Montana Politics

The Montana AFL-CIO and Max Baucus: Awfully Strange Bedfellows

Leaping to the defense of Max Baucus, JimMcGarvey, the executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO, wrote an opinion piece for today’s Independent Record, attacking
the piece by Gene Fenderson
four days ago, offering an assessment of Baucus’s legislative career that would make a press officer in his Senate office blush. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing and sycophantic piece that makes the Montana AFL-CIO appear to be
working for Baucus, rather than the other way around.

Let’s ignore the half dozen personal attacks McGarvey levels against Fenderson in the piece. They’re childish, and don’t advance the discussion. What’s more troubling about the piece is
that McGarvey is reinventing history to make Max’s very mixed history on labor and the middle class more palatable. Senator Baucus, while certainly a better candidate for working people than Montana Republicans have ever offered, is by no means a friend of labor, nor is he a champion of the middle class.

The record speaks for itself. Whether it’s supporting sensible estate taxes, increasing the minimum wage, protecting American families from bankruptcy, or protecting working class Americans from predatory loans, Baucus has failed to put workers first. His true master has not been the working families of Montana, but multinational corporations that have run rampant during the new gilded age ushered in by the Baucus-Burns tax cuts. It’s frustrating to see how far McGarvey has to distort reality to defend the Senator.

On the tax issue, McGarvey writes:

Mr. Fenderson even tried to poke at Baucus for supporting some of the most progressive tax relief low-income Americans have ever received. Max supported the major tax cut in 2001 because the country enjoyed a record $2.4 trillion

Yes, that was certainly sound fiscal policy. Mr. McGarvey might remember that in 2000, we had budget surpluses. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the budget is projected to average $219 billion in deficits for the next decade. McGarvey argues that the tax cuts were good for the middle class, but apparently missed the newsflash that those benefits were largely illusory. The Progressive Policy Institute predicted in 2001 exactly what has happened as a result of the law: feel good measures to buy off the middle class, followed by disastrous cuts in the top tax rates, cuts that have depleted the Treasury and widened the gap between rich and working class Americans. Max sold out to corporate interests rather than fight for the middle class.

McGarvey also chose to ignore a number of valid criticisms offered by Fenderson, including:

  • Baucus’s support of fast track trade authority. There’s a reason he probably ignored it. The proposals are incredibly bad news for American workers. Who says so?
    The AFL-CIO
  • Baucus’s ‘ stance on Medicare coverage. Who opposed the Baucus approach on Medicare prescription coverage? The AFL-CIO. I won’t even get into McGarvey’s contention that Baucus is a champion of health care for every American.
  • Baucus’s support for a repeal/major reduction of the estate tax. You might be surprised to learn that the AFL-CIO opposes that as well.

But the broader point is not to rehash Baucus’s failures. They’re well-documented here and elsewhere. What’s incredibly troubling is how cheaply McGarvey is willing to sell his union’s influence. In the piece, he guarantees Baucus an endorsement in 2008,

And that’s why we’ve endorsed Max every single time he’s stood for re-election. And we’ll do it again in 2008 — no matter who his opponent is.

How does this serve the members of the Montana AFL-CIO? If the champions of the working class promise in advance that they will not hold Baucus accountable for his votes on trade, wages, organizing, or taxes, what possible influence can they hope to exert on the Senator? How will they make the voices of their workers heard, if Baucus knows that the union will have his back no matter what he does?

It’s poor politics, and poor representation. Odds are that I am going to vote for Max Baucus in 2008 once again, because I know the kind of people the Montana GOP will run against him. As frustrated as I (and many liberals) have been with Baucus over the years, he will almost assuredly be a much stronger advocate of Montana’s working families than the Republican nominee, if they can find one.

That vote isn’t a promise, though, and I won’t stop fighting to pressure Senator Baucus to do a better job looking out for his real constituents. Someone who purports to represent 33,000 working Montanans certainly shouldn’t either.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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