Democrats Label Rehberg a Hypocrite, But is it Warranted?

By Beacon Staff

In what is likely to be a recurring theme in Democrats’ attacks on Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg as he fights for reelection next year, his opponents say the five-term Republican consistently and hypocritically takes credit in his home state for benefits and projects funded by legislation he voted against in the House.

Rehberg counters, however, that even when he opposes spending legislation that passes, he has inserted earmarks for Montana needs onto those bills through his seat on the Appropriations Committee.

“It’s easy to think that 323 paved itself or that water projects spring up naturally on the Hi-line when you’re heckling from the sidelines,” Tyler Matthews, Rehberg’s campaign manager, said. “But the folks who roll up their sleeves to work in the trenches with Denny know what he’s done for Montana. Those who are throwing stones at Denny for his hard work need to explain their own hypocrisy in supporting a bloated and flawed approach to government that is literally bankrupting our country.”

The issue comes into sharpest focus with the Oct. 15 House vote on the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which passed 307-114. Rehberg voted against the bill, but later that day issued a press release titled, “Rehberg Secures Funds for Montana Projects in Homeland Security Bill.”

Montana projects receiving funding through the bill include $800,000 for an emergency operations center in Butte-Silver Bow County, security funding for seven airports across the state to hire private screeners, and $900,000 for the emergency operations center in Whitefish.

Two of Rehberg’s Democratic challengers quickly pounced. Dennis McDonald, a Melville rancher and former chair of the state Democratic Party, said, “This behavior lands Rehberg in the Montana Hypocrisy Hall of Fame.” Missoula attorney Tyler Gernant also issued a statement saying, “Rehberg’s habit of taking credit for projects that he voted against is just plain dishonest.”

David Benson, the new executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, sent out an e-mail citing Rehberg’s Homeland Security vote and asking for contributions because “the hypocrisy needs to stop.”

These Democrats also charge that it’s hypocritical for Rehberg to take credit for projects funded by earmarks inserted in an omnibus appropriations bill which passed in February and which he also voted against. That bill included funding for Missoula’s Poverello Center for the homeless, and $17.5 million for three massive water projects.

But Rehberg said it’s Democrats who are being misleading and attempting to make political hay out of a common voting practice they understand better than they let on. Rehberg did insert those earmarks into the Homeland Security bill through his seat on the Appropriations Committee, and said he worked “hand in hand” with constituents to develop the projects.

“While I am proud to have included these Montana projects, I could not vote in favor of legislation that put runaway spending ahead of fiscal discipline,” Rehberg said. “This is not good government and I think Montanans would agree. My vote wasn’t to kill the projects – it was to send the bill back to the drafting board to trim the fat. My track record of support for these projects is well established, and the folks who I have been able to help support my efforts.”

Rehberg’s work was backed up by public statements of gratitude by those who benefited from the earmarks.

Dan Keil, chairman of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority, thanked Rehberg in a press release for funding included in the February omnibus bill for a water project there.

“The Authority can’t thank Congressman Rehberg enough for his hard work on the Appropriations Committee and the fact that he again secured federal dollars for the construction of the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System,” Keil said. “Someday this water project will deliver clean and safe drinking water to over 30,000 Montanans who desperately need it.”

The issue of Montana’s delegation taking credit for federally funded projects is a bipartisan one. In August a Homeland Security spokesman criticized Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester for taking credit for helping secure $77 million in stimulus money for repairs at border stations along Montana’s northern border, which included $15 million for a Whitetail checkpoint that sees three travelers a day.

Although Congress was banned from choosing projects in the $787-billion stimulus bill, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano later acknowledged she had met with Tester and Baucus after she was nominated, though they did not discuss specific projects.

But Kate Downen, a spokeswoman for the Democrats, said Rehberg takes the practice to a different level, and his voting record speaks for itself.

“At some point, he’s going to have to level with the people of Montana and be honest about what he does or doesn’t support. He can’t have it both ways,” Downen said. “Unfortunately for Montanans, their lone congressman has been living in this alternate reality for some time, running all over Montana, cutting ribbons at facilities he voted against funding.”

Rehberg’s staffers continue to dismiss the criticism.

“While some will be content to throw mud from the bleachers, Denny’s going to keep working to fund Montana priorities while also serving as a much needed check and balance on out of control spending by congressional Democrats,” Matthews said.

Whether the Democratic attacks will gain traction next year as the race escalates, however, remains to be seen.

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