Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2011 Legislature coming into focus

Legislative leaders today released the names of lawmakers who will serve as presiding officers of 2011 session committees.

These are the men and women who will more-or-less set the committee agendas for the coming session. All committee chairs are Republicans.

Rather than re-type the whole list, here’s the information I received from the Legislative Information Office earlier today:

Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, chair of the Senate Committee on Committees, announced the following presiding officer appointments in the Senate:

Committee                                         Presiding Officer
Finance and Claims                             Dave Lewis, R-Helena
Business and Labor                             Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman
Judiciary                                            Jim Shockley, R-Victor
State Administration                            Jim Shockley, R-Victor
Taxation                                             Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell
Education & Cultural Resources           Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek
Public Health                                      Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell
Natural Resources                               Debby Barrett, R-Dillon
Ag, Livestock and Irrigation                 Don Steinbeisser, R-Sidney
Highways and Transportation         Llew Jones, R-Conrad
Fish and Game                                        John Brenden, R-Scobey
Local Government                               Jon Sonju, R-Kalispell
Energy                                                      Alan Olson, R-Roundup
Rules                                                          Jeff Essmann, R-Billings
Legislative Administration              Taylor Brown, R-Huntley
Ethics                                                        not yet named

Rep. Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, speaker-elect of the House of Representatives, along with Rep. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, majority leader-elect, named the following representatives as presiding officers of House committees:

Appropriations                                  Walter McNutt, R-Sidney
Judiciary                                               Ken Peterson, R-Billings
Taxation                                                 Mark Blasdel, R-Somers
Business and Labor                           Elsie Arntzen, R-Billings
State Administration                        Pat Ingraham, R-Thompson Falls
Education                                              Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork
Natural Resources                              Gordon Hendrick, R-Superior
Federal Relations, Energy, and     Harry Klock, R-Harlowton Telecommunications             
Transportation                                    Gordon Vance, R-Bozeman
Agriculture                                            Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel
Human Services                                  David Howard, R-Park City
Fish, Wildlife and Parks                    Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman
Local Government                             Gary MacLaren, R-Victor
Ethics                                                        Keith Regier, R-Kalispell
Rules                                                       Michael More, R-Gallatin Gateway

A full list of members of the session committees will likely be released next week.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Breaking: Republican John Brueggeman resigns Senate seat

Polson Republican John Brueggeman resigned his Montana Senate seat on Monday, just 35 days before the 2011 session is set to begin.
Brueggeman, 31, is considered a moderate Republican and has served in the Legislature since he was first elected to the House in 2000.
Brueggeman, who serves Senate District 6, said it has become too difficult to balance a new career while serving his constituents in Flathead and Lake Counties. Brueggeman took a job as a regional sales manager for 3M earlier this year and he said he travels about 95 percent of the time.
" After 10 years in the Legislature, though I love public policy and public service more than anything, I decided it was time to focus on my career," Brueggeman said. "That's a challenge that all young legislators face."
Brueggeman said he tried to manage his professional career in a way that would still allow him to serve in the Legislature, but as the 2011 session approached, it became clear that wouldn't be possible.
"Every fire I put out, a couple more sprang up. It got increasingly difficult to manage a constituency and a very demanding job," he said.
Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, issued the following statement about Brueggeman’s resignation:
“All of us in the Senate appreciate his service to Montana for the past nine years. The kind of career opportunity that Senator Brueggeman had doesn’t come along every day, especially in this economy. I understand his decision. We will miss his dedicated work, but all of us in the Senate wish him well in his future.”
Brueggeman developed a reputation in recent sessions as a moderate Republicans in the Senate, sometimes voting with Democrats on key bills.
Recently Brueggeman made headlines when he said he planned to introduce a measure that would strike language from the Montana code that prohibits homosexuality. That move came after the Montana Republican Party adopted a platform that supports legislation "to keep homosexual acts illegal."
Brueggeman acknowledged that the bill gave some of his fellow Republicans heartburn, but he said his resignation had nothing to do with the proposed measure.
"I had a lot of people ask me not to move forward with the bill, but there were also a lot of people—a lot of good friends I respect in the party—who came forward and said, 'Hey John, we really appreciate you taking a stand on this,'" Brueggeman said. "In politics, I may be a little bit ahead of my time for the party."
Brueggeman said he's going to miss debating that and other bills on the Senate floor.
"It would have been enjoyable to have that debate on the Senate Floor. Hopefully somebody will still bring the issue forward," Brueggeman said.
Now that Brueggeman has resigned, it's up to the county commissioners in Flathead and Lake Counties to appoint his replacement from a list of candidates provided by the local Republican central committees.

