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Brad Johnson Would Be a Terrible Choice for the PSC

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Among the important races in Montana that never seem to get the attention they deserve, the race for the PSC is near the top. It’s seen as a wonky, even unimportant race because many voters aren’t really sure what the PSC does or how it affects their lives. That lack of knowledge and exposure is the only possible reason that anyone is taking Brad Johnson’s candidacy seriously.

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Brad Johnson Defends the Poor, Beleaguered Oil and Gas Industries

30 Rock

If I were advising PSC candidate Brad Johnson, I’d probably suggest he avoid mentioning highways in any opinion pieces for the public, but that was hardly the worst part of his anti-tax, pro-oil, fact-free rant in the Missoulian today.

Johnson opens by suggesting that we not even consider raising taxes or eliminating subsidies for the poor, put-upon oil and gas industry, because they don’t receive subsidies. He writes:

Let me break it to you, the oil and gas industry is not subsidized – that is, they don’t receive direct government payments to augment their revenue stream. The industry does, however, get the same sorts of tax deductions and credits that businesses (and individuals) of all stripes receive. They get to write off the cost of doing business – otherwise they probably wouldn’t be in business.

Johnson is wrong, of course, by about $7 billion annually.  These are not the exemptions that every business and individual is entitled to, but special programs, written for oil companies, special programs that allow gas and oil companies to keep recording record profits. The net effect of these breaks? That oil companies pay about 13% in taxes, most likely a lower rate than you.The Big Five oil companies recorded a profit of $93 billion last year—and they are the people Johnson wants to protect?

It takes a remarkably tone-deaf and unaware politician to cry for mercy for giant corporations that have been making record profits for years, but it’s a clear sign of what Mr. Johnson’s priorities will be if he is elected to the PSC.

In the end of his piece, Johnson circles back to what was the ostensible purpose of his rant, to discuss the Highway Trust Fund:

Higher taxes on energy producers is not a realistic solution to fix the problems with the Highway Trust Fund or any of the other myriad fiscal holes our federal government has managed to dig. 

And that’s the extent of his solution: to criticize government spending and not offer any policy proposals to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure. 

Johnson also ignores the fact that the gas tax hasn’t changed since 1993, in large part because Republicans refuse to govern responsibly. As a result, our highways and bridges are in terrible shape and we lack the money to fix them. According to Norm Orstein, the failure to raise the tax since the Clinton presidency has reduced its value by 40%.

If Johnson really were interested in “jobs of so many working families,” he’d support infrastructure building and a responsible Highway Tax that will sustain rebuilding our nation’s critical highways, bridges, and more. Sensible political leaders, unlike Johnson, know that when we allocate resources for infrastructure, we not only create jobs, but leave valuable channels for future commerce behind. 

Brad Johnson was a disaster as Montana’s Secretary of State, he was a menace on our highways, and now he’s sending signals to his friends in the energy sector that he’d be a lapdog on the PSC. 

Bold Republican Decisiveness in 2014

It probably makes the most sense to blame Steve Daines. After1b63fabf5cb18ade15824873120f8b7838 all,  in 2012, he boldly fled the Senate field to clear the deck for Dennis Rehberg to be defeated by Jon Tester.Perhaps noticing that Daines was almost the only Republican to win a statewide race that year, the rest of his party seems to be following his bold, decisive leadership when it comes to choosing races.

Consider Rehberg himself, who said after his defeat in 2012 that he was out of politics and returning to Montana to ranch. Now, he’s opening up Burger Kings and floating trial balloons for another House race. It would appear he’s also changed his mind about Montana voters, who he said “bitch and whine and moan” all the time.

John Bohlinger was an anti-choice, anti-labor Republican for an odd 60 years, before briefly becoming an Independent, before becoming a modern incarnation of Norman Thomas in his bid to win a Senate seat.

