The looming confict

Parsing the 59-million-vote mandate


The elections are over and the winners are off and running. At the national level, President Bush says 59 million votes gives him a “mandate,” completely ignoring the 56 million votes cast against him. Here in Montana, Governor-elect Brian Schweitzer has settled into a suite of offices in the Capitol and is assembling his troops. On the horizon, looming like an evil dragon, is the coming conflict between federal and state priorities.

While half of our populace struggles to come to grips with four more years of George W. Bush, the president himself is charging down the road to destruction. The man who pledged to be “a uniter, not a divider” has done more to bitterly divide our nation than any president in recent memory. His policy of international unilateralism has alienated our long-time allies, who watch in horror as Bush continues his aggression in Iraq, which has resulted in, by some estimates, 100,000 Iraqis permanently “liberated” through death. Here at home, the Bush policies have proved no more popular than they have abroad. The draconian provisions of the PATRIOT Act continue to erode the freedom and civil liberties of American citizens while masquerading as protection from the terrorists the president endlessly warns us are hiding in every shadow. In a stunning concession, this week the U.S. Senate decided the intelligence budget should be kept secret from the Americans who are paying for it. Now, not only won’t we know who is spying on us, we also won’t know how much it’s costing.

Not yet content, Bush seeks to turn his aggression inward, promising to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage. Meanwhile, his Christian evangelical supporters are pressuring him to appoint an equally evangelical Supreme Court that will outlaw abortion.

For those trying to protect and restore our rapidly deteriorating environment, Bush’s second term—and his Congressional Republican majority—is like a nightmare in the making. Industry lobbyists are rubbing their hands in glee at the very real prospect that their greedy and rapacious dreams will come true under Bush’s “winner take all” approach to national resources.

That recent Arctic studies show global warming creating drastic impacts occurring much faster and on a larger scale than predicted means nothing to the Bush administration. That the latest study of Idaho forests shows they are burning because of a hotter climate—not overcrowding—is merely “science,” easily dismissed in favor of an Orwellian Healthy Forests Initiative that turns the timber companies loose on what remains of America’s once-great national forests. Even as Russia approves the Kyoto Treaty to scale back on global greenhouse emissions, Bush promises to lift the lid on pollution regulation and stoke the coal-fired power plants to full steam ahead, once again showing the rest of the world that America could care less about global concerns.

Meanwhile, the conveniently timed invasion of Falluja keeps American televisions and newspapers filled with explosions, gunfire and blood instead of serious discussions about the very real possibility that Bush’s “mandate” resulted from hacking the paperless electronic vote. Those interested in the “irregularities” the mainstream press is ignoring can find great info on “votergate” by Thomm Hartmann (“Evidence mounts the vote was hacked” at and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann ( The vote-tampering allegations have prompted Congressmen Conyers of Michigan, Nadler of New York, and Wexler of Florida to request a full investigation by the General Accounting Office.

If there’s any bastion against the pending political disaster at the federal level, it will likely come from Montana’s new governor-elect. Last week Schweitzer got right to work and made some good appointments to his fledgling cabinet. Hal Harper, a former speaker of the House, has been given the job as Schweitzer’s transition policy adviser and legislative liaison. In his 26 years of legislative experience, Harper has always been committed to Montana’s constitutional guarantee of a “clean and healthful environment” and carried dozens of bills to protect, restore and enhance Montana’s outstanding environment. He also engineered the highly successful Treasure State Endowment program that doles out Coal Tax Trust Fund interest to vital municipal infrastructure improvements statewide.

Joining Harper on the Schweitzer team is David Ewer, now the new budget director. Ewer was a senior bond officer for the State Board of Investments prior to his appointment, but is perhaps best remembered as the leading opponent of electricity deregulation in 1997. Day after day it was Ewer who fearlessly stood against overwhelming Republican majorities to warn of the looming disaster dereg would bring. Years later, the grim results Ewer unerringly predicted have come to pass. Montana is lucky to have such a talented, honest and visionary individual riding herd on the budget process.

But while Schweitzer deserves praise for these commendable appointments, he missed the mark last week when he told reporters: “The defeat of I-147 was just based on people’s concern about a single kind of mining that would be done by a single company. Nothing more, nothing less.”

In fact, the defeat of I-147 was a stunning affirmation of the value Montanans of all political persuasions place on a clean environment and the importance of protecting their families, homes and property. Proponents of I-147 spent $3 million dollars on this single issue—more than Schweitzer and his opponent spent on the governor’s race combined. Though hugely outspent, opponents defeated the measure and garnered considerably more votes than Schweitzer did.

The reality that Schweitzer missed is obvious: Pollution is not partisan. Montana’s environment—and the benefits that clean air and water contribute to our high quality of life—is the foundation of our new economy for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Given Bush’s full-scale assault on the environment, we will sorely need our state leaders to stand up and protect Montana’s natural assets in the looming conflict. Schweitzer should realize that in this battle, as the sound defeat of I-147 confirms, the vast majority of Montanans are firmly on his side.

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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