Sizing Up Montana's Senate Race
In politics, timing is everything and that certainly appears to be the case with Lt. Gov. John Walsh and Congressman Steve Daines.
A year from no one of them will likely be a U.S. senator, something unimaginable a year ago. Then no one imagined Sen. Max Baucus would announce his retirement, let alone that he would resign his seat before the end of his term so he could move to China of all things.
Baucus will become ambassador to China at a challenging time, and we wish him well.
The major beneficiary of Baucus’decision to retire was freshman Daines. His decision to resign will benefit Walsh. If Walsh wants the appointment to fill the Baucus vacancy, he will get it. Gov. Steve Bullock, who will make the appointment, has already endorsed Walsh to replace Baucus in the Senate.
If instead, Walsh and Bullock decide a safer strategy would be to appoint a“caretaker” senator, names speculated about include former Congressman Pat Williams and former Baucus and Obama strategist Jim Messina.
The likely loser in the maneuvering is former Democrat Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger. A few years ago Bohlinger told me he wanted to run for higher office. Because he has been a candidate of both political parties, I told him he might be uniquely positioned to run as an independent, and that the time might be right for that. Now, with surveys showing the cumulative approval rating of congressional Democrats and Republicans at 7%, maybe he’ll change his mind. Again.
A year ago, Montana’s outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer was widely rumored to be gearing up to take down Baucus in the Democratic senatorial primary. Now Schwietzer is apparently running for president. I’m not predicting it, but knowing the flamboyant Schweitzer, he could just as unpredictably jump back into the Senate race. All bets would be off for sure if that happened.
The frontrunner remains our plain-spoken Republican Congressman Daines. He has demonstrated a thoughtful openness on resource issues that may lead to less conflict and better management of Montana’s forests.
It is encouraging, too, that he opposed the recent “budget deal”because“it does not provide Montanans with a much needed solution to our debt crises.” He’s right, and he was right to vote the way he did for exactly that reason. The result of the“deal”is a microscopic 1% reduction in the federal deficit over the next 10 years. It’s more about cowardice than compromise.
It has taken decades of undisciplined spending and reckless tax cuts by reelection-centric politicians to get our country into the debt debacle we are in. We can probably get out of it in a matter of years without wrecking the economy, but now only with a serious combination of spending cuts and taxes.
To save our children from the crushing debt we have run up in our time, this generation’s Democrats are going to have to be brave enough to cut back government programs. If Walsh is appointed senator, we will have the chance to see how brave he is. Republicans are going to have to show the courage to support increasing taxes. I hope by voting against the weak deal, Daines is showing us that he understands that it is necessary to both broadly and realistically address the country’s core debt problem.
We need a senator who will put our country’s future ahead of politics. More than ever in our history, now is the time. And in history, timing is everything.
Bob Brown is a former Montana secretary of state and state Senate president.