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Will we hold Steve Daines to account

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In my recent tenure as Chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, I wrote several opinion pieces raising concerns about Steve Bullock’s administration. I have a public record of criticizing Bullock. Yet, I am writing today to urge you to vote for the governor, and send Senator Daines packing. Here’s why.

Daines has long portrayed himself as what most Montanans want: reasonable, fair, a problem solver. But his actions and words, now illuminated by the rush to confirm Amy Barrett to the Supreme Court, have shattered that illusion.

On environmental matters, Daines did join Sen. Tester in supporting the Great Outdoors Act. But that’s far outweighed by Daines’s support for more than 100 policy and regulatory changes that will leave future generations with dirtier air, dirtier water, and a poorer environment, including gutting the Clear Water Act, weakening restrictions on toxic air pollutants including mercury, hamstringing the National Environmental Policy Act, allowing coal corporations to dump waste into streams, and dismantling the international effort to address the climate crisis. 

Daines has either supported or been silent on a many of Trump’s worst actions and statements on matters of the rule of law, civil rights and social justice, and national security: calling violent white supremacists “very fine people;” separating immigrant toddlers and infants from their parents; firing Inspectors General and US Attorneys investigating Trump’s actions and interests; over 100 unexplained campaign contacts with Russians (including intelligence operatives); siding with Putin against our own intelligence services; failing to confront Putin’s bounties on our soldiers in Afghanistan; referring to those who died in our wars as “suckers and losers.”

On healthcare, the record is even worse. Daines blames COVID-19 solely on China, omitting the epic incompetence and deceit in the White House that has led to the greatest loss of American life since World War II. More than 215,000 of our fellow citizens have now perished, with 389,000 deaths projected by Feb. 1. We have four percent of the world’s population but 19 percent of the deaths.

Daines voted three times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, when there was no replacement healthcare plan and therefore no way to continue protecting those of us with preexisting conditions or to deliver affordable insurance. Eleven years after the ACA’s passage, there’s still no Republican plan. 

Which brings us back to the matter of the Supreme Court. Daines has helped Mitch McConnell pack the courts with lifetime appointments for more than two hundred judges aligned with the Federalist Society, a special interest group funded by some $250 million in untraceable dark money that’s created a pipeline of extremist judges, hostile to restrictions on corporate power, civil rights for common citizens, and environmental protection. 

Now, Daines is helping push through Judge Barrett. But we remember 2016, when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia, who died in February, nearly nine months before the election. The Constitution obligates the Senate to consider a President’s nominee, but Daines followed Mitch McConnell’s orders by refusing to even meet with the universally respected judge. Daines said the Senate should not act “until the American people elect a new President and have their voices heard.” Daines presented his brazen inaction as based not on the brutal fact that Republicans held power as the majority, but rather on an ethical commitment to democracy, saying the Senate should not act “until the American people elect a new President and have their voices heard.”

We are now less than three weeks from the next election. Thousands of Montanans and millions of Americans have already cast their ballots. Daines now says Republicans should proceed, simply because they can. Daines trumpeted principles when they served his political ends and shamelessly abandoned them when he felt it convenient to do so.

Democrats also have to address this issue. Senator Tester supported Judge Garland in 2016; he opposes a vote on Judge Barrett now. So, when exactly is it too close to an election? A simple proposal: nominees can be voted on prior to party conventions in July-August; after the conventions, the Senate should hold off until the following February. Let’s call it the Abraham Lincoln rule. When Chief Justice Roger Taney died on Oct. 12, 1864, Lincoln deferred nominating a replacement until after the election so that the next President, with a new mandate, could do it.

On that same day this year — Oct. 12, 2020 — Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsay Graham bulldozed ahead with the first day of hearings for a nominee who represents the far right wing of the American legal spectrum. Like Daines, Graham hopes we’ll forget his previous words: “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’ And you could use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right.”

Well, Lindsay and Steve, we do remember your words, and we are holding them against you, and we are absolutely right to do so. That’s why we’re voting instead for Governor Bullock.

Thompson Smith of Charlo served on the Flathead Basin Commission from 2005 to 2017 and as chair from 2015 to 2017. 


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