Ochenski

Already ugly: The race is on for Denny Rehberg’s seat

March 26, 2009
Montana voters have almost 600 days before they cast their ballots to determine the fate of our lone congressional seat now held by incumbent Dennis Rehberg. So far, the only announced candidate for Rehberg’s seat—and he has yet to formally file—is Democratic Party Chair Dennis McDonald. Despite the fact that the election is more than a year and a half away, the race has already turned very ugly, with accusations flying between the candidates and political parties.

Just last week the Republican Party put out a long press release titled “Montana meets ‘The Weasel,’” which details McDonald’s past involvement defending a mobster during his legal career as a trial lawyer in San Francisco. According to the Republicans, McDonald “has a lot to hide,” including “a suspicious past of poor judgment and questionable ethics related to his sustained legal defense and close personal relationship with famed mob boss and admitted hit man Jimmy ‘The Weasel’ Fratianno.”

The Republicans build their case on references in Jimmy the Weasel’s biography, “The Last Mafioso,” in which author Ovid Demaris wrote that McDonald “admired Jimmy’s intellect and ability to maneuver, to put deals and people together; his amazing memory and shrewd calculating mind fascinated him to the point where the evil reputation became a troubling enigma.” The Republicans also offered a website (http://www.truveo.com/Jimmy-The-Weasel/id/1442724081) where viewers can watch Jimmy the Weasel explain to Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” how he strangled his first mob hit in his own living room.

The release quotes Alden Downing, communications director for the Republican Party, sounding like a figure from The Godfather (think Marlon Brando’s voice here): “They say there’s only one way to get out of the mob, and it’s not by moving to Montana and billing yourself as a rancher.” Downing goes on to add: “Not only did he defend this admitted killer, tax evader and mob insider, Dennis McDonald went on vacation with Jimmy the Weasel and routinely invited him into his home. McDonald cannot deny his mob dealings and he cannot be counted on for honest, transparent or ethical leadership. Montanans should seriously consider whether Dennis McDonald possesses the judgment and character to uphold the values, expectations and reputation of our only seat in the U.S. Congress.”

Pretty slimeball stuff from the Republicans, but obviously calculated to capture the public’s attention, smear McDonald and suddenly inject mob hit men into a Montana congressional race. McDonald has denied taking Las Vegas vacations with Jimmy the Weasel and maintains that his part in the negotiations ultimately resulted in bringing down several other mob figures.

McDonald struck back last weekend in an op-ed column released by the Democratic Party titled: “Rehberg—Tell the Truth.” In the column, McDonald assails Rehberg for plugging some $43 million in earmarked Montana projects in the recently passed Recovery Act and the Omnibus spending bill. The problem, according to McDonald, is that Rehberg stuck the earmarks in the bills, but then didn’t vote for them. “Rehberg has said that he could not vote for the Recovery Act or the spending bill because of the excess spending and earmarks therein—the same earmarks he worked to place in the legislation! More importantly, once he voted against both of these measures he then paraded around the state touting the benefits of the infrastructure improvements such as water projects, roads and bridges, school improvement projects, etc. He voted against these exact projects. In my neighborhood, that’s like talking [sic] credit for shoeing a string of horses you’ve never seen.”

Folksy barn-talk aside, McDonald is right to nail Rehberg for his apparent duplicity. But on the other hand, it shows a rather stunning lack of understanding of the legislative process that is somewhat troubling. Rehberg is now in the minority in the House and getting millions for Montana at his request is dubious. But in the halls of power, where the laws are made and money divvied up, even if you hate a bill you assess its chance of passage and do what you can to make it meet at least some of your goals—even if you plan on voting against it. In this respect, Rehberg did just that. He knew the bill was going to pass the Democrat-controlled House and Senate, so he plugged in the earmarks for the Montana projects.

McDonald went on to bolster his case: “Congressman Rehberg is traveling the state talking about the need for good paying jobs. Yet he’s voted against raising the minimum wage at his every opportunity. He voted against the Recovery Act, which will provide 11,000 good paying jobs in Montana. Only a professional politician that’s been eating out of the public trough for more than two decades could believe he could get away with talking out of both sides of his mouth. This hypocrisy must stop and there should be accountability. Montanans know Rehberg voted for polices [sic] that took a budget surplus that existed when he went to Washington in 2000 and turned that surplus into a $1.7 trillion deficit by 2008. The national debt doubled as he consistently voted in favor of the Bush-Cheney economic policies. These are the unpleasant facts and Congressman Rehberg owes Montanans an explanation.”

We’d all like to hear what Rehberg has to say about what McDonald calls his “hypocrisy,” but it’s unlikely that Rehberg will respond with anything we haven’t heard before, since “we were in a war” is the most common cop-out for the Bush years used by both Republicans and Democrats. As for trillion dollar deficits, that’s thin ice for Demos to tread given the pace of current deficit spending.

With more than a year and a half before the ads stop and our votes are cast, it’s unfortunate that Montanans are already knee-deep in these ugly, mud-slinging congressional campaigns. But as we all know, the real issues affecting Montanans aren’t hit men and hypocrisy. So the question is: When will they get to those?