Perpetual candidate Brad Johnson said he would run for the House after Steve Daines announced for the Senate, but today told Mike Dennison that he might run for the PSC again. I hope he doesn’t drive himself to file.

Corey Stapleton filed for the Senate, leaked that Steve Daines was running for it, and switched to the U.S. House race.

Champ Edmunds seems to have moved from the Senate race to the House race to the Senate race, and might drop out altogether.

Apparently, House candidate Ryan Zinke gave some thought to the Senate race, having one Astroturf organization raise money for his Senate bid and another “explore it.”

Former Lt. Governor candidate and state representative Jon Sonju was “all in” for a US House bid before withdrawing his name two weeks later.

And these people run around talking about the importance of leadership?

Election 2012: A Post Mortem and a Preview

THANK YOU

I intended to post a thank you to the campaign staffers, party workers and countless volunteers who harassed Democratic voters with phone calls, door hangers, and visits before the election, but didn’t want to forget tonight. Their enthusiasm and energy absolutely paid off in all of the statewide races, one of which could end up being decided by just a handful of votes. Gaining seats back in the House absolutely matters, too. Whether your candidate(s) won or lost, your efforts were herculean—and appreciated.

TESTER-REHBERG

I think a number of lessons were learned in the Tester-Rehberg race, perhaps none more important than the fact that a candidate can’t win a statewide race in Montana by running a relentlessly, exclusively negative campaign. In the end, the most damaging issue for Dennis Rehberg was that he had no achievements to show Montana voters, who were less interested in a trumped up statistic about Obama than in electing someone who could get the job done.

While the presence of Dan Cox on the ballot certainly mattered, it would be easy to overstate his impact. Rehberg lost a fair number of those voters with or without Cox on the ballot—voting for the Patriot Act and supporting HR 1505 cost him more than the presence of Mr. Cox. Believing absurd poll numbers that showed him in the lead and not campaigning the last week probably didn’t help, either.

Finally, it’s hard to ignore the power shift that is taking place in Montana Democratic circles. The Tester team is the force to be reckoned with going forward—and they deserve the position they’ve earned.

END OF THE RACICOT-MARTZ CABAL

With the defeat of Mr. Rehberg and Mr. Hill, the curtain has finally fallen on the Racicot-Martz cabal in the Montana Republican Party. My real political awakening took place during the Racicot administration, and it’s interesting to see that last of that group riding off into retirement or lobbying. Who takes the mantle of leadership in the Republican Party now?

REPUBLICAN FAILURE IN STATEWIDE RACES

Montana might be a purple state, but it’s still redder than blue, as the legislative and PSC races demonstrate. It’s simply astonishing that the Republican Party doesn’t have a stable of candidates who can win the statewide races, but the kind of paranoid parochialism that wins safely-drawn legislative seats just doesn’t win across the state. Each of the top five Republican candidates entered this election with the benefit of a Republican-leaning electorate, but the only one who could win was the one who wouldn’t discuss his views with the press or the public. That says something.

DEMOCRATS IN 2016

The Democratic candidates who defeated them yesterday face an interesting future in 2016. Assuming Denise Juneau wins her close race, she, Monica Lindeen, and Linda McCulloch will all face term limits in 2016—and will be blocked by Steve Bullock from pursuing the governor’s chair. While it’s almost certain that the Republican candidate for Secretary of State will be Brad Johnson again, Democrats need to start thinking early about a game plan to retain these critical seats.

THAT $500,000

I think Rick Hill fumbled the election away when he took $500,000 from shady donors in the weeks before the election. It generated enormous negative publicity for his campaign, especially in the context of the Frontline piece and the attitude Montanans have shown when it comes to corporate campaign finance. It was a terrible tactical decision from the Hill campaign—and a bad enough decision to have swung more than a few thousand votes.

