If you're like most Montanans, your television, email and mailbox are increasingly filled with ads, videos, fliers and pleas for money from candidates seeking federal, state and local offices. As this is the last month before primary elections, the quantity, if not the quality, of the campaign material can be overwhelming.
At last count there were eight candidates in the Republican primary race for governor, plus their eight running mates, clogging the ballot. Some of them have no chance whatsoever and know it. Others have no chance but don't know it. Voters are somehow supposed to assimilate enough information from vague promises, pledges and "where I stand" declarations to differentiate between these gubernatorial wannabes. But there just isn't much differencethey're all Republicans and all offer the same solutions we've heard over and over: less government, more free market, more resource extraction, more jobs, fewer taxes.
None of them has put forth any detailed plans that actually explain how, as governor, they're going to pull off their promises. Governors, as it turns out, cannot change the laws by themselves. If, say, a Republican does become governor next year, he will face whomever winds up getting elected to the 2013 legislature. As Gov. Schweitzer can tell you, the best laid plans of mice and men can come to a screeching halt in the partisan battles of the House and Senate.
Some may say that won't happen if Republicans hold their legislative majorities and take the governor's office. Perhaps they've forgotten the disasters provoked by Montana's Republicans in the '90s, when they controlled both the legislature and the governor's office. Utility deregulation, for which Montanans are still paying dearly, and the destruction of our once-great water quality laws to allow a free hand for corporate polluters are two examples of what happens when too many heads nod in party unison.
Then there's the cluttered Democratic field for Montana's lone congressional seat. To listen to the candidates, you'd think a freshman representative from one of the least populated states in the nation will somehow be able to lead 434 other representatives to a new dawn of awareness. How that will happen without the power to chair a committee or quickly ascend to a leadership position through the antiquated seniority system is a mystery. But fear not, just check the campaign literature and you can be sure that if only we elect one of them, the wars will end, poverty will be eliminated, education and social funding will be preserved and enhanced and Montana's lone voice will ring loud on the floor of the House.
Or how about what we're told is a race of national importancethe campaign for the Senate seat currently held by Jon Tester. If you believe the hype, the race between Tester and challenger Dennis Rehberg is the hottest thing since global warming. But take the time to look at the positions the candidates are espousing and the differences are perhaps not so great. Sure, Tester is a Democrat and Rehberg is a Republican, but what does that actually mean as far as Montanans are concerned? Both candidates are raking in millions of dollars from special interests, and those special interests, no matter how much the candidates may deny it, will try to call in their chits from whomever wins in November.
Tester plays the common-man card as the flat-top farmer from Big Sandy. But behind the scenes, Tester is now the leading recipient of special interest campaign donations in the entire Senate and House. Leading the list are the big banks, Wall Street's investment pirates and a host of lobbyists and law firms. The "little people" are rather a long ways down the line and likely to stay there. Nor is Rehberg's donor list anything to brag about, since it's likewise larded with large special interests.
Certainly there must be some defining differences in what they say they'll do?
Not really. Tester has already shown himself to be more than willing to weigh in on the side of the resource extraction industries, including the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Rehberg says he's for an "all of the above" energy policy. If that sounds familiar, it's probably because you've heard the same words from President Obama's lips. And of course, Obama speaks for his party, in which Tester is a loyal soldier. So what, exactly, is the great difference between Tester and Rehberg on energy policy?
We're in for a long season of mud-throwing, charges, counter-charges, super-PAC spending and radical misrepresentations. Candidates' fliers, emails, phone calls and ads are begging for more moneyto "fight back" against their opponents.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Campaign overload is no exception. Maybe it's time Montana voters kept their money in their pockets and called baloney on the politics coming their way.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.