Crowded Fields for Statewide Races

By Beacon Staff

U.S. Senate
Republicans Hope to Overcome Baucus’s Cash Advantage

WASHINGTON – Montana Sen. Max Baucus is sitting on a pile of cash for his re-election campaign this year, but a handful of Republicans still are working to upset him. Five Republicans say they believe they can beat the five-term Democrat, who had more than $6.3 million in the bank at the first of April and has raised more than $10 million since he was last re-elected in 2002.

Only two of the five Republicans running have raised money – former Montana House Majority Leader Michael Lange, who has raised $12,000, and Billings consultant Kirk Bushman, who has raised around $42,000.

Lange and Bushman are competing with three other Republicans in the state’s June 3 primary. The two have different backgrounds and styles – Bushman, who works at an engineering firm and has not previously run for office, says he wants to go to Washington “to build relationships and find consensus.” He says his top issue is ensuring that Washington is more fiscally responsible.

Lange is more well-known than Bushman and has political experience in the Legislature, but he also has political baggage. He was ousted by his Republican colleagues after a profanity-laced tirade against Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, an experience that has made Lange unpopular with some voters. While Bushman says he would seek consensus in the Senate, Lange said he thinks more members of Congress need to take a strong stand on important issues such as the war in Iraq.

“Congress doesn’t have courage,” Lange said. “The body as a whole, especially the U.S. Senate, has none.”

Bushman says he and Lange appreciate the different qualities they bring to the race: “We know it is obvious to people that we are two very different individuals,” Bushman said, noting that he and Lange are friendly. “It’s nice that Montanans do have a choice.”

Also running are St. Regis rancher Anton Pearson, Missoula accountant Patty Lovaas and Butte attorney and frequent candidate Bob Kelleher.

Republican Attorney General
GOP Candidates Push Energy Development

HELENA – When Montana voters head to the polls June 3, they will be deciding among candidates battling in crowded primaries for state offices, including attorney general.

Among other things, the attorney general is a member of the state Land Board, along with the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and state superintendent. The three Democrats in the race, which the Beacon profiled May 14, appear to differ little in their approach to the board, charged with managing state-owned lands to generate money for public schools. Proposed development of the vast Otter Creek coal tracts is a key issue. The Democrats say development at this time would be premature.

Republican candidates Tim Fox of Clancy and Lee Bruner of Butte take a more aggressive view.

“It’s very important to the economy of Montana that we develop the Otter Creek coal tracts,” Bruner said. “I have no desire to do it in a way that is not environmentally responsible.”

Fox said Montana has the environmental protection requirements to help ensure it happens appropriately. Fox, 51, is a lawyer in private practice and previously did legal work for Mountain West Bank and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. For about three years in the 1990s, he was the environmental coordinator for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation.

Bruner, 47, has been in private practice with a Butte law firm since 1995, the year he graduated from law school.

Both say the attorney general must maintain a national perspective and be vigilant in protecting Montanans’ constitutional rights. Both emphasize gun issues.

“Protection of individual rights and who we are as Montanans seems to be the biggest issue that I run into” while campaigning, said Bruner, a rancher as well as a lawyer.

The Democratic candidates for attorney general were profiled in the May 14 edition of the Beacon.

U.S. House
Three Democrats Hope to Take on Rehberg

WASHINGTON – Democrats are again hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg this November after several failed attempts in recent years to draw the Montana Republican into a competitive race.

Jim Hunt, one of three Democrats running in the state’s June 3 primary, is touting his experience as an Army National Guard officer, avid sportsman and Helena lawyer in his upstart bid against Rehberg. He’s the only Democrat who has raised a significant amount of money – $133,000 in the first three months of the year. That was $26,000 more than Rehberg raised in the same period.

Rehberg still has a significant fundraising advantage, though, with more than half a million dollars on hand at the first of April compared with Hunt’s $115,000. And Rehberg’s posted some impressive wins in recent years, garnering almost 60 percent of the vote against Democrat Monica Lindeen in 2006.

Hunt says he wants to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, work on the health care system and look for ways to reduce gas prices. Privacy issues are another concern, he says.

“We need to make sure the government stays out of our private lives,” Hunt said.

One of Hunt’s supporters is former Montana House Speaker John Driscoll – who also happens to be one of the other Democrats running in the June primary. Driscoll says he’d be “perfectly happy” if he lost and “absolutely delighted” if Hunt wins, and he’s not planning on raising any money.

Also running is farmer Bob Candee. He says he is running on increasing loan rates for grain and a “planetary system” that would reinvent the U.S. government. He envisions a virtual Congress where representatives “bring government back to the people” and meet in other locations around the country instead of Washington.

Libertarian Mike Fellows is running unopposed in the primary and will automatically appear on the November ballot.

The Montana Democratic Party hasn’t officially endorsed anyone in the primary, but spokesman Kevin O’Brien says the party is “encouraged by how hard Jim Hunt’s working.”

So how can a Democrat beat Rehberg, who has fended off several challengers since he was first elected in 2000?

“I don’t think he has been challenged hard,” said Hunt, who says the Republican has voted too often with Bush and leans to the right of most Montanans. “My job is to bring out his real voting record.”

Governor

Brown, Schweitzer Gear up for General

HELENA – Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Republican challenger Roy Brown have been preparing for months to meet in the November election, but first they must win their respective primaries.

Neither Schweitzer nor Brown has said much, if anything, about their opponents in the state’s June 3 primary. Instead, they have focused mostly on each other. It’s an old feud that has, at times, been bitter and doesn’t look to ease up anytime soon.

Back in January 2005, it was Brown, as House Republican Leader, who rebutted Schweitzer’s first State of the State speech. And it was Brown who led early GOP legislative battles against Schweitzer. His theme remains familiar. Back in 2005, Brown said Schweitzer was seeking too many spending increases and not really reducing taxes.

“Our economic recovery is exciting, yet it’s still fragile, and one misstep could bring us back to the path of recession and deficit,” Brown said at the time, promising to be a watchdog of the new administration.

Brown, who has raised about $200,000, is still using spending as a central theme, saying state government is getting too big under Schweitzer. The Republican says Schweitzer’s tax rebates are not really tax cuts, wants to see permanent property tax reductions and large-scale coal development.

Schweitzer has a different take on the achievements of his administration, saying he has cut more taxes than previous governors, while spending on key areas like fixing the state’s pension system. The governor notes jobs, oil production and electricity generation are all up under his watch. Schweitzer also points to news the state’s bond rating has increased for the first time in years.

“Who are you going to believe about the management of the state, some guy who is running for governor … or independent credit rating agencies?” the governor said.

Brown, along with running mate Steve Daines of Bozeman, and Schweitzer, who is again running with Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, won’t be the only names on the ballot.

In the Democratic primary, Helena teachers Donald Pogreba and Jason Neiffer have challenged Schweitzer with little more than a blog and almost no money. Their efforts have not been very aggressive; Pogreba has even said he would be happy to vote for Schweitzer in November.

Political unknowns William Fischer and Steve White, who help run a Kalispell-based Christian ministry group called Kingdom Power Glory International, also will appear on the ballot as Democrats.

On the Republican side, Larry H. Steele and running mate Harold Luce are seeking the Republican nomination – with just a few thousand dollars and little name recognition. Steele has run unsuccessfully in the past for the state Legislature and mayor of Great Falls.

Libertarian Stan Jones, a perennial candidate, will automatically appear on the November ballot since he has no challenger within his party. Jones is known for his blue-tinged skin, the result of ingesting colloidal silver as a home remedy.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.