Sen. John Brueggeman resigns Senate seat

John Brueggeman

On the eve of the 2011 Legislature, Polson Republican John Brueggeman has resigned his Senate seat.

I’m still working on the details, but Brueggeman confirmed that he handed his resignation to the Secretary of State this morning.

He posted the following statement on his Facebook page:

Thank you Montana. It has truly been an honor and a pleasure to serve the good people of this State. And though my greatest love remains public service, after a decade in the Legislature its time to give my career the attention it deserves.

The news will come as a blow to Democrats as Brueggeman is viewed as one of the more moderate Republicans in the Senate.

Read tomorrow’s Great Falls Tribune for more details. I’ll post more here as well.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Politico: Tester a top GOP target in 2012


According to Politico, Montana Sen. Jon Tester is near the top of the Republican Party’s hit list for 2012:

The flat-topped junior senator from Montana starts the cycle vying with [Nebraska Sen. Ben] Nelson for the undesirable status of most endangered Senate Democrat. On Saturday, Bozeman businessman Steve Daines is expected to enter the race, touting his success as a local job creator at an international consulting company. The Montana Democratic Party is welcoming Daines to the fray with a Federal Election Commission complaint that accuses him of using “soft money” to air an attack ad aimed at Tester that is masked as issue advocacy.

The big question mark in the race is the state’s at-large Congressman Denny Rehberg, who hasn’t yet indicated his plans. His spokesman would only go as far as to say, “Denny is focused on doing the job the overwhelming majority of Montana voters sent him to Washington to do.”

State GOP Chairman Will Deschamps suggests that if Rehberg wants the nomination, it’ll be his for the taking.

“Last two cycles, Denny has carried Missoula County, which is so blue you can’t even think straight,” said Deschamps.

Neil Livingstone, a frequent national security commentator on Fox News Channel, told POLITICO he’s also eyeing the contest but said that if Rehberg runs, he won’t.

“Denny’s a good friend of mine, and I’ll support him on his decision,” he said.

Rumors of a possible Tester vs. Rehberg matchup began to swirl shortly after Tester introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in July 2009. Rehberg quickly interjected himself into Tester’s signature piece of legislation in December when he launched a “Wilderness Listening Tour.”

Rehberg has also vocally slammed Tester’s role in the Port of Whitetail debacle, accusing Tester of “shooting from the hip” by supporting the $8.5 million dollar renovation at little-used remote border crossing.

Rehberg remains tight-lipped about his plans for 2012, but many political insiders expect he will eventually run.

When asked last week by Tribune Washington, D.C. reporter Ledyard King if he was thinking of taking on Tester, Rehberg had this to say:

“Do you really expect me to answer that? C'mon. For God’s sake, this is two days after the election. I am so excited about getting back and serving in the majority. That’s what I’m focused on … I just have no idea (about a run for Senate). I haven’t even gotten my yard signs down yet.” 

Montana Republican Party sources tell me that if Rehberg does jump into the race, Daines would happily step aside from the Senate race and pursue Rehberg’s House seat.

Rehberg would undoubtedly be the prohibitive favorite in a GOP primary.

Man, we’ve hardly sailed past the 2010  election and already the 2012 waters are getting choppy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Steve Daines (hasn't yet) announced is 2012 Senate campaign

I mentioned on Monday that Bozeman businessman Steve Daines is poised to launch his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign on Saturday.

Politico reported on the rumor earlier Tuesday evening:
Daines would not confirm his plans, but while traveling in Australia he told POLITICO by telephone that he is planning a political announcement Saturday.
He noted that he has already spoken to GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg, the state's only House member and another potential Senate candidate, about his decision.
"Denny's a very good friend. He represents Montana very well. I don't think he's sure what he's going to do. He's spent 10 years in the House, he'll be a senior member in the House. That'll be a better place to serve from where he's been in the past. He's got a pretty good role in the House in the majority," Daines said.
Meanwhile, the Montana Democratic Party has accused Daines of running an illegal shadow campaign for Democrat Jon Tester’s U.S. Senate seat.