THE PRESS & “THE PRESS”

There will be a longer post about this subject in the days to come, but this election demonstrated two glaring issues facing the electorate in the future: the weakness of a depleted, overtaxed legitimate press corps and the danger of partisan, secretly-funded pseudo-press agencies distorting the truth. The former enabled stealth candidates like Tim Fox and Steve Daines to win election without disclosing their reactionary agendas, while the latter relentlessly attacked Democratic candidates unfairly and inaccurately.

Both problems are only likely to be worse in 2016.

WHITHER BRIAN?

Some will certainly disagree, but I think Brian Schweitzer is going to run for President in 2016. I’d probably prefer that he pursue another office, but can’t wait for the Schweitzer show to go national. I think we’re going to have an excellent governor in Steve Bullock, but we’re going to miss Governor Schweitzer, who, in the past eight years, has reminded Montana Democrats that we have a legacy to be proud of and a vision for the state worth fighting for.

Lindeen for Auditor, McCulloch for Secretary of State

While we’ll be breaking the other statewide races into individual posts, the similarity in the Auditor and Secretary of State races makes the combining them a natural fit. In each race, the incumbent is a professional who has done excellent work in her first term and the challenger is someone who seems not to understand the duties of the office he is seeking, one because of his positions on the issues and the other because of his demonstrated lack of competence.

The choice is so clear that even the Montana Chamber of Commerce, which endorses Republican candidates as reliably as snow falls in October, endorsed Linda McCulloch and Monica Lindeen over their challengers.

Secretary of State

In this rematch between Linda McCulloch and Brad Johnson, retaining the incumbent is the obvious choice. Since taking over the Secretary’s office, McCulloch has streamlined operations, saved taxpayer money, and implemented federal voting guidelines that Mr. Johnson seemed incapable of getting a handle on.  She’s established an excellent set of online resources for voters and businesses, including a voter page to check registration. The combination of her professionalism and excellent work as Secretary make her the clear choice.

Her opponent, Brad Johnson has already had an opportunity to demonstrate his incapacity for office. The only quality he really seems to have demonstrated is an obsessive desire for state work, ranging from the PSC to the Commissioner of Political Practices. While Johnson is pushing right-wing buttons about identification at the polls, even he’s been forced to admit that voter fraud is not a problem in Montana. He failed to implement Help America Vote guidelines while in office, was poorly rated by County Election supervisors, and tried to give thousands of dollars of bonuses to his staff after losing his last election.

Let’s not forget that Johnson has taken more positions on same day voter registration than Mitt Romney on abortion, either.

Let’s not let Mr. Johnson poorly run Montana elections again.

Auditor

The Auditor’s race is an even easier call. The Republican candidate Derek Skees is the most reactionary candidate for statewide office in my lifetime as a Montanan. Whether it’s his enthusiasm for the losing side of the Civil War, his support for discredited nullification doctrine, his support of and from the John Birch Society, his enthusiasm for eugenics, his desire to end Social Security, his support for a sales tax, or his troubling connection to the White Identity movement, Skees is out of touch, extreme, and wrong for Montana.

Even Montana Republicans in the craziest Legislature ever rejected his ideological nonsense.

In addition to that, he simply has no idea what the power of the Auditor is. While he imagines that he can ride out on his John Deere and slay the imaginary dragon of Obamacare, that’s simply not the Auditor’s job. Let’s not elect someone who doesn’t understand the duties of the job.

Given all of that, it would be easy to endorse Monica Lindeen, even if she hasn’t been an excellent Auditor. She’s done admirable work protecting Montanans, including Rick Hill, from investment and insurance fraud. She’s staffed her office with a professional corps of investigators and prosecutors who have helped her do exactly what the Auditor is charged with, protecting Montanans and ensuring sensible regulation of businesses that operate here.

In these two races, Montana Republicans have provided the public with a stark choice: professionalism and excellence or ideology and incompetence. Vote McCulloch and Lindeen.

