Game over, pal

After nearly eight months, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty has finally acceded to the will of the Minnesota public. He certified the results of the election that will seat Al Franken as the junior senior.

Why the delay? All round grumpy person, Norm Coleman had filed a legal complaint. Turns out he didn’t have a strong legal case, after all. He, and his fellow Republicans, filed thousands of pages of legal documents, cost everyone millions of dollars, and had left many ordinary Minnesotans weary.

The only winners were the Republican legal team, certainly not the Republican party in Minnesota (and elsewhere). It has left them not only with egg on their face, but facing claims of obstructionism and of failing to recognize they lost.

Both claims are increasingly being leveled at Republicans at the national level. They’ve become the party of ‘No’. This is not an effective political strategy, nor is it good governance. An effective minority party needs to not only point out the faults of the administration but also to present a viable alternative. That is, don’t just say things are wrong but explain why they are the wrong way to proceed and what a better approach might look like. Otherwise, it just feels like you’re a sore loser, having taken your bat and ball and gone home.


They say a good defense is the best offense, or is it the other way around? Either way, Michael Moore was being quite defensive on the front page of today’s Missoulian. It seems that another genuine, hardworking citizen has been driven from public office and the paper of record must feel as though they contributed to the controversy.

Kelley Hirning has resigned as a member of the Missoula County school board. She has done so as a result of the complaint brought by partisan parent Mark Zuber. (He felt that videos shown to his child were done so in violation of the district’s academic freedom/controversial issues policy).

More importantly today (since the policy has been much discussed and updated) is Hiring’s claim that the Missoulian inaccurately reported the controversy and that the school district’s administration (i.e. Alex Apostle) failed to correct the inaccuracy. Zuber felt the story was accurate.

It is a great pity that the Missoulian didn’t today present more of the details of Hirning’s letter or follow up with her concerning the inaccuracy. Instead, reporter Moore quickly attempts to defend the Missoulian’s original coverage:

“We did not BAN the video … ,” Hirning said.

Although the Missoulian’s stories didn’t describe the board’s action as a “ban,” many critics of the board’s decision did.

While I don’t agree with Hirning on many topics, I know her to be honest, upfront and well meaning. She is the sort of civic-minded person we would want serving on one of our boards and commissions. Instead, she is, “Done with politics. I never wanted to be a politician anyway, I’m a mom that wanted to help.”

I can’t help but feel that another scalp (along with teacher Kathleen Kennedy) will be claimed by Zuber and like-minded activists who brought the original complaint. I just wish the Missoulian presented this issue as the political campaign that it has always been, instead of playing defense on their own coverage.

Tell us which bits you don’t like

Please, Mr. Rehberg, could you be more specific about what part of the Obama stimulus program you don’t like. Simply being critical of the federal spending, in general and on principle, isn’t good enough.

As Pogie (over at Intelligent Discontent) capably points out, Rehberg boasts all about the federal pork money he brings to Montana.

Perhaps Rehberg could tell us which of the following federally funded projects he doesn’t like. After all, he voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Here’s some of things he didn’t want to fund:

* Fixing Rye Creek Road, on the Bitterroot National Forest, was one of four water enhancement projects funded by the first allocation of federal stimulus moneys in Montana.

* Statewide, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will deliver $31.4 million in roadwork on national forests.

* $3.4 million has been allocated for energy efficient upgrades for Montana schools, including projects as lighting, boilers and heating-and-ventilation system upgrades.

* $77 million in federal stimulus funds will go to reconstruction or renovation of five of Montana’s border stations.

More examples and details of how the federal stimulus dollars are being spent in Montana can be found here. The State of Montana estimates that 11,000 jobs will be created or saved here, although they’ll never be able to prove those numbers.

Surely, Mr Rehberg isn’t against fixing up the old roads, school facilities, and border crossings? If so, perhaps he could clearly explain why government live up to its responsibility to be good stewards of these necessary facilities. Does he want rural residents to continue to drive on sub-standard roads? Does he want school kids freezing from poorly maintained classrooms, or does he want school districts to be frittering away their limited budgets on huge energy bills? Or does he want those of us who must cross the border on a regular basis (and that is mainly Montanans and Albertans) to have to wait while the border patrol works around an antiquated, cramped, and inefficient border crossing?

