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Montana Politics Ryan Zinke

Even more ICYMI campaign news

Luddite Zinke

Rep. Ryan Zinke’s latest TV spot blames Democrats for killing coal industry jobs. It’s his opponent, Denise Juneau (with a nod to Hillary Clinton) who is responsible for coal’s demise. The commercial ends saying, “Vote Zinke for more coal jobs.”

The father and son economic team of Thomas and Donovan Power easily debunk Zinke’s mythological coal campaign. Here’s just one excerpt:

Unless the Republicans of Montana can force China to start buying Montana coal, or they can put the cheap and abundant natural gas genie back in the bottle, their efforts at election-time political misdirection will do nothing to boost coal-fired generation and coal production in Montana. As major cheerleaders for relying on market forces, one would expect to see Montana Republicans enthusiastically embracing the energy market changes that are forcing painful adjustments in the Colstrip area.

Instead of clinging to old technology, an intelligent politician would look to the future, advance a clean, renewable energy policy and make Montana a leader in sustainable energy alternatives. Please read the rest of the Powers’ analysis here.

Speaking of renewables

Kudos to the folks in the little town of Seeley Lake. They’ve been holding forums on a regular basis for various Montana races: gubernatorial, congressional, secretary of state, supreme court, attorney general and area legislators. The weekly Seeley Swan Pathfinder has the info.

The latest was for the Montana Public Service Commission contest. Incumbent Republican Bob Lake faced off against Democratic challenger Gail Gutsche. The winner of the Nov. 6 election will represent District 4 (Lincoln, Sanders, Mineral, Missoula, Powell, Granite and Ravalli counties).

While only voters in those counties get to choose between the two, the race should be of interest to everyone in Montana as there are stark differences in these candidates’ energy policies. Gutsche leans more toward renewables and conservation, and Lake tends to follow industry (as in NorthWestern Energy) recommendations. The Missoulian reports on the forum.

More Eaton mud

Like a bad penny, Montana Republican operative Jake Eaton keeps turning up. In his latest incarnation as treasurer for the independent committee, he has produced a sleazy attack ad for Montana Supreme Court candidate Kristen Juras. Both Flathead Memo and Montana Cowgirl have the story.

A decade ago, Eaton was on the staff of former Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg and was executive director of the Montana Republican Party until he “stepped down” for voter suppression tactics in 2008. He also took the lead in torpedoing health care reform in Montana. The organization was called Patients United Now, which was a front for the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

In 2010, the treasurer of the Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee was disillusioned over a string of negative ads targeting Bitterroot Democrats, and left that position. He was replaced by Eaton.

If your campaign needs someone with a fondness for dark money, voter suppression and sleazy advertising, then Jake Eaton is your man.

We dodged a bullet

Not really, as the complaint filed by PSC District 3 candidate Caron Cooper rang hollow. She asked the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices to rule on a Montana Cowgirl blog post titled, “Renowned TEA partier caught hosting fundraiser for PSC spoiler candidate.” Cooper claimed it was “electioneering and producing election materials anonymously in violation of state law.”

COPP said that blogs are not subject to campaign finance reporting and disclosure laws. This is not a surprise considering that pesky 1st Amendment free speech clause. Now, if Cooper had evidence that Montana Cowgirl was funded by some political or special interest organization, and coordinated with a campaign, she might have had a case.

As to the anonymity complaint, Commissioner Jonathan Motl stated, “under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious fraudulent practice but an honorable tradition of advocacy and dissent.”

Of course, we here at Intelligent Discontent post under our names, so I wasn’t too worried about that. I was concerned that the massive amounts of dark money we receive on behalf of candidates, special interests and political parties might run us afoul of the law (snark).

More on District 3

This race has taken an unpleasant turn. I met Ms. Cooper over a year ago when she first filed, as a Democrat, for the PSC seat. She was knowledgable, articulate and had a good grasp of energy issues. Then, longtime Butte Democrat Pat Noonan filed and the party hierarchy lined up behind him. The party shouldn’t have done that. Subsequently, Cooper refiled as an Independent. She shouldn’t have done that.

Cooper has since filed a complaint with COPP against Montana Conservation Voters, of all organizations, for misrepresenting a candidate training. Apparently, there were some political action committees that subsidized the event and Cooper viewed this as accepting PAC money. While it’s admirable that she isn’t taking PAC dollars, she could have handled this better (like sending a check to MCV for the subsidized amount: $232.00).

The complaint was dismissed by the commissioner.

Along with the complaint she filed against Montana Cowgirl, and her filing as an Independent, I’m not embracing her campaign strategy: split the vote, assail a respected conservation organization and go after a popular political blog.

She could have challenged Noonan in the Democratic primary with some legitimate concerns — his acceptance of energy company PAC money, the close ties that Butte has with Northwestern Energy (as evidenced by Butte Democrats’ 1997 vote in favor of Montana Power deregulation) — and then she could let the chips fall where they may.

In this three-way race, I’m afraid we’ll be stuck with incumbent, regressive Republican Roger Koopman.


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.

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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