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Ochenski: Taking Montana back

For whom is Pat Davison fighting?

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As the Republican primary heats up, Montanans are taking a closer look at less-known candidates like Billings businessman Pat Davison. An MSU-Billings poll in November found a stunning 94 percent of Montanans did not recognize his name, while a Lee poll last month tallied 60 percent. In an effort to boost name recognition, Davison is on the stump, promising to “take back Montana” if he is elected governor. But what does that mean?

When Davison first pledged to “take back Montana,” the reporters in the room asked the logical question: “Take back Montana from whom?” After all, Davison is a Republican, and Republicans have been in charge of the governor’s office for a full 15 years. Republicans have likewise been in total charge of the Legislature for a decade, fielding indomitable majorities that have crushed their Democratic opponents session after session.

Davison’s response says much about the candidate. Rather than take responsibility for the mess Republicans have made of the state, Davison chose to find someone else to blame, and that someone was “the environmentalists.”

Having lobbied the Legislature for most of the last 20 years on environmental issues, I have to admit that I just about spewed my morning coffee all over the paper when I read Davison’s nonsensical response. No one who has spent any time in the Capitol’s hot and crowded committee rooms could possibly believe that environmentalists control anything—especially the state of Montana.

The record on this is very clear. Every single session of the Legislature for the last decade has seen numerous attacks on environmental laws and regulations intended to protect the cleanliness of our air, water, and lands and the health of our citizens. By and large, those attacks have been successful—at least those that weren’t ruled by the Supreme Court to violate the Constitution’s basic guarantee to a “clean and healthful” environment.

Our water quality laws, for instance, were once deemed the strongest in the nation. Prior to their Republican remaking, Montana had a non-degradation policy for both surface and groundwater that was intended to ensure clean water for future generations. But in 1995, at the behest of the mining, real estate and livestock industries, the Legislature, which was controlled by solid two-thirds Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, changed the laws to permit businesses or individuals to pollute the groundwater right up to their property boundaries.

The same thing happened with mining reclamation, the Montana Environmental Policy Act, the Major Facility Siting Act, and virtually any other law or regulation that could in any way be deemed by industrial extremists to stand in the way of the colonial rape and scrape policies of the last century’s mining, logging, and cattle barons. This is not conjecture—anyone is welcome to look at the legislative record and will inescapably draw the same conclusion.

So what the hell is Mr. Davison, the man who would be governor, talking about?

And here’s where the story gets interesting. Davison is not just some Billings businessman who decided to run for governor—he is the hand-picked candidate of the Bush-Cheney industrial and energy cartel that wants to finish the job started by the ruthless exploiters of the last century.

Perhaps readers will recall the curious circumstances under which Davison came to be a candidate. The already-crowded field, including some well-known and experienced politicians, was obviously deemed deficient by the Bush-Cheney Cartel.

Bob Brown, the current Secretary of State and long-time legislator, seemed as good a candidate as any to succeed Gov. Martz. Brown, however, is considered suspect by the more radical Republicans because he has, from time to time, actually voted for environmental protection measures. Not many, to be sure, but even one is too many for this bunch. So something had to be done.

The tip-off came during Vice President Cheney’s Billings fundraiser last year. Former Gov. Marc Racicot, now heading the Bush-Cheney election committee, flew into town a day before the scheduled event but was uncharacteristically invisible. When Cheney left with hundreds of thousands of dollars, Racicot followed him out the door. But on the heels of their departure, Davison’s candidacy was suddenly announced.

So why did Davison, who has virtually no experience in governing, get the nod from the big boys? Again, one need only look to the real agenda, which is the final fleecing of the West, to get the answers. Davison, as it turns out, has been on the Board of Directors for the notorious Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) for years. This scion of the infamous Secretary of the Interior James Watt has relentlessly pursued a right-wing, anti-environmental agenda throughout the country for more than 20 years.

In 2000, MSLF tried to overturn Montana’s Stream Access Law that guarantees all citizens the right to access the waters of the state. The Foundation has challenged mine reclamation laws, fought redistricting that would give fair representation to Indians, and is a perennial opponent of the Endangered Species Act. Those with long memories will recall that the Foundation also fought efforts to stop the “Bomb the Bob” aerial seismic testing over the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in the ’80s.

If there’s anything Bush and Cheney hate, it’s environmentalists—and Davison has outstanding anti-environmentalist credentials, which is exactly why more money is now flowing to his campaign than to that of any other Republican contender.

Davison also says he will “take risks” as governor. Given his known anti-environmental stance, Montanans might wonder what “risks” he’s willing to take—and with whose resources and health. Is it worth it to risk higher cancer and birth defect rates by further gutting pollution control laws or leaving toxic mining wastes for future generations? Is it worth it to risk losing public access to our state’s rivers?

The goal of Davison’s puppet masters is clear: His pledge to “take back Montana” really means nothing more than handing the state over to risky, unrestrained, corporate exploitation. And that, sadly, is nothing new.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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