Perhaps Mr Rehberg would also like to explain why he doesn’t want us to spend money on hunting and fishing supplies. You see, in a similar vein, the Fed and the Treasury Department provided nearly $400 million to the Cabela’s credit-card operations through the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF. That’s right – without the federal bailout moneys, Cabela’s, that well known outdoor retailer, would have canceled much of its credit card program. Surely Mr. Rehberg wants to explain what’s wrong with helping us buy all those guns, bullets, cases, rods, jackets and fishing flies?

Here’s to your health

It looks like the University of Minnesota is going to ban alcohol from the new football stadium, the hockey arena and the basketball arena. Seems as if the good Governor, and potential Presidential contender, Tim Pawlenty doesn’t want to discriminate – sell booze to one, then sell booze to all.

So, the University President said no deal. Although “providing alcohol in controlled areas was part of our business plan”, apparently allowing those outside of the premium seating areas of the stadium (those luxury boxes and club rooms, you know) purchase an alcoholic beverage sent the wrong message to students. The Minnesota state legislature called that elitist.

Universities all across the nation have very strict policies on the use and abuse of alcohol. The University of Montana’s policy, for instance, says that

• Consumption of alcoholic beverages on University property is prohibited by Montana University System Policy 503.1 except as expressly permitted.

• No event involving the service of alcoholic beverages may take place on the campus without the prior written approval of the President of the University or his/her designee.

• No organization, business or individual, except the Grizzly Athletic Association, or its designee, may sell, or offer for public consumption, beer or other alcoholic beverages on the campus in conjunction with home football games.

• Will not use any University logo, trademark or name in conjunction with alcoholic beverage or tobacco products or symbols.

• Will not make alcohol or tobacco the focus of any University event, or use availability of beer or other alcoholic beverages or tobacco to promote any University event.

Pretty stern stuff, eh? Given the extraordinary cost, both economic and social, of the abuse of alcohol and other drugs, we would expect nothing less from our institutes of higher learning.

Except the sort of hypocrisy that says it is OK to drink lots of alcohol outside the stadium at one of the many, sprawling tailgates, but not in the stadium. The sort of hypocrisy that says it is OK to drink in one of the luxury suites, but not in the rest of the stadium. The sort of hypocrisy that says it is OK to frequent establishments such as the Press Box as part of the pre-game or post-game festivities, but not to become inebriated in so doing (oh, and no ripping down the goal posts and displaying them in a drunken rampage all through downtown, thanks).

I’m sure the young, easily-influenced undergraduates can navigate that maze of nuance, just as they have since they began drinking alcohol at the tender ages of 15, 12, or even 8. They are adults now, after all. Maybe the University of Montana could start treating them as such and allow everyone the chance to enjoy a beer or wine at the game?

Whose faceless bureaucracy is that?

Denny Rehberg continues to get my goat up. His latest schtick seems to be the “faceless bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.” Like some high school snitch, our proud representative now wants us to turn in public servant who is wasting our stimulus funds.

All well and good, I suppose. Accountability, transparency and all that.

Problem is that Denny seems to think that the faceless bureaucracy is the problem of all our ills. It was the reason why he supported the Montana Fire Arms Act. It is part of how he supports the Hardin jail being used for Guantanamo Bay prisoners. He calls the NCAA as bureaucratic as any federal government department for insisting that there not be gambling on the outcomes of college football playoffs. And, yes, it was part of why he opposes the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

And the big kicker is on health care, where Denny’s main point seems to be the evils of putting Washington in charge. This is where we find him out. As Mike Dennison reports:

Rehberg … attended a May 6 briefing in Washington, D.C., by political consultant Frank Luntz, who wrote a 28-page memo instructing Republicans how to defeat Democratic health reform proposals.

The memo, among other things, advised Republicans to characterize Democratic plans as a “Washington takeover” of health care that would put “politicians” or “bureaucrats” in charge of deciding care.