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

Comments (22)

Showing 1-22 of 22

Oh lord, he defended a mobster. That mobster had NO RIGHT to go out there and hire a lawyer like that. What gall. "Even a goddamn werewolf is entitled to legal counsel."- Hunter S. Thompson

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Posted by Charles Copeland on 03/30/2009 at 3:19 PM

Lawrence, gust hoo do yew thinck yew arr? Hu? Trieing to pock phun at a persun becoz their not gude at speling? Not everiwun has the lukshury of a leberul edukashun. Aylot uv us went to hoam skool and doant disurv to faice you're incults. Pleez gev them a apologie for herting there pheilings. Thanck yew.

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Posted by HoamSkooler on 03/29/2009 at 7:07 AM

mel: "... thot... most dems can't think... " In the midst of serious debate, a little irony and comic relief is always a welcome thing. Thanks, mel.

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Posted by Lawrence on 03/28/2009 at 11:37 PM

Its totally amazing that Rehberg is even responding to McDonald this early. In the past we had to wait until Labor Day of the election year before anybody cared. Obviously Rehberg needs money. Lots of money because he is an endangered species, much like the Dodo bird he emulates. This particular election will be so important if Rehberg has further aspirations. It would be way cool if we could knock him out this time around. Its time that Rehberg put up or shut up as the party of No isn't working very well and the economy might just turn around without him anyway.

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Posted by Al V. on 03/28/2009 at 5:46 PM

Elkamino, I think the point they were making is that the Column DIDNT write about the two obvious contenders. You may wish to peruse their comments before rushing to defend a friend.

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Posted by Beaudroux on 03/27/2009 at 4:38 PM

Its unfair to Rehberg, he has been a loyal political hack for the Republican party for years. It has kept his resume' clear of actual work. So, this lawyer coming along with actual work history of solving mob related crimes is too much. That is why Rehberg is getting excited so early so he can drum up the needed cash to hide his lackluster career and point the finger at others so they don't look at him.

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Posted by Al V. on 03/27/2009 at 4:23 PM

There is no way the calipornia trial lawyer and mighty whitey schweity's friend will get elected. He is nothing but a class A jackass. I hope the dems ain't serious. Can't even find someone from in-state. Just happens to buffalo butt brians good buddy. Al V should stand trial for libel. Why don't you ever get an original thot besides just towing the party drone line. Oh, that's right, most dems can't think for themselves.

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Posted by mel on 03/27/2009 at 1:12 PM

After reading this I feel so SILLY! I had NO IDEA someone from Missoula was running against the mighty Dennis Rehberg! Finally, the Dems have put forward some candidates we can get behind! Maybe this time they will GET THAT SEAT! I honestly don't care who wins the primary, we just NEED THAT SEAT!

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Posted by BlueDog on 03/27/2009 at 1:11 PM

There is no way the calipornia trial lawyer and mighty whitey schweity's friend will get elected. He is nothing but a class A jackass. I hope the dems ain't serious. Can't even find someone from in-state. Just happens to buffalo butt brians good buddy. Al V should stand trial for libel. Why don't you ever get an original thot besides just towing the party drone line. Oh, that's right, most dems can't think for themselves.

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Posted by mel on 03/27/2009 at 12:58 PM

I think the Montana Democratic Party has bungled the last 5 or 6 elections for the House seat that Rehberg occupies. The idea that we might have a contest in the primary is great. The early ugliness that you write about is a great indication that the battle will be fierce on both sides and the Republicans are scared.

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Posted by Al V. on 03/27/2009 at 10:05 AM

bitch, bitch, bitch. All you lame-ass Dems stepping up to bash Ochenski for writing a his column about the two obvious contenders are just pissed because he maintains his independence and refuses to toe your sorry-ass party line. Get a fucking life.

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Posted by elkamino on 03/27/2009 at 8:51 AM

All that stuff about the hitman is pretty tame compared to Rehberg and his involvement with a more deadly crime mob: the Bush regime. Rehberg did everything in his power to do nothing to halt the multifarious criminal activity eminating from the Whitehouse for the past 8 years. Rehberg is an assessory to murder, kidnapping, torture, spying on Americans, fraud, grand theft, the list just goes on and on.

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Posted by Al V. on 03/27/2009 at 8:41 AM

I feel you Lawrence, but there are only two candidates at this point, and both are exciting possibilities. I also see what you're saying Mr. Ochenski, I'm just dissapointed that our local guy was not mentioned here. You can understand.

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Posted by Dissapointed Democrat on 03/26/2009 at 10:37 PM

Lawrence, don't tell me you're one of Ochenski's little enviro/journalist palls who routinely pump him up as anonymous commenters here? There are only two contenders in this race, so couldn't we expect a little more from Ochenski than a complete omission of a hometown challenger? Geeez. For the record, I don't know who I'm supporting yet, but wouldn't it be nice to know who intends on running? Isn't the point here that if you're going to do early coverage of a race, shouldn't you do complete early coverage of a race? Hmmm. You boys and all your posturing for Ochenski. Makes a girl wonder whether your dads took you to boy scouts enough!