On the Death of Political Media

We’re living in a sad time for political reporting here in Montana. It’s not that newspapers like the Great Falls Tribune and Helena Independent Record are abandoning their role to endorse candidates for political office, or that partisan tripe like this is passed off as “news” or even that their aren’t enough reporters to adequately cover political contests and candidates. While all of those certainly matter, it’s more troubling that real political reporters are so afraid of being accused of bias that they don’t even report the news in their stories.

Witness Chuck Johnson’s recent story about the race between Linda McCulloch and Brad Johnson for Secretary of State. In an effort to appear balanced, Chuck Johnson turned a series of factual disputes into a “she said, he said” issues, leaving potential voters no more informed than before they read the story. Along the way, the story manages to ignore contradictions and outright lies by candidate Johnson.

Bonuses

When Johnson left office in 2008, he attempted to give bonuses totaling almost $60,000 to his staff, including current GOP executive director Bowen Greenwood. McCulloch blocked the illegal bonuses almost immediately upon taking office. According to yesterday’s story, though, Brad Johnson didn’t think he did anything wrong.

Johnson, however, said he did nothing wrong, according to his office human resources official.

Interestingly enough, that’s not what Brad Johnson told Chuck Johnson back in 2009, when he acknowledged that he had been wrong:

Johnson said he takes Manion’s opinion "at face value."

"I’m disappointed that I’m not in a position to show more appreciation for the work that that team performed in the office," Johnson said. "But it is what it is."

Voter Fraud

The story also lets Johnson get away with claims of voter fraud that he will combat as Secretary of State. It’s not just the fact that voter fraud is part of a Republican strategy to disenfranchise voters or that Johnson’s alleged list of voting fraud incidents is laughable, it’s that back in 2006, Johnson’s own chief of staff Bowen Greenwood said it wasn’t a problem here in Montana:

Spokesman Bowen Greenwood said the office has yet to uncover a verified case of voter fraud. But he said the latest verification procedure, required under federal regulations, will help make sure it doesn’t happen.

Johnson’s Tenure as Secretary of State

The article lets McCulloch and Johnson argue about whether or not Johnson mismanaged elections in 2006, but neglects to provide any actual facts. For instance, that Charles Johnson reported that the Bush Department of Justice sent five letters to Montana concerned about our implementation of the Help America Vote Act:

The U.S. Justice Department sent letters to Johnson dated Aug. 25, 2005; Oct. 27, 2005; Jan. 19, 2006; March 31, 2006; and April 23 concerning how the state was complying with
HAVA.

Not bad enough? How about the fact that a Legislative Audit showed massive problems with Johnson’s tenure as Secretary of State, including mismanaging registration, letting felons register, delaying voters through avoidable error, failing to create uniform standards for absentee voting, and failing to work with county election officials.

Seems pertinent to a discussion about qualifications to return to the Secretary’s office, doesn’t it?

Same Day Voting Registration

The story suggests that same day voter registration is an issue of contention between McCulloch and Johnson, but doesn’t mention that Johnson has completely changed his mind on the issue. From the Billings Gazette’s 2008 endorsement of Johnson:

Johnson supported 2005 legislation to allow voter registration up to and on Election Day, but ought to have done more to publicize and promote it before the 2006 elections.

Johnson’s taken more positions on same-day voter registration than elections he’s lost, something else the article neglected to mention.

In the final analysis, I certainly don’t expect news coverage to reflect my partisan viewpoint, but I do expect it to accurately inform the public. When there are factual matters in dispute, it’s not enough to let each side speak his/her mind—the role of news reporters must be to determine the truth and provide adequate context for voters to make informed decisions.

The press certainly does have an obligation to balance coverage of the right and left. It doesn’t, though, need to balance truth and lies.