I know this is great soundbite politics. But, stop and think about health care in this country for a moment. Today you face an endless avalanche of paperwork should you ever need help. On top of billing from your doctor, you will receive Statements of Benefits from your health insurer (should be lucky enough to have one), summary of charges from the hospital, letters of limitation from your Health Management Organization (should you be so unlucky as to have one), bills from the x-ray technician, bills from the radiologist (often based in India where he reads your x-rays), bills from the phlebotomist, bills from the pharmacy, and so on.

Tell me again why single-payer systems are such a bad idea? Somehow I think I prefer bulk-billing whereby all those folks charge the government and leave me out of it. I can’t understand all the codes, the hidden levies and surcharges, the co-insurer this and the insurance co-pay that. I’d rather have the federal bureaucrat keeping check of all those charges than leaving it to me (as I am recuperating hopefully) to tackle all the intricacies.

As anyone who has had a long stay in hospital will tell you, we already have bureaucrats “rationing” the health care you receive. They’re called HMO’s and they tell your doctor what treatments are acceptable and what are not. They have a listing of drugs that are covered and what are not. They tell the hospital when you are allowed to stay and recuperate fully, and when you are not. Try getting your doctor to explain their reasoning to you and you will hear a exasperated litany of abuse for “faceless bureaucrats” making medical decisions in some office, far far away.

Still, it sounds like Denny is sticking to his marching orders pretty well. From a political consultant in Washington DC, no less! I guess some bureaucracies are OK, while others are not.

What’s his game?

Our proud representative for the whole of Montana, Denny Rehberg, recently gave testimony opposing the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. He is quoted as saying that “more than 96% of us who live in these areas oppose this bill.”

Mr. Rehberg, perhaps, needs to get out a little more. Could he even find a single town, city, or pub in which 96% of people know about NREPA, let alone oppose it?

Instead, the harsh reality is, as outfitter-extraordinaire, Smoke Elser and a broad-ranging group of experts recently noted:

It has been 26 years since Montana has permanently protected a single acre of wild country. Since our last wilderness area was added in 1983, the nation has seen 439 new wilderness Areas created, none of them in Montana.

And, although I don’t know exactly where the figures come from, former state senator Paul Richards recently suggested that “78 percent of all Montanans support full protection for our region’s remaining National Forest roadless wildlands.” (I think he may be counting comments from the more than 1.6 million Americans wrote comments on the federal roadless protection policy, which is a dubious gauge of public sentiment. But, still. We would all agree that Montanans like wilderness.)

Then, in another scoop for, and then two days later in the paper of record, Denny Rehberg suggests that he is not opposed to wilderness just because he is opposed to NREPA. Instead, Rehberg says that,

The worst thing we can do for the public land we all cherish so much is put faceless federal agencies in control of something as important as land management.

Nevermind the hard-working folks in the U.S. Forest Service, all the National Park Service rangers, the proud federal firefighters , or the numerous fish & game agents that work at our National Wildlife Refuges. Denny doesn’t call those federal servants names, but he sure doesn’t seem to trust them, either.

What is the alternative? Turn over the public lands to the state government?

Perhaps, then, he might take a look at the what is going on all around the country. That’s right, state governments are struggling these days.

* In California, Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing to padlock and close nearly 80 percent of California’s state parks.

* Arizona is going to close 8 state parks.

* Out in Washington, a state park representative suggests up to spokesperson for the parks says they could see the closure of as many as 40 state parks.

* And, in Illinois, former Gov. Blagojevich closed 11 state parks and 13 historic sites.

So, let’s put the two together – first, take the public land away from the government of the American people, and second, give them to state agencies who can’t afford to manage them. The result? Further loss of confidence in government and increased calls to privatize the whole shebang. That’s right – why not let KOA, Backcountry Horsemen or even Disney manage our parks and wilderness? Aha, that’s his game.

And, he thinks that’s a workable solution that truly reflects Montana? I’m shocked, just shocked. Just when Montanans need their forests, parks, and wilderness more than ever, Rehberg simply wants to take them away from us!