Ochenski: Summertime blues

Are politicos going crazy from the heat?



“Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do—’cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” —The Who

Maybe the mid-summer heat has gone to their heads. Or maybe it’s just a sorry case of trying to make silk purses out of a bunch of sows’ ears. For one reason or another, though, our politicians on both the state and federal level seem to have gone loco in the last week as they struggle to make themselves and their ideas seem important during the time of year when most folks would just as soon tune out politics and head for the beach.

Take the case of Democrat gubernatorial candidate Brian Schweitzer, for instance. Having committed the first of Brian’s Bungles when he got caught buying not one, but two new pickup trucks from an Idaho car dealer, Schweitzer decided to distract attention from his gaffe by announcing a bold new initiative to prohibit former legislators from becoming lobbyists until they have been out of office for four years.

What’s that? This means absolutely nothing to you? Well, no surprise…it means absolutely nothing to most people.

Having been a lobbyist for nearly 20 years and watched a pile of legislators, governors, and fellow lobbyists come and go, one thing seems clear: Schweitzer has proposed a bold solution in search of a problem.

Had such a proposal been enacted during the pre-term limit days, perhaps some good might have come from stopping the so-called “revolving door” that led from the Legislature to the lobby. Back when it was not unusual for the same legislators to represent the same districts for a quarter century, the personal connections and quid pro quos made by former legislators proved helpful when they became lobbyists.

But ever since Montana’s voters enacted term limits, such connections are meaningless. By the time a former legislator turns lobbyist, everyone he or she served with is out the door. Almost no one has less political clout than a former legislator these days. Their “track record” is unknown to new legislators, they undoubtedly made enemies inside the chambers during their tenure, and often there is a “get even” attitude among the hired guns in the halls.

What’s really going on is Schweitzer taking a backhand slap at his rival, Secretary of State Bob Brown, who became a lobbyist for Columbia Falls Aluminum when he was termed-out of the Legislature after his quarter-century stint. Thanks to their “Clean Campaign Pledges,” however, apparently our gubernatorial candidates are now devoting more time to figuring out how to get around direct attacks on each other. For the Brown campaign, it was having Conrad Burns and Judy Martz go after Schweitzer. For Schweitzer, it’s a bold new initiative to prevent ex-legislators from hanging around the Capitol. And neither effort does anything to address the real issues facing Montanans in the future.

Going further up the ladder, the situation at the national level seems equally ludicrous. Only this week our fearless leader, President Bush, seems to have discovered a spelling error. The real evil-doer behind the September 11 attacks (if anyone in the world will believe anything American “intelligence” agencies “reveal” these days) is Iran, not Iraq. Given the President’s continuing struggle with the English language, perhaps a tiny spelling error is understandable—after all, it’s just one little letter.

Having made the discovery, old Huff and Puff Bush and his band of nasty wolves are now turning their blood-red eyes and vociferous threats on Iran. As for the 1,000 American troops and 10,000 Iraqis who have been slaughtered during the Iraq War—well, sometimes mistakes happen, eh?

Our would-be Fearless Leader, John Kerry, also seems to have caught the looney logic bug that thrives in Washington, D.C. these days. His answer to the disintegration of America’s standing in the world is to massively ramp up the number of spies we have operating all over the globe and put a new “Intelligence Czar” in charge. Spying on people in their own country is not generally acknowledged as a way to make friends around the world—but it may provide yet another answer to the question, “Why do they hate us?”

And then of course there’s Judy Martz, who has decided once again to stick her neck out of her turtle shell and “go forward.” This time, however, it’s to oppose plans by the Province of British Columbia to develop coalbed methane deposits north of Glacier National Park. It’s not that the idea of protecting water quality in the park and the Flathead River isn’t meritorious—it is. But for someone who has spent her entire term as governor cheerleading for coalbed methane development in Montana—despite its known environmental impacts—the very act of opposing the same development on the other side of the border is the apogee of hypocrisy. If anything, it probably leaves the Canadians wondering where our turtle has been keeping her head when she’s not “sticking it out” to lead our great state.

Thankfully, there is at least one tiny ray of truth in politics these days, with the rare Honest Republican Award going to Vice President Dick Cheney. After telling Vermont’s Senator Leahy to “Go fuck yourself” on the Senate floor because Leahy questioned Halliburton’s hugely lucrative no-bid contracts, Cheney at least had the guts to admit that cursing out his former congressional colleague had made him “feel better.”

Given the recent actions of so many state and federal politicians, Vice President Cheney just might be on to something—and perhaps there is a cure for the summertime blues after all. When Bush makes a spelling error, Martz sticks her head out, or some wannabe leader comes up with a solution in search of a problem, just rear back and loudly quote our vice president.

Go ahead and give it a try. We have it from the highest authorities that you’ll be surprised how much better it will make you feel.

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

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