“Let the games begin!” came the unofficial and unfortunate cry from Montana’s mainstream political parties last week. With a flurry of demands for resignation, prolific finger-pointing and shrill back-and-forth, it’s understandable, dear reader, if you missed the battle call. We wish we could have, too.
It began with a bang May 2, when Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald shot off a press release with “disturbing news for the people of Montana” that Rep. Denny Rehberg’s State Director Randy Vogel had been summoned before a federal grand jury. The release hypothesized that “it looks like the Republican culture of corruption may still be with us.”
Oddly enough, that release—citing information published March 19—was issued the same day the Federal Elections Commission fined the Democrats $15,000 for violating campaign reporting rules with ads attacking former Sen. Conrad Burns.
The next day, Rehberg screamed for McDonald’s resignation, citing his “sleazy, deceitful political attack” and explaining the subpoena pertained to an IRS investigation of a Montana constituent Rehberg’s office had corresponded with, not to Rehberg or Vogel. Republican Secretary of State Brad Johnson and Karen Pfaehler, Montana GOP co-chairwoman, both joined the fray, seconding Rehberg’s call for McDonald’s resignation.
Speaking with the Independent, both Democratic Party Director Jim Farrell and Republican Party Director Chris Wilcox offer up the typical spin about how last week’s events demonstrate their respective righteousness and the glaring divide between them and that other party.
“I’d say [McDonald] is doing a pretty good job when he has Rehberg and Brad Johnson so spitting mad that they want him to resign,” Farrell says, adding that McDonald will neither apologize nor resign for his attack.
“The Republican Party and Democratic Party take two very different approaches, and I think this is an example of that,” Wilcox says.
The point both sides seem to miss is best made by Craig Wilson, a Montana State University-Billings political scientist, who says neither the FEC fine nor the Rehberg row rise to the level of actually mattering.
“Everyone seems to have their political guns loaded all the time,” Wilson says, adding that upcoming 2008 elections already seem to be polluting Montana's already toxic political atmosphere.
“[The parties] both saw a chance to get a good roundhouse blow in that would obviously get some publicity, but from the perspective of the public…I really don’t think that anything either side has said is going to have much impact except it probably increases the cynicism about politics,” he says.
Which is just what we don’t need, particularly as a feuding Legislature convenes May 10. Unfortunately, we’ve grown used to petty gamesmanship from both political parties. But this early? Give it a rest.