Monday: Fatal Truck Crash, Baucus Girlfriend, Blackfeet Oil

By Beacon Staff

Good morning; on the Beacon today, following a liquidation sale to dispose of its remaining inventory, the Scarff Auto Center in Kalispell has closed its doors, putting 16 people out of work. Montana officials say they are swamped with property appraisal appeals that could keep them busy for months. Flathead County officials say a 28-year-old Whitefish man, Frank Gonzalez, died when two pickup trucks collided head-on on U.S. Highway 2 west of Kalispell. A federal program that began as a safety net for Pacific Northwest logging communities hard-hit by battles over the spotted owl in the 1990s, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, has morphed into a sprawling entitlement — one that ships vast amounts of money to states with little or no historic connection to timber, an analysis by The Associated Press shows. And Kitchen Guy Jim Gray has a Thanksgiving guest who REALLY likes gravy.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus defended recommending his girlfriend for appointment as Montana’s U.S. attorney, saying Saturday his one-time staff member and the former state prosecutor is “highly qualified” but eventually withdrew her nomination. Federal law and rules barring many government employees from running for office could make it difficult for the growing group of legislators getting new state jobs to seek re-election. Counties with the heaviest reliance on manufacturing income are posting some of the biggest employment gains of the nation’s early economic recovery. President Barack Obama on Sunday rallied Senate Democrats to deliver on their party’s half-century quest to expand the social safety net by providing access for all. An official says the Blackfeet Tribe in northwestern Montana has signed the largest oil exploration agreement in the tribe’s history. And Wildlife officials are investigating the apparent proliferation of serial poachers.