Conrad Burns, the PSC and other observations

I snapped the photo above with a crappy little camera the morning after Conrad Burns was narrowly defeated by John Tester in 2006. It wasn’t until a day later that Tester was declared the winner — his margin of victory was only 3500 votes out of nearly 200,000 cast — so Conrad was still hopeful that a.m.

That’s his granddaughter in the picture. I wrote an article about the election here.

Burns was a down-to-earth guy and, from what I’ve heard, he provided excellent constituent services. Never underestimate the value of constituent services. Having issues with Social Security, Medicare, Veteran benefits? A call to one of Conrad’s field offices and often, the problem was solved.

Four reasons why Burns lost his senate seat: his association with Jack Abramoff, the convicted lobbyist; some spoken gaffes about women and minorities, and probably even more damaging, firefighters; a libertarian candidate who picked up 10,000 votes; and a formidable opponent in Jon Tester — the flat-topped, fingers-missing farmer from Big Sandy.

Don writes about an encounter he had with the former senator, and although Don, like me, was hardly a fan of Burns’ regressive politics, he says:

I am glad to have had that one brief moment where I saw the person that so many people seemed to have cared so much about and genuinely enjoyed knowing.

Rest in peace, Senator Burns.

A memorial service is set for Friday, May 6 at MetraPark in Billings.


Disgust is the most accurate term I could find in the thesaurus to describe my feelings toward the Montana Public Service Commission and Northwestern Energy. The PSC is considering new rules to make it even easier to shut people’s power off, and potentially kill them. The changes include lowering from $500 to $300 the balance owed before shut off, changing the winter moratorium period from November 1 — April 1 to December 1 through the last day of February, and allowing shut off at an air temperature of anything above 20 degrees instead of old 32 degree threshold.

With the poverty rate in Montana above 14 percent of the population, you have to admire the shear audacity of such a proposal, the thinking going along the lines of: utility rates are going up so let’s lower the balance due before we shut people off, it’s not really that frigid in Montana in November and March, and 20 degrees just isn’t that cold.

I assume the PSC didn’t take the initiative here and it’s Northwestern Energy that is pushing for these changes. I can’t make it to Helena on Thursday, May 5 to share my disgust. I hope others can, though, at 2:30 p.m. in the Bollinger room at the PSC offices, 1701 Prospect Ave.


Not only does the warmer weather bring blossoms to our Montana cities, it brings out a transient population that ofttimes ends up in jail. Missoula is trying to mitigate this trajectory and is putting together something called the Missoula City-County Jail Diversion Master Plan.

It’s already clear to me that this will be one of the most important issues the Council deals with during my term.

Those words come from Councilman Bryan von Lossberg in the council’s weekly listserv. He continues:

There are so many connections among what we’re seeing in the jails – with alcohol and drug concerns, mental health issues, and insufficient income – and what happens out of the jail. The draft plan is replete with data, and I’m only part of the way through digesting it. One piece that jumps off the page is that jail crowding is not being driven by more people being arrested in Missoula County, but rather that the average number of days that an inmate spends in jail has increased by more than 50% since 2007. … In whatever form it is finally adopted, this plan will require change, and that’s going to be challenging for the community and those on the front lines, but it’s a healthy and necessary opportunity for us too look at how we balance consequences and compassion, among scarce resources.

I wish the city and county the best of luck in this endeavor. In the comments at another site, a link was provided to an experiment dealing with alcohol addiction and the homeless. It’s a fascinating read and the trial seems to be bearing fruit. Here’s the article, titled, “The shelter that gives wine to alcoholics.”

It’s going to take a mix of programs like this — and the wherewithal to implement them — before we see any significant headway against the problems of drunkenness, panhandling and crime that are so prevalent in our cities.


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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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  • An Associated Press story published in the Flathead Beacon on 27 April reports:

    “The PSC says the changes were suggested by administrators of energy assistance programs, who feel the current rules allow customers to get too far behind on their bills.”

    That doesn’t make much sense to me, although that may have happened.

    The end of February is far too early to cut off utility service. It’s still winter, there’s still less than 12 hours of daylight in a day, the sun is still low in the sky, valleys remain clouded. Cutting off power not only creates a hardship, it creates a crisis.

    The PSC’s proposal is soft-headed, hard-hearted, and should be deep sixed.

    • Thanks for the info James, but it’s an incomplete AP story. Why would the energy assistance program suggest the changes and who makes the decisions there? I obviously need to do more research into this.

      • I agree. The story doesn’t make any sense to me. It seems to me that the most likely motive for a cutoff in harsher weather is to put extortion level pressure — “your money, or ice busted pipes” —on the customer to pay-up.

  • For some people, with lifetime limit not yet spent, Energy assi$tance can kick in when disconnect notice is received.

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