If Montana has a fast track to the ear of President George W. Bush, that fast track undoubtedly tunnels through Marc Racicot, the former Montana governor who was thrust into the national spotlight during the 2000 Florida Bush v. Gore recount as the public face of Team Bush. Bush rewarded his friend (the two originally met as members of the National Governor’s Association) by nominating him for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC), which position Racicot accepted prior to becoming the chairman for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in 2004.
Racicot was the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Flathead Building and Industry Association (FBIA) at the Outlaw Inn in Kalispell Thursday, May 26, and the former governor used the platform to echo Bush administration policy initiatives and to scold Montanans for any perceived disagreement with such initiatives.
Racicot began his speech, as Bush often does, by invoking the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, decrying terrorists who follow “the law of the jungle.” Racicot then expressed his satisfaction that Americans didn’t resort to violence during the aborted 2000 recount, which he called “a triumph” of democracy.
“Every institution that was envisioned by our framers worked as it was supposed to work,” Racicot said of that election, which defied a bedrock foundation of the U.S. legal system when a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled that their decision in favor of Bush should never be used as precedent.
Racicot also defended the administration’s decision to launch pre-emptive war in Iraq, saying, “It is in fact nothing more than an international self-defense mechanism, just as you can, in the light of danger that is real and imminent, use force to protect yourself.”
Racicot didn’t mention what the “real and imminent” danger was in Iraq, where no weapons of mass destruction have been found. (The Washington Post reported in May that the head of British foreign intelligence delivered notes to Prime Minister Tony Blair seven months before the Iraq invasion indicating that “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD,” that “facts were being fixed around the policy” and that “the case was thin.”)
Racicot’s prepared speech didn’t particularly address Montana-specific issues, but the former governor did choose to end his speech with a verbal slap on the wrist of the overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Montana Legislature that voted for a resolution advocating repeal of certain sections of the USA PATRIOT Act, along with the nine Montana local governments that passed similar resolutions, including Missoula and Whitefish.
According to Racicot, those who supported the resolution were moved not by their duty to uphold the Bill of Rights, but by “inaccurate and ill-informed information.”
Racicot said the PATRIOT Act facilitates dialogue between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, failing to acknowledge that Montana’s resolution asks the federal government to “correct provisions…that infringe on civil liberties,” not just repeal the whole thing instantly, as Racicot made it seem. In fact, many of the resolution’s supporters, including Columbia Falls Republican Rep. Jerry O’Neill, with whom the Independent spoke prior to the resolution’s passage, expressed approval of the act’s inter-agency communication provisions, but dislike of others seen as compromising civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
Curiously, Racicot drew Ted Kaczynski, aka “The Unabomber,” into his PATRIOT Act talk by saying that a delayed notification warrant, such as those that may be issued under the PATRIOT Act, was used to seize Kaczynski’s library records from Lincoln.
“Now that doesn’t seem to me to be altogether unjustified or inappropriate,” Racicot said.
The Unabomber reference was puzzling, given that Racicot himself said, during the same speech, that the law-enforcement tool used to seize Kaczynski’s reading records prior to his 1996 arrest “has been a part of our law for decades,” which would seem to indicate that the PATRIOT Act is not necessary to enact it.
Prior to his speech, the Independent was granted approximately 10 minutes with Racicot for an interview. In that time, Racicot responded to two “yes or no” questions, neither of which he answered with a yes or no. One dealt with whether he thought electricity deregulation, which he signed into law in Montana in 1997, might, in hindsight, have been a mistake. Racicot said deregulation had appeared to be a logical choice at the time, but admitted that nationally, “some enterprises at least, it has been proven since then, took advantage of those circumstances.”
Once such enterprise was Enron, which Racicot represented as a registered Washington lobbyist in 2001, the year Enron filed for bankruptcy and Racicot was nominated for the RNC chairmanship.
The second question dealt with Libby. Racicot grew up in Libby and President Bush touted the need to do away with frivolous asbestos lawsuits (without discussing the issue of meritorious asbestos lawsuits) during his Great Falls appearance earlier this year. The Independent asked if Racicot had bent his buddy Bush’s ear on the plight of Racicot’s asbestos-stricken hometown, where cleanup efforts, EPA Libby Project Manager Jim Christensen told the Independent last fall, are not proceeding at maximum speed due to lack of full funding.
“I don’t know that I’ve spoken to the President,” he began, which seems to be as close to a straight “no” as one is likely to get from Racicot. Of course, these days Racicot gets paid to have these kinds of discussions with top government officials. Racicot joined the lobbying firm of Bracewell & Patterson in 2001. The firm services many Fortune 500 companies, and this year became Bracewell & Giuliani with the addition of former New York City mayor (and potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate) Rudy Giuliani. Racicot’s fees at Bracewell are probably more than a Libby resident with tremolite asbestos in his or her lungs can afford. (In 2001, Racicot declined the RNC chairman’s salary of $150,000 in order to keep collecting his more profitable Bracewell income, according to the Center for Public Integrity.)
But even if Racicot’s return isn’t exactly a “local boy makes good” story, Montanans can rest assured that at least the local boy makes good money. For the members of FBIA who rewarded Racicot with a standing ovation, that appeared to be good enough.