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Posted by Jentron3030 on 03/26/2009 at 4:33 PM

Geez, folks. The column is titled, "Already ugly: The race is on for Denny Rehberg’s seat", not, "Everything you want to know about the House race". If Gernant is not part of the ugliness, yet, more power to him. He's better off for not being associated with this particular column. Do you really think GO could keep himself from discussing all contenders for the Dem. nod in future columns over the next one year plus before the primary, even if he wanted to? Cut the guy some slack. All your whining has done is give me a slightly bad impression of Gernant, or at least his supporters. Why not spend your time more productively by telling us why you like him?

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Posted by Lawrence on 03/26/2009 at 4:01 PM

... can't seem to get the gist of peein' match over the (LSD) spending bill. which Geo has already, correctly described in a previous edition...

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Posted by paleale on 03/26/2009 at 11:47 AM

Are you dodging the real issue again Ochenksi? Did you write a whole column on a race and not include an announced non-filing candidate from this newspaper's hometown? Tisk tisk. If Gernant didn't file, and as you say someone who hasn't filed "isn't a candidate" then why did you write the whole dang column about McDonald, and not include Gernant? (Should I have to be the one telling you his name is Gernant, spelled G-E-R-N-A-N-T? My goodness George!) Am I so astute as to have to point out that they both have announced, and neither have formally filed? C'mon George. Saying McDonald is "being touted as the candidate" is a flimsy defense for focusing on him as the single candidate, don't you think? You're saying that because McDonald is touting himself, anyone else can be excluded from early coverage of the race. If Dissapointed Democrat hadn't pointed this out, you'd have everyone in Missoula believing McDonald was the only one. People in Missoula are touting Gernant as the candidate, so why not write the whole column about him? Isn't that your logic here? I hate to question whether you know what's going on in politics outside the Helena establishment George, but... I'm beginning to wonder George.

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Posted by Jentron3030 on 03/26/2009 at 10:39 AM

Jen - You'll note that I put that fact in the first paragraph -- that McDonald hadn't yet filed. Nonetheless, the Demo party sent out his op-ed from which I quoted -- not the McDonald campaign. Maybe you should question why that happened, since neither McDonald nor Gertner have filed, but McDonald is already being touted as the candidate against Rehberg. Quite frankly, I think leaving Gertner out of a column titled "Ugly Already" is to his advantage. Maybe you see it otherwise, but I just didn't see his part in the early ugliness of the House campaign.

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Posted by Ochenski on 03/26/2009 at 10:00 AM

"Don't worry, I'm not trying to discourage Mr. Gernant's bid in any way -- it's just that he hasn't yet filed, so he really isn't a candidate" That's such BS Mr. Ochenski. Niether Gernant nor McDonald have filed, and both have announced their intention to run.

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Posted by Jentron3030 on 03/26/2009 at 9:31 AM

DD - Actually, I did have a paragraph about the seeming inconsistency in the Demo party policies regarding primary candidates and their ability to address the party at functions. To be more specific, I had a reference to the blog post by former Indy reporter John S. Adams, now the Great Falls Tribune's Capitol Bureau Chief. In that post, Adams questions why McDonald was allowed to address the Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner this year when Jim Hunt, (who filed to run against Rehberg), did not have that opportunity two years ago. The point Adams makes is that Gernant may also run, hence there would be a primary race and both candidates should get equal time to address their own party. Unfortunately, I only have so many words in the column and tossing in that aspect of the primary seemed like it deserved its own discussion instead of being tacked on to this column. Here's the link to Adams' post, which, like I said, I had in the original text, but removed because it isn't really part of the mudslinging going on between McDonald and Rehberg right now -- it's a whole different topic. It's at http://tinyurl.com/c5gaet Don't worry, I'm not trying to discourage Mr. Gernant's bid in any way -- it's just that he hasn't yet filed, so he really isn't a candidate and, since the column is about the early, ugly scene in the race, I hope Mr. Gernant will file and will discuss the real issues of importance to Montanans instead of what we're seeing so far.

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Posted by Ochenski on 03/26/2009 at 9:22 AM

Second that Dissapointed Democrat... What gives Indy?

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Posted by Jentron3030 on 03/26/2009 at 8:44 AM

Ochenski, you may be losing your touch with old age. I am sorely disappointed that your story makes no mention of Missoula tax lawyer, Tyler Gernant, who has indicated his interest in running for Rehberg’s seat as well. He has already made a couple stump speeches and was at the recent Mansfield Metcalf dinner in Helena. Where were you? He has been in the news already several times, and here are some links: http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/mcdonald_mulls_taking_a_run_at_rehberg/C37/L37/ http://missoulian.com/articles/2009/02/11/news/mtregional/news15.txt http://www.leftinthewest.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=2684 http://www.mtstandard.com/articles/2009/02/11/state/hjjajhijhhfiia.txt I know you’re up in Helena, and might consider yourself too good to vote for a political outsider in the primary, but since many of us are ‘down here’ in Missoula, maybe we deserve to know that one of our own has announced his interest in running? Don’t you think?

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Posted by Dissapointed Democrat on 03/26/2009 at 6:59 AM
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