which uses the tagline, “John Walsh, Montana Courage.” Clearly the revamped Walsh campaign plans to heavily lean on the candidate’s longtime military background.
Murphy replaces former campaign manager Michelle Mayorga, who joined the Walsh campaign in October after working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as their Western political director and as a national field director for Planned Parenthood Action.
A group of concerned New Hampshire citizens is trying to draw public attention to the increasing influence of big money in campaigns and the importance of campaign finance reform. Calling themselves “New Hampshire Rebellion,” the group recruited people to walk for two weeks across that state in January and ask 2016 primary candidates this question: “How are YOU going to end the system of corruption in Washington?”
New Hampshire Rebellion (nhrebellion.org) is not advocating any specific solution to the problem but recommends looking at several. These include state statutes limiting how much money candidates can raise by matching contributions with public funding; tax credits and deductions for small contributions to political campaigns; vouchers voters would use to fund campaigns by members of Congress who agree to only accept small contributions, and a constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and declaring that “corporations are not persons” and “money is not speech.”
The group sums up the situation this way: “Regardless of the final form reform takes, our first step must be to grow the movement and making systemic corruption the top issue on the mind of all voters, and all candidates, in 2016. We must build a cross-partisan movement that recognizes the need for this fundamental reform, and we must use that movement to convince the politicians to take action.”
In explaining how the group chose its name, leaders point out that New Hampshire is one of seven states where the state constitution specifically protects the “right of revolution.” They further note, “But we’re not calling for a revolution – yet. And we don’t mean to ‘rebel’ against the ordinary processes of government. Indeed, we want to use those procedures, and in particular, the presidential primary in 2016, to bring about the reform we believe this nation needs.”
The Virginia Senate recently amended an ethics bill to prohibit lawmakers from being reimbursed for expenses if they attend any conferences for which agenda or materials are not readily available to the public. Some observers say this proposal is targeted at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative political group active in model state legislation such as the controversial “stand your ground” law in Florida.
The Virginia proposal’s wording states: “No legislator shall ... accept compensation or reimbursement for expenses for attendance or services performed at a conference for which the conference agenda or materials are not readily available to the public.” No word on whether a definition will be provided for the word “readily.” So far, the bill has reportedly received bipartisan support in the Virginia Legislature.
Quote of the week
“It must be really interesting for not just the American public but people around the world to view a very effective Congress that gets things done. So I can imagine that [Obama] must feel: ‘Gosh, I wish we could move that quickly.’”
– Kevin Spacey, about his Netflix show, “House of Cards,” in which he plays fictional U.S. Vice President Frank Underwood.