The Dog Gets His Bone

What will Racicot receive for being Bush’s pit bull?

December 14, 2000

Speculation over why Montana’s governor, Marc Racicot, has been so busy working on the presidential campaign of George W. Bush may soon be answered. As the tragicomic presidential election drama continues, both Gore and Bush are making overtures toward filling cabinet positions, and one of those being considered for such a post is Racicot. During his long involvement in the Bush bid for the presidency, Racicot’s name has often been mentioned as a potential nominee for secretary of the interior. However, in the final months of the Bush campaign—and especially after his appearance as Bush’s pit bull in the Florida recount debacle—it seems likely that Racicot might be offered the attorney general’s position instead.

It is more than coincidence that a recent Associated Press article calling Racicot “the top contender for attorney general” came out on the same day that the final tally was announced in the hotly contested Washington race for the U.S. Senate. Incumbent Slade Gorton, a staunch Republican and industry point man on such controversial issues as dam removal, salmon recovery, and Indian sovereignty, lost to dot-com millionaire Maria Cantwell. As soon as it looked like Gorton might lose the recount, his name floated to the top as the next secretary of the interior—presumably both as a reward to this loyal GOP soldier and to take advantage of his intimate knowledge of and solidly conservative positions on these extremely controversial and complex issues.

Meanwhile, sliding Racicot to the AG slot makes sense for Bush. While Gorton will draw well-deserved environmental heat should he be nominated for interior, he may be able to squeak a confirmation out of his old buddies in the Senate. It is unknown, on the other hand, how Racicot would have fared. After all, Marc Racicot is remembered by the nation as the man who ordered over a thousand starving Yellowstone bison gunned down when they wandered out of the park in search of food. The grim pictures of dead and dying buffalo staining the snow red as they were slaughtered by broadsides from Racicot’s gunmen raised a firestorm of protest when they appeared on the front pages of papers around the globe. While Racicot tried to rationalize his actions as a necessary response to the hypothetical threat of transmitting brucellosis from bison to domestic cattle, the senseless slaughter generally brought shame and disdain to the Big Sky state.

Were Bush to nominate Racicot for interior, the national press would likewise take a hard look at Racicot’s environmental record on non-bison issues. What they would find is that by virtually every measure, Montana’s “last best” environment has been significantly degraded during Racicot’s tenure. The governor’s support of lowering water quality and reclamation standards, his opposition to a ban on cyanide mining, and the general chaos of his industry-advocating agencies would be unlikely to make his confirmation either easy or pleasant. Plus, Racicot’s record would draw attention to the true proclivities of the noisy Republican cheerleaders known as the Western Governors Association. Bush, himself a Western governor, would probably prefer to quietly let his big campaign supporters in the extractive industries take full advantage of what’s left of the West’s energy and natural resources with somewhat less scrutiny than Racicot is likely to generate.

Hints that such a decision was in the making became obvious when Racicot left behind his role as mild-mannered Bush campaign adviser and leaped into the national spotlight as the attack dog for the Bush campaign in the Florida recounts. The Stephen King-like transformation shocked many Montanans who saw the man they had viewed as a friendly, political moderate turn into a rabid, partisan pit bull, foaming at the mouth over dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads and accusing the Gore camp of trying to steal the election. The fact that Racicot has not practiced law in his eight years as governor seems inconsequential—after all, as AG he’ll have a phalanx of highly trained, fully practiced lawyers at his beck and call. What is truly important is his partisan loyalty and newfound fierceness in the defense of the bumbling Bush.

Montana’s enviros, who have long known the truth of Racicot’s disastrous environmental policies, are probably breathing a sigh of relief. But that relief is likely to be short-lived. Slade Gorton, should he get the tip for interior, is a far cry from a friend of the environment and, unless something changes, is likely to preside over the extinction of the Snake River salmon as well as numerous other species. Meanwhile, Montana’s farmers and ranchers, who have floundered under Racicot’s governorship, are unlikely to see the corporate-friendly Bush administration, with Racicot as AG, do much to pursue anti-trust actions that could break the conglomerate stranglehold on ag commodities. Likewise, America’s first citizens, the Indians, are in for a nasty ride if Gorton and Racicot team up. Gorton has been blatant about his antagonism to Indian sovereignty and Racicot, while always saying he wants to help, has done little in his time as governor to actually deliver the goods for Native Americans.

In the end, this may all be relegated to the realm of speculation, since no one knows how the presidential drama will play itself out. Day by day, the two presidential wannabes draw closer to the time when one of them will actually have to pick a cabinet. Racicot says (and somehow thinks we will believe) that he has never even talked about a position in the Bush administration. But from all the evidence to date, it looks like when he gets his bone for being a good attack dog for the Bush campaign, it will be the offer of the attorney general’s seat.

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