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Republicans line up to challenge Max Baucus; campaign spending goes through the roof
Sen. Max Baucus isn't up for re-election until fall of 2014. Nobody's even announced a challenge yet. But the campaign ads have already started, and it's only going to get worse in the new year.
Republicans will come crawling out of the woodwork, making Montana's Republican Senate primary vaguely reminiscent of the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Rep. Steve Daines, elected to the U.S. House this year, will throw his name in the hat. He exhibited his Senate aspirations in early 2011, briefly declaring against Sen. Jon Tester before Denny Rehberg entered the fray. Former state Sen. Ryan Zinke will make a run, too, after his failed attempt at claiming the office of lieutenant governor alongside 2012 gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone. However, the conservative spotlight will inevitably fall on the young Corey Stapleton, a runner-up in the 2012 primary whom former state Sen. Bob Keenan declared "absolutely the most electable Republican" on the gubernatorial ticket.
Outside spending for and against Baucus in 2013 will make last year's Tester-Rehberg race look like a dollar-menu item at McDonald's. Democratic PACs and liberal-leaning nonprofits will pony up $4 million by the end of 2013 in an effort to maintain the party's Senate majority. Third-party conservative groups will dole out more than $3 million opposing the incumbent, though after backing so many losing candidates in 2012, those same groups will ease off on attack ads in favor of grassroots networking. All told, the 2014 Montana Senate race will see roughly $8 million in total spending before it even reaches the actual election year.
Guest Prognosticator: Caitlin Copple
city councilwoman, regional development organizer for Pride Foundation
Four of Montana's largest cities embrace LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances
So far, just Missoula and Helena have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. Bozeman is the next place where the Montana Human Rights Network will lead the campaign to protect LGBT people from being fired, denied housing or public accommodations just because of who they are or whom they love.
The true test will come this fall, when the campaign will move to Billings, and all the organizations in the movement are gearing up for a tougher fight. A win in Billings would be huge, since it is the most populous city in the state and seen as a bellwether for Montana politics. As the Montana representative for Pride Foundation, the world's largest LGBT community foundation, I will continue to help our grantees with their efforts to make our state a safer and more welcoming place for all its citizens.
Guest Prognosticator: Dan Brooks
Indy columnist and writer at combatblog.net
Montana's medical marijuana law becomes moot
Montana will finally settle on a medical marijuana law, and it will be rendered totally unenforceable by legal recreational dope in Washington state. Western Montana will be the equivalent of a dry county: a place you get through to get to where it's legal, even for local residents. The Montanans of 2013 will watch holo-films of the year 2011, when the state legislature acted swiftly to stop a growing industry, and wonder if we might have been what's now Washington's growing industry.
Guest Prognosticator: James Grunke
CEO Missoula Economic Partnership
Missoula experiences a robust economic rebound
The pent-up demand from the last three years is ready to release. We're going to see new hires. We're going to see current businesses expanding. We're going to have companies relocating to Missoula. It's easy to say "baloney" to this, but we're talking to two, three, four or five businesses each and every week that are looking for opportunity in Missoula. All indications say we're in for a good rebound, finally.
Construction of the Keystone Pipeline in Montana stalls amid more protest
Few environmental issues are as polarizing as TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The massive project calls for a pipeline to run from Alberta's tar sands south through parts of eastern Montana—including under the Yellowstone and Missouri river—sand all the way to oil refineries in southern Texas. State officials and Montana's D.C. delegation are firmly in support of it, claiming it brings valuable jobs to the region. Environmental activists have drawn a line in the sand, decrying the tar sands' overall impact on climate change as well as the inherent dangers of such a big pipeline and the possibility of ruptures.
While the process has been slow—President Obama must approve the project since it crosses an international boundary, and he punted on the issue during an election year—it continues to move forward. Last month, the Montana Land Board approved the sale of easements to TransCanada for $741,000. Soon-to-be-former Gov. Brian Schweitzer has gone so far as to guarantee it happens this year. "I have $100 burning a hole in my pocket that I will bet you that it gets built," he told The Canadian Press in February. "I'd say construction will start in 2013."
Despite these developments, it's the activists who win again in the new year. While Schweitzer and other officials are bending over backwards to appease TransCanada, activists in Washington, D.C., and all along the proposed pipeline's route have been staging spirited rallies and demonstrations. Montana resident and actress Margot Kidder was among those arrested last year outside the White House, joining fellow Hollywood stars like Daryl Hannah, Danny Glover and Robert Redford in protest. Even more impressive are the thousands of rank-and-file who continue to come out to oppose the pipeline. These grassroots efforts aren't going anywhere, and the stubborn resolve of the activists ultimately wins out in 2013.