Political Round-Up

By Beacon Staff

It’s been a big week for Montana politics:

LANGE TO CHALLENGE BAUCUS

Friday morning, Billings Republican Mike Lange met with reporters there to officially announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate against Max Baucus in November 2008, according to Matt Gouras of the Associated Press.

I’m still waiting to hear it straight from Lange, who called yesterday to say he planned to visit Kalispell Saturday in his tour around the state. At the state GOP convention in Helena last week, he let it be known his plans to challenge Baucus, but wanted to hold off on the announcement until now.

“We’re in for the full run,” Lange told the A.P. “We have no illusions that it will be an easy race. It won’t be. It will be a real difficult race.”

Lange faces an uphill battle in nearly every respect: Baucus’s fundraising power and clout in Washington are substantial, and Lange’s support within his own party is shaky at best.

“Mike Lange will be an interesting opponent, especially given how extreme he is and how out of touch he is with mainstream Montana,” said Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser. “Why would Montanans even think about replacing Max Baucus, one of the most powerful men in the country, with someone who is so out of sync with our Montana values?”

Lange was ousted as majority leader for House Republicans at the end of the 2007 special session, and is also well known for a profanity laced tirade against Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the closing days of the regular session.

He is, understandably, eager to put those mishaps behind him and touts his ability to peel off Democratic votes as a blue-collar, union pipe-fitter. He certainly doesn’t come across as the stereotypical Republican.

No one else in the GOP has yet to announce their candidacy against Baucus, but the field is currently wide open.

MONTANA SENATORS INSTRUMENTAL IN IMMIGRATION BILL’S DEATH

The New York Times reported Thursday on the key role Democratic senators of traditionally “red” states have played in holding up and eventually killing the massive, comprehensive immigration reform bill supported by such unlikely partners as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and President George W. Bush.

The introduction of an amendment by Baucus and U.S Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to strike any Real ID provisions from the bill brought debate to a standstill. The Montana Legislature, along with Gov. Brian Schweitzer, resoundingly rejected Real ID in its most recent session.

“We scored a major victory today in our efforts to protect privacy and defeat a bad immigration bill at the same time,” said Baucus in a press release on his Web site. “If Jon and I just brought down the entire bill, that’s good for Montana and the country.”

The bill Thursday came up 14 votes short of the 60 needed in the U.S. Senate to advance toward a final vote, with both Baucus and Tester opposing it.

SCHWEITZER BEGS TO DIFFER

Last week at the state GOP convention I reported on Sec. of State Brad Johnson’s speech to Republicans in which, among his many digs at Schweitzer and Democrats, he criticized the governor for his frequent absences from meetings of the state land board.

Sarah Elliott, Schweitzer’s communications director, called Thursday to set the record straight.

Johnson, she said, has been absent from just as many meetings as Schweitzer, about five – and when the governor misses a meeting, Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger votes in his place.

But, according to Elliott, Johnson has no one who votes in his place.

“We’ve technically never missed a vote,” Elliott said. “But when Brad Johnson’s gone, he’s just gone.”

UPDATE: 7/3/07 10:30 a.m.

Upon reading Schweitzer’s response to Johnson’s remarks at the GOP convention, Bowen Greenwood, communications director for Johnson, said he was “leery” of getting into a back-and-forth over Land Board Meeting attendance, but wanted to clarify.

Greenwood pointed out that Johnson prefaced his remark by acknowledging that “we all miss a meeting from time to time,” then pointed out that Schweitzer had missed four Land Board meetings in a row.

“There’s a difference between missing five meetings in 30 months, and missing four meetings in four months,” Greenwood added.

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