Like a bubble of swamp gas rising from the stinking miasma of corruption that Washington, D.C. has become under the Bush administration, Montana’s former Gov. Marc Racicot resurfaced in Montana last week. Employing the typical “attack the attackers while ignoring the issues” strategy he has honed so well in his sycophantic relationship with the president, Racicot spewed pure methane to Montanans about Bush, Iraq, Conrad Burns and the benefits of GOP-style deregulation. But the Montana of today is considerably different from the Montana Marc Racicot left half a decade ago—and we have little reason to believe his inane drivel any longer.
Given the expansiveness of Racicot’s rambling comments to the press, it’s hard to know where to start. And given the American public’s dissatisfaction with the current administration, it’s easy to dismiss Racicot’s claim that President Bush “is going to go down as one of the best presidents ever.” Nor is there much punch left in once again parroting the endless GOP propaganda that the war in Iraq is “a war for the freedom of this country,” and that “we either take this up in Baghdad or we will in Belgrade.” Rubbish and threats, pure and simple.
But the issues Racicot addressed that are closest to home are probably those with which Montanans are most familiar. Take utility deregulation, for instance. As the driving force behind the 1997 deregulation law that led to the dissolution of the Montana Power Company, the scattering of its assets to out-of-state energy corporations, and today’s unbelievably high power bills, Racicot stands front and center as the man responsible for one of the greatest economic disasters ever to hit the state. Yet in his discussions with reporters, Racicot still praises deregulation.
“Congress set it in motion. We couldn’t stop it. It was sweeping the states,” Racicot told reporters. What he forgot to mention was that it was a Republican Congress dominated by the same energy cronies who secretly devised this nation’s failed energy policy with sneering Vice President Cheney early in Bush’s first term who put together the dereg plan that has benefited them so monstrously at the expense of the nation’s families and businesses. As for stopping it, well, you’d have to try to stop it before you could say you “couldn’t stop it”—and that never happened.
Finally, deregulation wasn’t “sweeping the states” as our former governor claims. The awful truth, which Racicot doesn’t want to countenance, is that Montana leapt into deregulation while our neighboring states looked on in horror. After MPC sold off its hydroelectric facilities—and their massive water rights—Idaho killed its deregulation bill in its tracks. Nor have Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, or 19 other states fallen victim to dereg’s disasters. In California, where the greatest rip-off of consumers by the energy cartels in the nation’s history occurred, deregulation has been suspended.
We’ll have to assume our former governor no longer finds Montana’s newspapers very interesting, or he would realize the harm his past actions have inflicted on Montanans. Take these recent letters to the editorial page of Butte’s Montana Standard. “My power bill was $417.05 this month,” wrote Sharon Brody under the title “Power costs hurting the elderly.” “It’s more than anyone can pay for rent and food or medication. Well, there are no more cuts in low-income to be made. When is someone going to open their eyes and stop this madness?”
Or how about this one from Butte businessman Norman Partelow, who wrote: “My electrical bill for my business went from $200 in November to $445 in December, an increase of 145 percent. I am sure that the natural gas bill, when received, will be equivalent. At a 30 percent profit margin, I have to gross $2000 a month to pay the piper.” Given Montana’s dismal, bottom-of-the-barrel per capita income, no one can ignore the grim impacts Racicot’s policies have wrought.
If you thought De’ Nile was a river in Eygpt, look at what Racicot had to say about the scandal that has tied D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff to Montana’s Sen. Conrad Burns. “Speculation, rumor, gossip and innuendo” is what Racicot called the talk about Abramoff, spread by “political opportunists who will do everything in their power to try and take advantage of that to serve their own purpose.” As a clincher, Racicot added there’s “no evidence of any kind” suggesting untoward activities by Burns.
Now consider what The New York Times reported Tuesday: “Mr. Abramoff, 46, is pleading guilty to fraud, public corruption and tax evasion, setting the stage for prosecutors to begin using him as a cooperating witness against his former business and political colleagues.”
“With Jack Abramoff’s cooperation,” the Times article concludes, “the Justice Department will have a potentially critical witness to alleged patterns of corruption within the Republican leadership.”
Which brings us to the real reason Racicot was bubbling swamp gas last week. Although he called it “a matter of cosmic intersection that I am here on my own dime and speaking about the issues,” Racicot admitted that the new Republican National Committee chairman asked him to ride to the defense of their scandal-plagued party while he was in Montana. The Repubs are worried—and rightfully so.
Conrad Burns received about $150,000 from Abramoff—the largest take of any politician in Congress—and Abramoff has just cut a plea agreement with the feds. Considering it’s an election year for Burns, and given the general revulsion sweeping the country over the GOP’s out-of-control corruption, the Repubs could easily lose the Senate. Racicot says “it’s not even a remote possibility” that Burns won’t run, and reportedly “dismissed suggestions that he might return to Montana and run for office.”
But the Abramoff story is far from over. Given the dubious veracity of his other statements, Montanans should keep their eyes open and their memories sharp—or risk a Racicot redux with all that would entail.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.