In a razor-close congressional race that until recently was marked by little or no negative campaigning, it comes as no surprise that voters’ good fortune would not last once out-of-state big money entered the race. In recent weeks, personal attack ads have found their way onto the airwaves, clouding the public’s perception of the issues with unfounded accusations, distortions of the truth and manipulations of the record.
Having reviewed the platforms and records of both congressional candidates, the Independent has chosen to endorse Nancy Keenan, former state legislator and three-term superintendent of public instruction. In our estimation, Keenan has demonstrated not only a commitment to working for all Montanans but also an ability to achieve consensus without compromising her integrity.
On the environment, we found Keenan’s record to be superior to her opponent’s for her work in protecting Montana’s air, water and wilderness areas. She favors repealing the Mining Act of 1872 and supports the passage of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act. Keenan offers responsible solutions for balancing the development of natural resources on public lands with sound environmental stewardship while maintaining access to public lands.
On health care and privacy issues, Keenan stands head and shoulders above her opponent for her support of the Patient’s Bill of Rights, expanded child care options, the implementation of a prescription drug benefit in Medicare, and the protection of a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. We also admire Keenan’s consistent advocacy for the interests of Montana’s Native American community and tribal sovereignty, a stance that has earned her the endorsement of five of the state’s Indian tribes.
On the economy, Keenan appears more in touch with what working Montanans are seeking in a representative, as evidenced by her endorsement by 35 labor unions. Her support for stricter enforcement of existing anti-trust laws against large multinational agribusiness firms, as well as her recognition that the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 has been an unmitigated disaster for Montana’s family farm and ranch, demonstrate that Keenan would be an informed advocate for Montana’s agricultural community.
The Independent endorses Nancy Keenan for her integrity, leadership, unflagging energy and her commitment to representing the broadest spectrum of Montanans.
We spoke with Keenan recently, who offered us some insights into what her priorities will be in Congress:
How do you propose jumpstarting Montana’s flagging economy?
First, I believe that there has to be a private economic authority in this state. We don’t have a plan in this state. We run on a wing and a prayer. We passed enormous tax breaks for over 12 years now, thinking that if we build it they would come. They haven’t. What I hear from businesses now is that they want access to venture capital and they’re not finding it. They say they can go downtown to the local bank and borrow $25,000 or $30,000 for a BMW but won’t get any kind of venture capital to expand or grow their business.
What about Montana’s agriculture? How do we go about saving the family farm or ranch?
They need some kind of safety net or subsidy. If you really listen to the small family farmers, that’s what they’re saying. It doesn’t mean we go back to the days when we tell them what to plant, when to plant, where to plant. It does mean that there’s a safety net when world commodity prices are low.
The second thing is enforcing anti-trust laws that are already on the books. Five multinationals are literally deciding what the price of beef is and what the price of grain is. The [family farms] have been hurt by NAFTA and GATT. They have not been at the table, especially our grain growers. … Sugar beets are in trouble, our commodities of wheat and barley are in trouble. And so we have to revisit some of those trade policies as well and protect them.”
Has welfare reform been good for Montana?
No. I think it went too far. I think it was good that we moved people from welfare to work, but at the same time the other side of that equation was that you had to make work and training opportunities and educational opportunities, but they have not done that. And consequently, people are falling through the cracks. You can’t expect people to one day have no skills and then the next day go to work, with nothing for transition. That’s where we’ve been remiss. There should have been a bridge and that bridge should have been education and technical training. Otherwise, we have set them up to fail.
The United States currently spends three times as much as the rest of the world combined on its military, yet many of our servicemen and servicewomen still can’t make ends meet. How do we correct this problem?
We have to focus how those dollars are being spent. It is unconscionable what they’re getting paid. Why families don’t want to be in the military is because of the quality of life question here, the quality of life around housing, the quality of life around pay and the quality of life around their kids. … Young people are not signing up because of the money. Let’s be real honest about this. They can make a lot more money going into private businesses. We have to keep a strong military. …
The second part is our peacekeeping role in the world and our role as mediator and negotiator in the Middle East and other parts of the world. I believe we have role there. [Republican candidate] Denny [Rehberg] will say to you that there should not be troops in Somalia handing out food. I think America’s military can do both. They’re trained to fight, but they can be a peacekeeping force as well.
How do you think the rest of the nation and the world perceives of Montana based on the people we’ve elected to office?
I think sometimes the rest of the nation is confused, because they see the kinds of people we’ve elected in Mike Mansfield, a statesman, internationally respected. They see that, and then they see the likes of Conrad Burns, who at times has embarrassed us. And they can’t figure it out. They almost wonder, what is going on out here? And is it because people aren’t watching politics and we just like a good neighbor so we elect them and we don’t look at the real issues?
It’s hard because, when we have the people I’ve had the privilege to meet in this state, the business people who care about this state, they’re smart, they’re educated, they want to do right by communities, at times it’s very embarrassing.
Has it been tough running a positive campaign when your opponent has broken his campaign promise to not engage in personal attacks?
I knew it was coming. This is a man who in 1996 ran the most vicious campaign against Sen. Max Baucus that we’ve ever seen in the history of this state. Is it a surprise? No. Is it discouraging? Absolutely. Because I also believe there’s a tradition in Montana that you keep your word. Until three weeks ago, we didn’t see it. We were one of the last campaigns that hadn’t gotten negative. He has lied about my position on the marriage penalty, he has lied about my position on protecting kids from pornography in schools, he has blatantly lied and distorted. And he absolutely gets away with it.
How would you compare the Denny Rehberg you’re running against now to the one you used to serve with in the Legislature?
He ran so fast to the middle of this race it was blinding. He uses the same words I do. This was not a man of consensus or partnerships or cooperation. He’s picked up the language because, quite honestly, he knows Montanans are in the middle. And he’s not about to really expose who he really is. … He’s running to the middle on issues about the environment. He’s running to the middle on issues around education. He’s running to the middle around issues that affect women like domestic violence.”
Are people buying it?
I don’t think people listen as closely as they should to the rhetoric. He says “consensus” and then screams about the war on the West. That isn’t consensus. That isn’t bringing people together. Blaming doesn’t bring people together. Pointing fingers doesn’t bring people together.
What’s been the best thing about running for Congress?
The people. Absolutely and unequivocally the people. I had this little 5-year-old show up with her mom to a fundraiser in Billings and I gave my speech about the importance of this race for Montana. I talked about money and she came over to me and gave me five dollars. And I said, “Oh, did you ask your mother for that?” And she said, “No, it’s mine. I hope this helps you win.”