Contemplating the ‘Aftermax’

By Beacon Staff

With Max Baucus announcing his retirement from the United States Senate, it’ll be nice to see the end of all those lame press releases bragging how Max was “fighting for Montana,” to “boost the economy” with “good-paying jobs” funded by his seniority-based position atop the “powerful Senate Finance Committee.”

While Max certainly could score infrastructure pork, the “clout” he inherited over four decades meant little in terms of policy. For example, his Canadian lumber import tariff didn’t save many “good paying jobs” in Montana’s forestry sector. Obamacare? “Train wreck.”

Ah, what the heck – at least there’s a Max Sieben Baucus Federal Building in Helena for a legacy in the “Aftermax.”

So, what will life be like in the Aftermax?

Well, it depends – Montana’s open Senate seat is sure to set off a mad scramble for both aspiring Democrats and Republicans. On the Democratic side, there have been at least five people named, including former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Will Schweitzer’s campaign sidekick be Jake, Jake Junior – or perhaps Jill?

The Republicans already have two declared candidates. Speculation has named at least five additional past “name” politicians who have won (and lost) statewide elections.

One sure thing: Montana’s Republican primary voters dang well better vote much smarter in 2014 than they did in 2008’s crowded race.

In 2008, the six Republican primary candidates included three no-names, among them an Indiana felony stalking warrant fugitive. No kidding.

The “real” Republican candidates were newcomer Kirk Bushman, an engineer later elected in 2012 to Montana’s Public Service Commission; and then-Montana House majority leader Michael Lange, famed for being caught on tape publicly cussing in reference to Schweitzer.

But there was one other candidate who mattered most: Bob Kelleher. Remember him?

Kelleher, who died in 2011 at age 88, was a Butte lawyer with a weird hobby: Losing elections. He began campaigning in 1964, in a long, mostly vain crusade to convert Montana and the United States to a parliamentary system of government.
The only office “Parliament” Bob Kelleher ever won out of at least 16 campaigns was delegate to the 1972 Montana constitutional convention. He ran as the Democratic candidate for Congress from eastern Montana in 1968, and lost. Kelleher ran for President in 1976 as a Democrat.
In 2002, Kelleher reinvented himself as a Green, for a run against Max Baucus in 2002, and for Montana governor in 2004.

For U.S. Senate in 2006, Kelleher reinvented himself yet again: Republican. Against endangered incumbent U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns and insurgent Senate Majority Leader Bob Keenan (R-Bigfork), Parliament Bob pulled down a colossal 4 percent, encouraging him to try again in the already-crowded 2008 Senate primary.

Guess what? Bob Kelleher landed 26,936 votes, almost double the tallies of each of his two closest rivals. Right here in Flathead County, Kelleher did better, beating his two closest rivals COMBINED with 3,824 votes.

Now, I know one shalt not speak evil of fellow Republicans, but there wasn’t any “crossover sabotage” – not with Clinton and Obama duking it out. Were folks burned out after the Ron-Paulestinian/John-McCain-establishment food fight? Was it because peripatetic fringe candidate Bob Kelleher’s name had been on Montana ballots a zillion times? Did voters confuse Bob Kelleher with Bob Keenan? Possibly.

But the honest explanation is that Kelleher’s “victory” was pure carelessness on the part of Republican primary voters. Some of you are embarrassed, I hope.

Even more amazing, after Kelleher had been cold-shouldered by the Republican leadership, raising only $120 for the general election, he still tallied 129,000 votes in the general election – including 15,459 right here in fabulous Flathead County.

What were these people thinking? The bitter reality is, not much.

So, in 2014, I would like to ask my fellow Republicans to think a little harder before voting. As the 2008 primary made clear, carelessness matters, voting matters, and yep – careless voting really matters.

Did Republicans deserve Bob Kelleher? You bet – and Republicans will get what they deserve in 2014. So will Democrats.

If Montanans want thoughtful candidates to choose from, and decent leadership once elected, we must cast thoughtful votes – every time.