According to the Associated Press, the Democrats filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission accusing Daines of "running a shadow campaign using soft money from a Colorado political action committee."

At issue is this YouTube ad by a Colorado-based group called Common Sense Issues, posted more than nine months ago. In it Daines attacks Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and appears on the screen as he states the fact that he's a "fifth generation Montanan" and that he's "disappointed with just how out of touch Max Baucus and Jon Tester are..." Well, see for yourself:

From the AP:
David Benson, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said the video essentially launches Daines' campaign for the seat. The party's complaint says the Bozeman businessman is more than $5,000 into his campaign and is beyond merely "testing the waters" for a political run.
If a challenger isn't going to follow basic election laws as we fight for those Montana values, we'll demand accountability," Benson said.
Daines, of course, dismisses the Democrats' complaint:
Daines maintained his non-candidate status Tuesday and suggested Democrats are trying to silence him with the complaint, which he said he has not yet seen.
"We've not received anything, other than from the media," he told the [Billings] Gazette. "I'm curious that they're talking to you before they've filed this with the FEC. I'm not even a candidate right now."
Well, maybe not officially. But it's pretty difficult to watch that ad and not see it as a campaign ad. And then there's the YouTube channel, called MontanaNeedsSteve, where you can these non-campaign videos as well:

Whether we like it or not, campaign 2012 is in full swing as Republican try to cash in on the momentum of last week's election. Are we in for another long, bitter election cycle?

Monday, November 8, 2010

GOP candidates lining up for 2012

Former Republican Congressman Rick Hill on Monday announced his bid for Montana Governor at a kickoff event in Clancy.

Hill, who served two terms in the U.S. House in the late 1990s before a problem with his eyes kept him from running again in 2000, said revitalizing Montana’s economy tops his agenda.

Hill joins former state Sens. Ken Miller of Laurel and Corey Stapleton of Billings in the race for the GOP nomination for the post currently held by two-term Democrat Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer cannot run again in 2012 due to term limits.

In other news, sources told me on Monday that Bozeman businessman Steve Daines, who ran on Republican state Sen. Roy Brown’s gubernatorial ticket in 2008, intends to announce his bid for the U.S. Senate in the coming days.

Daines was traveling in Australia on Monday and unavailable for comment.

According to one Montana GOP insider, Daines is prepared to step aside from the senate race if Rep. Denny Rehberg decides to throw his hat in the ring to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. In that scenario Daines would then run for Rehberg’s House seat, the source said.

Rehberg has long been rumored to be gearing up to take on Tester and has been vocal in his criticisms of Montana’s junior senator. According to Politico, Rehberg was spotted exiting the National Republican Senatorial Committee's Capitol Hill headquarters just two days after Republicans’ huge showing in last Tuesday’s midterm elections.

CORRECTION: The Politico story I referenced was published in November 2009, not last week as I stated in my post. So the rumors of Rehberg’s alleged 2012 senate have been circulating for at least a year. Regardless, I regret the error.

Montana’s Senior Senator, Democrat Max Baucus, weighed in on subject, saying:

"I don't think it would be wise" to challenge him, Baucus said.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

McCulloch: Voting "steady" around the state

If you haven't already....
You have until 8 p.m.

If you don't know where to vote, you can use the tool on the right hand side of this blog to locate your polling place.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said voting is going smoothly at polling places throughout the state.
McCulloch spent Election Day traveling from Billings to Helena visiting polling locations along the way. She said elections officials reported a steady stream of voters at each location.

“I haven’t heard of any complaints or reports of problems so far,” McCulloch said late Tuesday afternoon. “I think everyone is organized and well-prepared.”

McCulloch said she spoke to election judges at polling locations in Billings, Big Timber, Livingston, Bozeman and Belgrade and everyone is “feeling good.”

“They feel they were really well trained by their county election officials and everybody seemed very happy,” McCulloch said. 

As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, 188,968 absentee ballots had been sent out state-wide. That number includes voters who filled out absentee ballots at their county election office. According to McCulloch, so far 159,801 of those absentee ballots, or just fewer than 85 percent, had been returned as of Tuesday afternoon.

Polls close at 8 p.m. and results should begin pouring in to the Secretary of State’s Office soon thereafter. Election results will be continuously updated on the Secretary of State’s website at sos.mt.gov  beginning after 8 p.m.