Montana Politics Winners and Losers of the Week 24 June 2012

Losers

  • Denny Rehberg is unquestionably the big loser this week. It was so bad he gets sub-bullets.
  • On Monday, the state GOP532887_371065699615581_350256657_n embarrassed showed its colors with a bullet-ridden outhouse display at the state convention. Afraid that Jon Tester might show up for a debate, Rehberg was forced to hide in it most of the day.
  • On Tuesday, the very day his federal land grab bill passed, he had to retract his laughable claim that the EPA was using drones to spy on farmers and ranchers.
  • On Thursday, Montana voters found out that Rehberg was ducking a scheduled debate to attend a fundraiser in Wyoming.
  • Finally, on Friday, noted political analyst Stuart Rothenberg observed that Rehberg’s campaign is in trouble, saying, “Some Republican insiders privately admit that freshman Democratic Sen.  Jon Tester is running the best re-election race in the country, and they are less than optimistic about GOP Rep.  Denny Rehberg’s ability to take the seat from him.”
  • The Montana Broadcasters Association certainly didn’t enhance its credibility this week, when they canceled the Senate debate in Whitefish. If a candidate chickens out of a debate, you still hold the debate, no matter how much advertising his campaign does on your stations. Canceling this debate will not only encourage this kind of behavior in the future, but did a tremendous disservice to Montana voters.
  • Derek Skees and Brad Johnson have such little credibility with mainstream conservatives that neither was endorsed by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, which recently been little more than a Republican front group. Despite the group’s willingness to endorse almost any Republican candidate, they apparently draw the line at Confederate sympathizers and the entirely incompetent. Good for them.
  • Ron Paul supporters in the Montana Republican Party have been quite clearly notified that they are only welcome when they vote for mainstream Republican candidates. Conservative blogs are aflame with accusations that the Republican Party manipulated balloting for national delegates to keep Paul supporters from the Party.

Winners

  • Mike Taylor, who was somewhat vindicated in his criticism of the Baucus campaign for Senate in 2006 when the Senator appeared to confirm that he had been involved in the infamous cosmetics commercial against Taylor in 2000. Of course, all the attention has only brought the ad back from the dark recesses of the Internet, so it’s a bit of a pyrrhic victory.
  • Another win for Jim Foley, who despite being reassigned after his shameful performance at the University of Montana, can still expect to receive his entire salary for the year. It’s not just the University of Montana any longer; the entire system is a mess—and someone needs to begin rebuilding public trust, not through public relations, but beginning to do the right thing.
  • Equality was a big winner, at the unlikeliest of places, the Montana Republican Convention. Republicans finally removed the platform plank endorsing the criminalization of “homosexual acts.” To be clear, Montana Republicans have a long way to go on civil rights for all Montanans, but I have to give them credit for a step in the right direction.

Republican Secretary of State Candidates Oppose Voting

Three of the four Republican candidates for Secretary of State would like to restrict votingballot-box-thumb1 rights in the state of Montana by eliminating the same-day registration that has seen thousands of Montanans legally exercising their right to vote in elections since 2006. According to a story by Charles Johnson, candidates Scott Aspenlieder, Brad Johnson, and Drew Turiano cited fear of “voter fraud” as a reason to keep Montanans from the polls.

Former Secretary of State Brad Johnson is running against same day registration despite the fact that he supported it during his tenure in the office. Johnson also bizarrely took credit for “implementing a paper ballot system,” something I believe Montana has used for a century or so.

Fundraising leader Scott Aspenlieder’s opposition is perhaps the least coherent thing I have had the misfortune to read:

The current late voter registration places (an) unnecessary burden on county election officials and subjects voters to different levels of scrutiny to establish where and how they should count their ballot or whether they have voted in elections in another state.

Wow.

Finally, Drew Turiano muttered something about the UN and spaceships, I assume. He may also have switched to running for another office by the end of the article. I couldn’t make it through to the end.

The truth is, of course, that Republicans oppose same-day registration not because they worry about fraud, but because many of the people who register late are likely to vote for Democrats. They’re younger, more mobile, and have less established polling places. Republicans keep raising the spectre of fraud in American elections, despite little evidence of its existence, to keep “undesirable” voters from exercising their right to vote.